Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2011 Resolution: A poem a day for a (half) Year

My 2011 resolution was to write a poem a day for the whole year. I made it six months, right up to the birth of my son and his subsequent five day stay at the NICU. Great material there, but writing poems was the last thing on my mind. 
So I came away with half a year's worth of poems, and a few of them aren't bad. I'm posting this one today as I think about my good friend who is enroute with his wife and three week old son to the Children's Hospital in Seattle. I feel so fortunate to be holding my boy in my arms today, and I hope my friend gets to hold his soon too. 

(A poem from Jan 3, 2011, after a prenatal checkup)

"1 in 1000 of my Children"

I heard your heart today
for the first time

a thousand characters
I have fathered
a thousand plots conceived 

always dreaming, to do
to my readers
what your heartbeat
to me

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Avoiding Dirty Diapers: How to be a stay at home dad and writer...

 I'm currently writing this blog post on my iPhone, sitting in a rocking chair, holding my son, and singing the most ridiculous song to him. I have always been good at multitasking when it comes to writing projects -- a screenplay and novel always in the works, along side a myriad of student essays to grade -- but this is a whole new beast.

After I heard the news we had a baby on the way I sat down and wrote a new book. Mostly just because so many friends and family insisted that once we had a kid "everything would change" and they followed that great bit of wisdom with the inspirational, "good luck getting any writing done."

So now, as I enter my first real week as a stay at home dad and part-time professor, I am also doing my best to continue my writing projects (all while practicing the Continuum Concept), holding Atticus in one arm, typing with the other...

[Some indefinite amount of minutes later...]

Sorry, you wouldn't know it, but I had to break from writing to feed and take my boy to the bathroom. He's three months old and hasn't had an accident in his cloth diapers in over a month. That is too much information, I know, but I share that with you because the same people who laughed when I said I was going to be a stay at home parent and write also laughed when I began potty training him at one week old. I felt that if people in other parts if the world could do it, so could I. And I did.
So here I am, son passed out on my shoulder, now typing on my phone with both hands. I'll slip over to my computer and post this, then perhaps begin work on the new novel I've been researching for a few years or dust off that old novella and see if I can't breathe some life into it. I'd better go now, I may only have a good ten or twenty minutes to write, but nonetheless, just like staying home with my boy, it will be good.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jodi Picoult on Writing, Risk-taking Research, Crazy Fans, and Sangria...

“Picoult writes with unassuming brilliance.”
— Stephen King

You've read her books, seen the movies based on her books, and secretly imagined being one of those authors who rule that coveted #1 New York Times Bestseller position.  Here Jodi Picoult takes the time from her busy writing and touring schedule to chat with me about writing, risk-taking, crazy fans, and the perfect end of summer cocktail.

If you could go back in time to when you were first starting to write, what would you tell your younger self? What sage wisdom would you share or what guidance would you give yourself?
 Jodi - To stick to my guns.  I really weighed whether I should write what I wanted/needed to write versus what I thought would sell.  Ultimately I chose to write what I thought had to be written.  It took a lot longer to find a following, but the end result is that now, 20+ years later, people are being described as the "new Jodi Picoult" when way back when that certainly wasn't a sellable point!

My wildest fan/reader experience to date is when an elderly woman at a book signing petted the hair on my hand and asked if it was real.  What is your zaniest fan moment? 

Jodi - I was peeing and someone recognized my shoes...she passed a book under the stall to be signed.  I asked if I could wash my hands first.  Also, I've had people bring books to me while I'm in a sauna in a towel.  I think it's a pretty good rule of thumb to NOT ask for a signature from an author if she is a) in the bathroom stall or b) naked.

You’re willing to do some pretty risky things to research your novels.  Not counting riding behind me on a snow-machine across the Alaskan tundra at -50 in the dead of winter for The Tenth Circle, what has been your riskiest research experience? 

Jodi - Ghost hunting.  Not only were we trespassing, but things happened that to this day I cannot account for with logic.  Long after I had all the research I needed, I kept going back because I was having so much fun!  Also, for SING YOU HOME I interviewed someone from Focus on the Family.  For SIX hours.  That was risky only because I was literally beating my head against the wall at regular intervals.

You’ve had an uncanny ability to write about hot topics before they become media sensations. How do you do this? More specifically, are you psychic, or if you visit a medium, what is her name? I’m kidding.  Here’s the real question: What advice would you tell aspiring novelists who want to tackle a sticky or controversial topic?
Jodi - I don't think I'm psychic - I just worry about the same things everyone else does, so my topics feel timely.  As for a novelist who wants to tackle controversy my biggest advice would be:  Don't preach.  I think it's far more interesting and educational to present both points of view, and to then let your reader decide what's right and what's wrong.  

You travel a ton. Probably too much, so I won’t pester you about getting back to Alaska any time soon. (Okay, I lied. Come back soon!)  What is the #1 Jodi Picoult travel survival tip?
Jodi - SUCH a good question. I guess I'd have to say:  Become your own time zone.  Eat when you need to eat and sleep any time you can, because you may not get a chance again.

Finally. Summer is almost over. Any easy favorite end of summer drink recipe you’d share?
Jodi - How about peach sangria?  
Mix up a bottle of Reisling, and a bottle of White Cranberry Peach juice; add one orange (sliced), a few strawberries (sliced), a handful of blueberries, and a peach (sliced). Refrigerate.  Yummmmmm.....

Thanks Jodi! Be sure to check out Jodi's website and her latest bestseller Sing You Home

[ Disclaimer: Jodi Picoult only agreed to this interview after I hauled her on snowmachine across the tundra of Southwestern Alaska and threatened to leave her out in the -65 weather unless she would write a great blurb for a novel I had not yet written and submit to this interview. She agreed and was spared from a cold and certain death on the tundra. You can read the results of her research in The Tenth Circle and the blurb she gave for my novel The Raven's Gift. ]

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dam Gold, Damn Gold

Chikuminak Lake, a photo by Michael Melford in the book Hidden Alaska

Let me tell you that you can not begin to imagine how spectacular the Wood-Tikchik Lake Park in SW Alaska happens to be. Words cannot begin to describe my feelings about this place. I grew up hunting and fishing here, fell in love here, and nearly lost my life in a storm here.
Now this spectacular and unspoiled landscape is threatened by, of all things, a dam.  Now as someone who recycles, drives a hybrid, and encourages my students to save the world, I am a proponent of renewable sources of energy; however, I can not support our governor's recent approval of $17.6 million to start work to dam the beautiful lake you see in the photo above.  Perhaps if the energy was really meant to support the impoverished villages of the YK Delta, I would try to listen to arguments about why we should build something so ridiculous on such a pristine lake in an area with no roads and no infrastructure in place to support such a dam, but lets face it, this dam isn't about helping the people of southwestern Alaska, this dam is about supplying the Donlin Creek Mine with cheap electricity on the government's dime. This dam is about one thing and one thing only: GOLD.

NOVAGOLD, one of the Canadian companies operating Donlin Creek LLC (that's Limited Liability Corporation on a water system with a culture completely dependent upon safe fish habitat for its very survival) says on their website:
           Donlin Creek is one of the largest known undeveloped gold deposits in the world, with proven     and probable reserves estimated at 33.6 million ounces of contained gold with additional measured and indicated resources of 4.3 million ounces of gold and inferred resources of 4.4 million ounces of gold.

You can do the math. At $1800 an ounce, the Donlin Mine is worth plenty of loot for out of state and out of country companies.  They say themselves the mine has a life of twenty-five years. Are a handful of local jobs for twenty-five years and destroying the habitat surrounding one of Alaska's last great pristine lakes worth it? Is risking a culture, dependent on the salmon that run in the Kuskokwim River, the very river Donlin Creek drains into, worth the risk this mine poses?

Finally. Who actually supports damming Chikuminak Lake in the first place? When did Alaskans say they wanted $17.63 million dollars spent to begin work on a dam for Donlin Creek Mine?  I know I don't.

The real gold is this lake as you can tell from Michael Melford's stunning photo above.  We can't allow this lake to be dammed for a gold mine. We just can't.

[Special thanks to Michael Melford for permission to share the photo of the lake that we can't allow to be dammed!]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Should Authors Use a Web-Designer? An Interview

Rich Gannon, big web design ideas, small fish.

Rich Gannon,  owner of Front Range Web and my personal web-designer, shares a great Labor Day BBQ recipe and his some advice for authors and their websites.

You designed a killer website for me. Something that fits my novel thematically, but also has design elements that as a writer, I could have never created on my own.  What advice do you have for authors looking for a web designer? 
Mostly it would be the same advice I would give to someone who was looking for a general contractor to remodel a kitchen, responsiveness, that's a word right?  Do a little research (ask for a list of current clients - and call them!) to make sure your web designer has a good history of returning phone calls,  returning emails and making updates and changes to your site in a timely manner.  

Also make sure there is clear understanding that it is your site, not the web designers, and if you want purple unicorn wall paper background on your home page, with an animated .gif of a kitten hugging a penguin...then by God that is what they should make for you.  A good designer can offer tips on design and style, but in the end they should listen to what you are the one paying the bill.

What does a web-guru, a webmaster, a web-ster, like yourself bring to the process that a web-idiot like me lacks; say if I was to fire you and design my own webpage? 
I think it all boils do to time.  I can probably design, publish and maintain something much faster than you could.  There are a lot "design by yourself" websites out there that actually do a really good job making sites that look nice.    But wouldn't you rather be writing your next master piece than spending hours on a site trying to figure out how to re-size the picture of your book cover to fit just right? 
What can authors do to increase traffic to their websites?
One of the biggest factors in getting good search rankings and driving traffic to your site is links.  Linking from your site to other websites and getting as many links back to your site will do wonders for your traffic.  Social media, in addition to just getting your message out, also plays a good role here.  
You can't control what people do, but you can ask nicely.  If someone is blogging about you or even making a comment on Facebook, ask them to link to your site, also make sure links are phrased properly.  So instead of a link like, "this book is really good"  a better way would be, "Don Rearden's book is really good." 

My book, The Raven's Gift,  is really good, thanks. Without naming any names, when you look at the websites of other writers, what drives you nuts?
Generally, cluttered sites are a turn off.  If I can't figure out what your site is about in a few seconds, then I'm not likely to stay on it.   I also don't care for purple unicorn wall paper background on your home page, with an animated .gif of a kitten hugging a penguin.  
Any final bits of advice for writers who want a webpage? Do they even need one?
If a person has the time, and the ability, then they should try a site where they can design their own.   Does a writer need website?  Should people buy your book?  Yes and Yes.

You're a web-meister, but also something of a chef.   Can you share a favorite summertime recipe?
"Something" being the key modifier here.   But it is grilling season around here...and this is one of my favorites.   I don't really follow recipes and things change a little each time...but here goes.

Where's the Beef (hint, not here)
Grilled portobello mushroom burgers with caramelized red onion and  blue cheese

Portobello Mushrooms
Red Onion 
Blue Cheese
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Hamburger bungs

Remove the stem of a portobello, (1 mushroom serves one plan accordingly)
Place in a plastic bag or container, add some olive oil and a couple of dashes of balsamic vinegar, shake the container to coat the mushroom, fire up grill.

While the grill heats, caramelize some red onion let onions cool and add a commensurate amount of blue cheese until the there is a mixture of about 70% onion 30% blue cheese to onion ratio.  (if you like things cheesey then by all means increase the cheese part of the ratio)

Grill the portobellos over medium heat 4 to 5 minutes on each side, after both sides have been grilled drain a little bit of the mushroom juice out of the mushroom before the next step, leave the mushrooms on the grill gill side up then spoon in cheese and onion mix, cover and heat a few more minutes to melt cheese.

Remove and serve on a toasted hamburger bun...goes great with sweet potato fries

Notice my nicely worded links.  
Nicely worded links noted. Thanks, Rich!  Be sure to check out Front Range Web if you're looking for affordable and reliable web-design. 
When I was in third grade, Rich's older brother and myself lassoed Rich and tied him to a tree near a bee colony and then proceeded to throw rocks at the large white boxes holding tens of thousands of potentially lethal honey bees. He survived and took the lessons from that humbling experience to heart and became an incredible web designer. It took creativity and heart to escape. He's my cousin and he owes me big time. (Actually I owe him... his work on my website has garnered international attention and millions of hits. Well not millions, but tens of thousands.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Literary Wet T-Shirt Contest to Celebrate the End of Summer

Soaking Wet Books!

Really, you shouldn't let headlines like that fool you. Plus, a literary wet T contest? Really? That's a scary thought. Hopefully you won't get in trouble from your boss for checking this out.

I'm back from a couple of nice weeks in the wilderness.  Just enough time to finish up a polish of my new novel and to catch the last fleeting rays of our Alaskan summer before I begin teaching part-time in the fall at UAA and part-time Mr. Mom at home.  I returned to some great letters and emails from readers of The Raven's Gift, and some other great news (including my first invitation to be guest faculty at a very cool writing conference).  More on all that stuff later.

To celebrate the end of our Alaskan summer, this week will include some great interviews and a giveaway or two.

I came home to a box full of my books sitting, bathing really, in a nice puddle in my garage. Fortunately, I guess, only four of them sustained serious water damage.

So I'll kick off this week's blog with a wet-book contest.  In the comments post your best worst water-logged story, and the most tragic story of loss and/or destruction at the hand of water gets one of my limited edition (I hope) purely Alaskan water saturated novel. Heck, I'll even sign the water stains.