Hooked Trolls for Help (& Offers a Gift)

28 12 2012

A funny thing happened on the Facebooks today.

When I opened my email this morning, a whole string of notifications greeted me. A long list of folks responding to one of my photos. That’s weird, I thought. I haven’t posted anything new.

Even odder: the image inspiring so much response was from last December – ancient by social media standards.

Tele's Proposal, Submission #1 2011

December 5, 2011: My first attempt at shopping my book proposal.

Turned out a new friend had given that old photo a second life. With her enthusiastic comment, it began appearing on other friends’ walls. One after another, folks chimed in with their support. “Can’t wait for you to sign my first edition at Old Harbor Books,” one wrote. Said another, “I’m not at all concerned over the fate of this book. I’m more worried about the effects of wealth and fame on your life.”

With every new congratulatory response, I felt a bit more embarrassed. More like a fraud.

Then Marlin called. “Hey, Sis! Congratulations on getting your proposal out. That’s really exciting!”

I interrupted his praise. “That’s an old picture of the proposal I submitted last winter. It totally got rejected – that’s okay, it deserved to be rejected because I submitted it before it – or I – was ready – but nobody commenting now knows that and I feel silly.”

Marlin’s laughter swept me up in his good humor. I chuckled with him, then considered, “The timing’s funny, though. I got good feedback from an agent and have been revising so it’s in better shape. I think it’s almost there. My goal is to submit it to her the first week of January.”

“Sounds like all of those sudden comments are the universe’s way of giving you that final push, telling you not to give up,” Marlin observed. “Maybe this was the best time for you to hear all of that encouragement.”

Ah. How can I be so lucky, that one of my oldest friends is also one of the wisest people I know? And how good Sitka’s docks have been to me: both my “brother” and my sweetheart, two of my life’s greatest gifts, are fellow boat kids I met on the breakwater over 25 years ago.


If you’ve wondered why Hooked’s been such a quiet little place lately, that’s why. You’ve been on my mind, but everything (and everyone) has taken a back seat to having this second attempt ready to submit next week. After way too many slow, discouraging days, today feels better. The 25 pages of book overview, bio, chapter summaries, marketing strategies, and comparative titles seem like they’re in good shape. The sample chapters still need work – not so much that they’re overwritten, like dough that’s been kneaded too long, but just enough that they sing in the right places and murmur pleasantly in the rest. Though I may feel differently tomorrow, today this feels do-able.

It’d feel even better with your participation, sweeties.

I’m a fan of epigraphs – relevant quotes providing a touchstone for each chapter’s takeaway message – and need your suggestions. What’s relevant? Hooked: a memoir of love, sex and salmon is a story of fidelity, as I struggle to define what it means to be true to a partner… a place… a life… and myself, over the course of a season aboard the Nerka. The voices I’ve gathered so far include Barbara Kingsolver on forgiveness, Cheryl Strayed on fear, Dan Savage on the myths of monogamy and “The One,” James Baldwin and Lynn Schooler on home, and Rumi on human imperfection.

I’d love to hear your favorite reflections on home, the sea, love, trust, forgiveness, belonging. Actually, I’d love to hear your favorite reflections on anything. A beloved quotation, poem, or song lyric – who knows what might strike just the right chord? Whose words have spoken so deeply to you?

Because you’re all wonderful and I’m grateful for your support, everyone who comments with a suggestion over the next three days gets their name in the hat. (Boot, actually – an old Xtra Tuf.) I’ll draw two names at the end of New Year’s Day, two lucky participants who’ll receive care packages of local-made Sitka goodies and Cap’n J’s newly printed photo cards. Random gift-giving aside, my big appreciation and love to all for your contributions.


Update: Congratulations, Scott and EBW! Thanks to all for playing.

Hooked's Quote Giveaway Winners


AfterWords: Reflections on the 2012 North Words Writers Symposium

16 06 2012

Got an email from one of my writer buddies last week. “So?” she prompted. “How was the symposium?”

Tough question. I’ve been back to boat work for two weeks now, varnishing the Nerka’s rails while wondering how to tell you about one of the best experiences of my writer’s life.

First, I need to tell you how remarkable the North Words Writers Symposium’s very existence is. It began with a dream, when Skagway Tourism Director (and community heart) Buckwheat Donahue imagined a celebration of the written word in Southeast Alaska. Local publisher/bookseller Jeff Brady and writer Dan Henry shared Buckwheat’s dream, signing on as co-organizers. Thanks to these three and support from the City of Skagway, Sergeant Preston’s Lodge, Alaska Magazine and others, 2012 marked the North Words Writers Symposium’s third year. Drawing prestigious faculty – a Pushcart Prize, Shamus Award, even an Academy Award nomination among them – this all takes place in a town that’s one-and-a-half miles long by four blocks wide.

With four cruise ships in town on my arrival date, Skagway’s population of 880 jumped to 10,000.

Many of you heard how excited I was, on the way to Skagway. So should I tell you about the sudden fear that drowned excitement, just before the first night’s welcome dinner? Who do I think I am? I shouldn’t be here! When I called Joel in late-stage panic, he listened patiently before replying, “That’s ridiculous. You always get this way before something big – remember Fisher Poets? – and it always ends up amazing.”

Smart fella. I can tell you my “I’ll just stay long enough to be polite” exit strategy didn’t last long. By evening’s end, when the Red Onion staff herded me toward the door, I felt dizzied by the non-stop conversations. Genuine and generous, the authors tore down the walls my lit star-struck self had imagined.

“We’re all equals here,” Seth Kantner insisted. An hour later, Nick Jans said, “We’re all rolling the same rock up the same hill.” And when John Straley dropped into the chair next to me after talking with Scott Silver, he marveled that someone that successful would openly voice self-doubt and insecurity – “the same as the rest of us.”

A spirit of inclusivity defined the next three days. LONG days – 15 hours together, talking books, writing, and Alaska with passion that never waned. We were an intimate group, eight faculty members to 40 participants, together from breakfast to late into the night.

Kim Heacox and Dan Henry made time to speak raven. (Yes – I swooned a bit.)

For the writers amongst you, I’d love to rehash every panel. Heather Lende moderated a fantastic discussion on memoir, with Seth, Kim Heacox, and Deb Vanasse. Jeff hosted a panel on dialogue, drawing from the experiences of Scott, John, Deb, and Lynn Schooler. John led an animated examination of gender and writing, and Dan elicited stories on agent/publisher relationships. After discussions of manuscripts that sell and the business of self-promotion, we celebrated the heart of our work – the words themselves – with fantastic faculty and participant readings.

Dan hosts a discussion with Heather, Lynn, Kim, Deb, Seth & Nick.

What I really want to tell you is what this gathering of Alaskan authors felt like. “There’s no ego-tension here,” one noted. It was true. Down-to-earth sincerity fostered a feeling of kinship, a “we’re in this together” sentiment that rejected self-promotion to champion the collective instead. Kim summed up, “I cannot promote enough the work of my fellow Alaskans… The more centered you are, the best you occupy the center.”

And this faculty championed more than each other. Whether doing memoir, children’s books, or detective novels, each writes with intense love for Alaska – an entity more character than setting. With that love, each writes from a place of social responsibility. “I’ve got that whole ‘save the world’ thing going on,” Seth said. “I feel the need for my writing to go somewhere, to make an impact.” Everyone voiced similar motivation.

We even spent a morning hiking (though the train track walk was quickly abandoned.)

“So, did you come back inspired?” a friend prodded.

Absolutely yes… The greatest gift was seeing that my lit star heroes aren’t superhuman untouchables but people like you and me, who work extremely hard at the story they’re compelled to tell.  People who, as Nick said, “sit in the goddamn chair,” even when writing isn’t fun.

(“Fun?” John stared at me, brown eyes magnified behind thick glasses. “It’s like having homework due and it’s Sunday night, every fucking day of my life.”)

Powerfully inspiring.… But a bit not exactly, also. Being in a room full of Alaskan writers made me turn a more critical eye on my work. This group emphasized a perspective different from groups Down South, and I suddenly felt very underprepared. When Deb described her tendency to submit work too soon, overly eager for outside affirmation, I recognized my own undoing.

“The number one secret to writing a manuscript that sells is to not try to write a manuscript that sells,” Deb said. “Write something beautiful, a manuscript that’s not just good but exceptional, the book that you want to read and the story that only you can tell.”

The story only you can tell. I’ll be thinking on that over the coming months, ruminating amidst salmon entrails, sideways rain, and dancing whales. In the end, all I can tell you is that there’s no sweeter sound than hearing opportunity knocking, and being available to answer the door. My gratitude to all – organizers, faculty, participants – for making this such a memorable experience.

For a delightful take on the 2012 North Words Writers Symposium, check out my friend Clint Farr’s article for the Juneau Empire, “Formidable Group of Alaskan Writers Gather to Discuss Their Craft.” 

Headed back to Juneau in a five-seater, I waved to Heather’s unbelievably beautiful town of Haines.

Hooked Searches for Time & Space (& Takes a Little Break)

3 05 2012

One of my lit star heroes is Ariel Gore. As a social worker, I pressed Atlas of a Human Heart into the hands of the young women I worked with, one after another. And a ragged copy of her guide, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, has staked a firm claim on our boat’s tiny bookshelf, going on its fifth season aboard the Nerka. (Extra points of awesome: an interview with Fisher Poet/’zine  Moe Bowstern appears p140-147!)

Before You’re Dead begins, “Everybody knows it because Virginia Woolf said it: You need money and a room of your own if you’re going to write. But I’ve written five books, edited three anthologies, published hundreds of articles and short stories, and put out 35 issues of my zine without either one. If I’d waited for money and a room of my own, I’d still be an unpublished welfare mom – except they would’ve cut my welfare off by now. It might be nice to have money and a room (or it might be suicidally depressing – who knows?) but all you really need is a blank page, a pen, and a little bit of time.”

Given that Ms. Gore’s words are near-holy to me, I’m embarrassed to admit my recent struggles. Our return to Sitka has been balm for my soul, but hell on my writing. Finding a place to work has been tough. I haven’t made a single sentence of progress on my memoir. The challenge of writing A Whole Book – even one page, one freaking word at a time – feels agonizingly impossible, like riding a unicycle with a flat tire up Everest. Blogging, so seductive with its short story capsules and immediately gratifying writer/reader exchanges, wins my attention every time.

Some days I think Bear should be my ghostwriter.

I chewed on discouragement for weeks, before finally ‘fessing up to my writing buddies. Of course I should’ve turned to them sooner. Beyond generous encouragement and support, they deftly flipped my frustration into a fun writing prompt.

Kari wrote, “Hearing about the places you’ve been forced to write kind of cracks me up. (The laundry room, the payphone room.) Maybe you should use that as a warm-up for your writing sessions. Spend five minutes describing your writing space of the moment. Then post to your blog!”

Pam seconded that idea. “A blog about where you find yourself writing these days is sure to be humorous and uplifting. Your readers will empathize, you’ll get good feedback and have a good warm up, and the positive feedback will carry you through starting what seems to be impossible now.”

These are seriously good friends – as well as excellent memoirists and bloggers. Check out Kari’s blog, Rhymes with Safari, and Pam’s, Putting on my Big Girl Panties.

Their suggestion was well-timed. Just hours earlier, I’d committed to give someone four chapters by the end of May. Breaking my word to this person isn’t an option. So I’m going to step back from all other projects for the coming weeks, fully surrendering to halibut fishing and chapter writing, chapter writing and halibut fishing. For the most part, this hiatus will include Hooked. Necessary discipline for distractible me, but bittersweet all the same. More than readers, you’re friends. I’ll miss our frequent conversations.

But a quick warm-up to get the words flowing, occasionally sharing my often-ridiculous surroundings with you before diving into the chapters, after surfacing from halibut bellies… That might be manageable. We’ll see. Apologies for the radio silence, friends, and many thanks for your understanding and patience. I hope to see you on the other side of the mountain.

Armpit deep in halibut.

Writer friends… Does this sound familiar? What are your favorite writing prompts? Any personal tricks you use for breaking your projects down into manageable pieces? How have you gotten through these funks?

Sharing the Love for Hooked’s Friends

2 05 2012

The harbor wi-fi’s been cooperative this week, keeping me distracted with all kinds of internet goodness – including some friends’ achievements!

Longtime readers have already heard me rave about Cami Ostman. We worked together in Seattle’s homeless youth services; 10 years later, our paths merged in the Bellingham writing community. Author of the inspiring memoir Second Wind and founding member of Red Wheelbarrow Writers, Cami’s a generous mentor and beloved friend.  Yesterday, she gave a fantastic interview on ABC’s show The Revolution, discussing her own inner revolution of running marathons on all seven continents. Watch “Running Across the Globe” here.

Fellow fisherman writer Jen Pickett scored an interview with PBS! Jen’s a pioneer: when she was only 28 years old, she became one of the only women to own and operate her own boat on the legendary Copper River Flats. She’s also a memoirist, a Fisher Poet, an adventurer, and a pleasure to know. Read her interview to learn about her 20 years at sea, how commercial fishing has changed in that time, and which Muppet she’d hire as crew.

Those of you in the Seattle – Vancouver B.C. area, I recommend marking 6 pm, May 22, on your calendars. Laura Kalpakian’s Memory into Memoir students will have a public reading at Bellingham’s beloved independent bookstore, Village Books. This event concludes three quarters of exhaustive writing, critiquing, and revising. I had the privilege of spending fall and winter with these writers. They’re a tremendously gifted, courageous group, telling extremely diverse life stories. If you’re in the area, please go, listen to their stories, and give them some extra love for me.

Big hugs to all – I’m so proud of the whole bunch of you!

And you, friends? Anything wonderful going on that you want to share?

Hooked on Oregon Public Broadcasting

7 03 2012

I told you about my first scheduled performance at Fisher Poets Gathering 2012, but I didn’t tell you what happened next.

During the break, a tall, kind-eyed man introduced himself. Ifanyi Bell, digital producer with Oregon Public Broadcasting. He wanted to do a story about a greenhorn performer, someone brand-new to the Fisher Poets scene. Would I be interested?

I recalled the fall course I’d taken with editor Brooke Warner. She’d rejected proposals based on the author’s nonexistent platform, and urged us to start building our online presence before shopping our books. Would I be interested? Ah, yes.

We met up Saturday afternoon in the Fort George Showroom, the same venue that I’d perform in later that night. Good for his filming goals, and a welcome opportunity for me to get comfortable with the acoustics while rehearsing that evening’s piece. (If you were in the audience that night, you’ll notice that what I rehearsed isn’t what you heard. Abrupt change of plans a few hours before show time… But that’s another story.)

With floor to ceiling windows and brick walls, the former car showroom was cold, but the company was warm. We bonded over our unique names, both familiar with using their mispronunciation to weed out telemarketers. (If-ahn-ee and Tell-ah, BTW.) Delightfully personable, he asked insightful questions about the culture of commercial fishing, storytelling, and where they intersect. Our interview re-routed into an almost two hour conversation.

Ifanyi’s story went live on OPB this afternoon. Watching the finished video, I felt like I’d stepped into one of my favorite storytelling podcasts. His gifts as an interviewer had been apparent, but seeing the way that he pulled it all together was astonishing. Take a look, and keep an eye out for this man’s work. You can follow @ifanyi on Twitter.

Thanks, Tom Hilton, for this photo.

Serious skills you have, sir… Much gratitude for promoting my work with such generous artfulness.

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