As part of Alaska Book Week (Oct. 5-12), I asked a few authors to answer some questions about themselves, their writing and their future plans. First up is Don Reardon, author of The Raven’s Gift.
Give us the tag line/story summary in one sentence. Inspire us to want to read The Raven’s Gift. “This is part dystopian survival tale, part Jack London wilderness saga, and part Stephen King/Michael Crichton–style suspense story.” Booklist
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
My family moved to a Yupik village in rural Alaska when I was nine. Immersed in the Yupik culture at such a young age was magical for me. The people still relied on the land for their food, survived off salmon, moose, waterfowl, and caribou, and they still mostly spoke their language. Just across the river from the village sat a cluster of old abandoned houses, as if the occupants had left at a moment’s notice, leaving their valuables behind. People avoided the old homes and the contents for fear of being haunted by those who had once lived there.
This was and still is a mystical place for me. I learned to love the stories of survival, ghosts and monsters, and the rules about how to live as human beings. Enthralled with the stories, I started writing and knew I wanted to become a writer by the end of second grade.
My family lived in a couple of villages along the Kuskokwim River, and then we finally settled in Bethel. This is where I graduated from high school in 1993, and returned to teach high school English there a few years later. I taught high school for several years and then decided that if I was going to write I needed to make the leap. I moved to Anchorage and started grad school, wrote my first novel as my thesis project, and that led to an agent and publication of my second novel, The Raven’s Gift.
I’m currently the board of director President of the 49 Writers, a non-profit organization committed to bringing creative writing opportunities to Alaskan writers and youth. I also write screenplays and dabble in poetry. My day job is as an Associate Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. My wife also teaches at UAA and we’ve got an amazing little two year old, who already is claiming he’s sixteen.
What were you like at school? Were you good at English? Did you always want to be a writer? In second grade I’d ready most of the Louis La’Amour books. Then that summer I stole my cousins copy of Stephen King’s The Shining, and that pretty much ruined me. I wanted to be writer from that day forward. I even wrote King my freshman year of high school and asked if he would mentor me. I received a form letter back. The rejection didn’t stop me. I kept writing. I also started to help my peers early on, as I noticed that reading and writing didn’t excite them like it did me. So in a way, teaching writing started pretty young for me as well.
Which writers inspire you? Alaskan Poet, and last years Alaska Writer Laureate, Peggy Shumaker is an inspiration to me. She works tirelessly to help other Alaskan writers all while doing some amazing writing herself. I’m also inspired by the writers who are brave enough to quit their day jobs and just go for it. I just haven’t been brave enough for that. I’ve always worked so that I can write, but didn’t have the guts to just try to make it. So those writers inspire me. Sure there are published authors who I respect and admire and find inspiration from their work, but really its those who risk it all for their art that I really admire.
What’s next for you? I’ve got my next novel written. Moving Salmon Bay is about a fictional Alaskan village preparing to move due to climate change. Hopefully that will be published someday. In the mean time I’m working on two new novels. One literary. One more of an action thriller. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for a film version of The Raven’s Gift, and I’m hoping I’ll get to write the screenplay for that.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Learn to thrive from rejection. The Raven’s Gift was rejected by 32 editors and ultimately rejected completely in the US before it was picked up by Penguin Canada, and then major publishers in Australia, New Zealand, and France. My first novel was rejected and never published at all, but there were editors who said they loved the writing and wanted to see my next book. So instead of crying and feeling bitter, I wrote the next book. And guess what? They rejected it again and said the same thing. I persisted. I started on the next book. It took two years after publication in Canada for the US to finally publish the novel this past June. I could have given up at any point, but I didn’t. My other advice would be to realize that the “work” part of writing starts when the book is finished. Publicity and promotion is the author’s job now, and if you don’t like doing that or don’t want to do that stuff, then you might reconsider being a writer. If you want people to read your work, then you’ll also have to work to get your stories out there.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Don-Rearden/e/B004T46U6Q
Book Links: (* American, UK, etc.) http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780143187493,00.html