A Few Words with Sherry Simpson

We asked Sherry Simpson, author of Dominion of Bears, to answer a few questions.Bears

Give us the tag line/story summary in one sentence. Inspire us to want to read this book. Dominion of Bears examines the roles that bears play in our imaginations, our history, our shared landscapes, and our lives. The hardest thing about writing this book was turning several years of research, interviews, and field reporting into something that I hope is interesting, entertaining, and enlightening about brown, black, and polar bears.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.  I grew up in Juneau, and I’ve lived in Petersburg, Fairbanks, and now in Anchorage. I was a great reader as a kid—the kind who read at the table, under the covers by flashlight, and even while walking to school—and I loved writing stories. In college I channeled my interests into journalism, and for years I worked as a reporter and freelance writer before I returned to school and studied creative writing. Now I teach literary nonfiction in the creative writing graduate program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and at Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop.

Why do you write?  As others have said, being a writer means experiencing life twice, first in the world, and then on the page. I write because, for me, it’s the best way to have an interesting life, first by pursuing subjects that fascinate me, and then by figuring out how to make those subjects interesting to other people.

Who are your favorite authors? I have a passel of favorite authors, including natural history writer Ellen Meloy, essayist Annie Dillard, and novelists David Mitchell, Cormac McCarthy, and China Miéville. Right now I’m reading Finding Casey by my friend Jo-Ann Mapson, who is a wonderful novelist.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?  The advice I’d give to aspiring writers is to remember what Annie Dillard says: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Don’t let another day go by without doing what gives you pleasure and meaning.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?  My website is www.sherrysimpson.net. My two previous books are The Way Winter Comes and The Accidental Explorer, which you can read about at my Amazon author page.

Spending a Moment with Erin Coughlin Hollowell

Poet Erin Coughlin Hollowell recently released a book of poems entitled “Pause, Traveler”.  We asked Erin to share a few of her thoughts with us today!

Give us the tag line/story summary in one sentence. Inspire us to want to read “Pause, Traveler”.  A journey in poetry from New York City to Alaska, through the dark heart of the landscape and life.

Pause TravelorIt would be impossible to not be inspired by the landscape. I’ve lived in Southeast, on Prince William Sound and now Homer; the natural world permeates almost everything Alaskans do. But I’ve also been inspired by the people. We’re such a quirky bunch. I’ll be at the gas pump and overhear someone talking and just need to write down whatever they’ve said because it has such an amazing cadence or imagery. The entire last section of my book is poems inspired by Alaska.

What’s next for you? I’m currently writing a collection of poems that are each titled with a line from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” It has been really interesting to see how the ideas that are circulating in my head right now are amplified, and sometimes even clarified, by Whitman’s writing. I hope to be finished with this collection and trying to find a home for it sometime late next year.

What were you like at school? Were you good at English? Did you always want to be a writer?  I was a good student, mostly because that was expected of me at home. I started writing poetry on a consistent basis in ninth grade; I was an introvert and I didn’t really understand how to process my feelings otherwise. I did well in English, but from an early age, I bought into the “writers don’t make money” schtick that our culture hands us, so I concentrated on Science classes and thought I’d be a doctor of some kind. But I never stopped writing. In college, creative writing courses were my favorite. I just couldn’t get enough. So, I ended up with a BA in English, concentration Creative Writing. About fifteen years ago, I decided that if I was going to write, I better just get serious about it, so I buckled down and got my MFA and learned how to craft my work.

Why do you write? Poetry is the language of falling snow, of turning over the compost, of putting a pearl necklace around my aged mother’s neck and of considering the pain she has handed down. Hayden Carruth wrote, “Why speak of the use of poetry? Poetry is what uses us.” Poetry is the lens through which I see the world, the practice I use to listen and focus. Poetry uses me as a conduit for each day’s unfolding. I write in order to see the world better.

What is your favorite motivational phrase/positive saying?  I have the following Samuel Beckett quote above my desk, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I also love Brendan Galvin’s, “Writing poetry is a chance to give yourself an authentic life instead of an excuse.”

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Website: www.erincoughlinhollowell.com
Blog: www.beingpoetry.net
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ehollowell

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/beingpoetry/
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Erin-Hollowell/e/B00BGLVJES/


Don Reardon Interview

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.

-4Give 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?

Website: www.donrearden.com

Blog: ravensgift.blogspot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ravensgift

Twitter: DonRearden
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/donrearden/

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
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8838959-the-raven-s-gift


How To Tame A Wild Fireman

How to Tame  A Wild Fireman

The blurb for the How To Tame A Wild Fireman by Jennifer Bernard is below so I won’t take the time to repeat it. I quite enjoyed this book. I’m an avid romance reader, which means I’m predisposed to like a book like this, but I also tend to be hypercritical of romances because I’ve read so many good ones.  This is one of the good ones.

I enjoyed the characters, the setting, and the atmosphere.  Bernard did a great job on the specifics of fighting a wildfire, from the gear the firefighters wore to how a wild land fire behaves.  The secondary characters of Psycho’s brother and “Goldie”, the baby llama that Psycho rescues from the fire, brought some really wonderful moments to the story. The hero and the heroine are strong, interesting characters who face their demons with bravery and humor and end up finding their happily ever after.

Click here for the video story.


How to Tame a Wild Fireman BlurbBernardCover

The Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel have a rebel among them, and there’s only one woman who can put his flames out.

Firefighter Patrick “Psycho” Callahan earns his nickname every day. Fast, fit, and a furious worker, he thrives on the danger which helps him forget a near-tragedy that changed his life forever. But when his off-duty carousing gets out of hand, Patrick is sent back to Loveless, Nevada, where the wildfire threatening his hometown has nothing on sizzling Dr. Lara Nelson.

Lara would rather be thought of as the physician who returned to Loveless than as the misfit brought up at a hippie New Age commune. But right now she’s focused on the job at hand, patching up injured firemen . . . until the past hits her in the hard-muscled, blue-eyed form of Patrick Callahan. Now, the embers of their decade-old attraction have ignited into a full-on inferno, as the bad-boy firefighter and the good doctor take a walk on the wild side they’ll never forget.


Pilgrim’s Wilderness

KizziaCoverIf you lived in Alaska in the early 2000s, you were likely aware of the Pilgrim Family and their conflict with the National Park Service.  When I sat down to read Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia, I knew the basics: a family living in the wilderness battles with the Park Service over a road through a national park and the eventual arrest of the father for both physical and sexual abuse. The story was a little vague and my memory not so good.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness fills in the blanks. Kizzia’s research takes the reader through Robert Hale’s (aka, Papa Pilgrim) personal history from childhood to his wanderings that brought him and his family to Alaska. In addition to the story about Hale and his family, the book covers the history of McCarthy as a mining town, some of the personalities who lived in that small town and the history of the National Park Service.

There are points in the first half of the book that were a bit slow for me as a reader, parts of the background about the National Park Service that I didn’t find particularly interesting.  I found the personalities of the people involved in the story captivating and tended to rush through some of the history to get back to their stories.

The anticipation and build up of the tale as the book progressed made me anxious to get back to it each time I put it down.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is a fascinating profile of a man and the history that surrounded him and his family in small-town Alaska.

~Tracy Sinclare

Alaska Bouldering Guide

Last night I attended the book launch party for the “Alaska Bouldering Guide” by Todd Helgeson, David Funatake, and Kelsey Gray. All experienced climbers, this book was 10 years in the making, according to Helgeson. I’m not someone who goes “bouldering”—in fact I had to ask the difference between “bouldering” and “rock climbing”— but it was great to see the launch of a new book.

For those interested in bouldering, the guide provides information on where and what to climb around Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and the Kenai Peninsula.

Authors Kelsey Gray (white shirt) and Todd Helgeson (far right) at the launch party.

Authors Kelsey Gray (white shirt) and Todd Helgeson (far right) at the launch party at Taproot.

According to Helgeson, the guide contains a mix of easy and difficult climbs, with ratings and paths provided for each for area. In some cases, they also provide information on local amenities.

The book is available at AMH, REI, and Alaska Rock Gym or online at alaskaboulderingguide.com and akclimber.com

Book authors Todd Helgeson (far left) and David Funatake (middle) at the launch party.

Book authors Todd Helgeson (far left) and David Funatake (middle) at the launch party.

Review: ‘The Secret History’


“The Secret History” by Stephanie Thornton is a well-written, interesting story about Theodora, a woman in the sixth-century Constantinople who rose from poverty and prostitution to become the Empress of the Roman Empire.

Thornton brings the ancient world to life. When I was finished, I felt as if I’d spent time in the 6th century. The book wraps you up in enough information to make it interesting without bogging down the fast-moving story of Theodora’s life.

My main challenge with the story is Theodora lives a very difficult life, and my heart broke over and over again for the young woman trying to improve her situation. I realize her story is accurate and represents the role of women in the time period, but I still struggled because it upset me reading about what she had to do to survive.

I’m a self-proclaimed “drama-wimp.” I don’t watch most TV shows, because I get too wrapped up in the lives of people who don’t exist and I start to worry about them. That’s how I felt with Theodora. When I put the book down, her story lingered in my mind and I worried about what would happen next. From a reading standpoint, that’s a good thing; it draws you back to the book.

I think people who enjoy historical fiction, and don’t mind seeing the main character put through a lot of heartache before she finds her happy ending, will enjoy “The Secret History.”

Jacket copy for “The Secret History:”

Where Theodora went, trouble followed…
In sixth-century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds and rose from common theater tart to empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. The woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told.

After her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation and a life on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can-first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a backdoor entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector-only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and, by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the emperor’s nephew. She thrives as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder-is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it?

What are you reading??


Though it’s been difficult to stay inside with all the sunshine…there’s always time to read!

I have a couple of books in progress. I just finished Stephanie Thornton’s “The Secret History”. Currently I’m reading A Fistful of Collars: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn.

What are you reading?


My Season on the Kenai: Fishing Alaska’s Greatest Salmon River


-1In Alaska, fishing is an obsession for some.  From the moment there is open water until freeze up, the lure of open water is too much to resist. And when they get a chance to tell the story of “the one that got away,” they can’t resist.

Lew Freedman, author and sports columnist, has had a longtime love for the Kenai River. More than twelve years ago, Freedman, proposed the idea of a book about the Kenai River. Before he could put pen to paper an offer to write for the Chicago Tribune drew him out of state…but he never gave up on the idea.  Last summer, Freedman was finally able to tackle his massive river tale and he thought he’d come away with more than just a great story to tell.

“I thought well this is going to be my chance to catch more kings than I’ve ever caught and the biggest king,” he said. “Didn’t happen because there were no kings available.”

Throughout the summer of 2012, he visited the river, meeting people and trying to catch fish.  From the dedicated souls bundled up and fishing on April 1st, through October freeze up, Freedman experienced the many personalities of the Kenai and the people who live, work and play along the massive river.

“My Season on the Kenai” has plenty of fish tales–from Freedman’s first attempt to catch a king back in 1984 to the story of Les Anderson’s record king salmon–but it also includes history, recognizable Alaskan names and the inevitable fish politics.

While the book might not be for everyone, you don’t have to be a fisherman to enjoy it. As Freedman himself points out, “There’s so much love for the river in this state, you know. I spent the whole summer, month after month running into these people last year, people who are on the river every day, people who are just discovering the Kenai River, first time ever, so the river has its fans.”

Fans who will no doubt enjoy exploring the river in a new way…through the pages of Lew Freedman’s “My Season on the Kenai.”

“My Season on the Kenai” is available online and copies (including autographed copies) are available at Fireside Books in Palmer