Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Books, Eating Crow and a New Year's Resolution

After posting my take on Amazon and the indies, my impulse buy from Bank Street Books in New York City came in quicker than my Christmas buy from Amazon, which was ordered much earlier than the signed book from Bank Street--and this despite the fact that the Amazon warehouse is closer to Alaska. So I'm eating a bit of crow today.

Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing arrived in time for Christmas. The Amazon order, which included Tim Tingle's Crossing Bok Chitto A Choctaw Story of Friendship & Freedom, did not. In fact my granddaughter and I were already reading Judy Blume when the Amazon order arrived, two days after Christmas.  We took a break that night to read Tingle's book, which begins with:
There is a river called Bok Chitto that cuts through Mississippi. In the days before the War Between the States, in the days before the Trail of Tears, Bok Chitto was a boundary. On the one side of the river lived the Choctaws, a nation of Indian people. On the other side lived the plantation owners and their slaves. If a slave escaped and made his way across Bok Chitto, the slave was free. The slave owner could not follow. That was the law.
Crossing Bok Chitto is the story of a fearless Choctaw girl, Martha, who ventures beyond the Choctaw boundary despite her mother's warnings, and a slave boy, Little Mo, who learns the power of faith as he takes on losing odds to save his family.  I had a lump in my throat the size of Mississippi as I read the last lines:
The descendants of those people still talk about that night. The Choctaws talk about the bravery of that little girl, Martha Tom. The black people talk about the faith of that little boy, Moses, but maybe the white people tell it best. They talk about the night their forefathers witnessed seven black spirits, walking on the water--to their freedom.

Wow. That's about all I can say. Wow.  So many good books, so little time. This one, which was a great choice for Christmas, incidentally,  goes onto the list for the class I teach this semester at Ilisagvik CollegeANS 293 Alaska Native/Native American Children's Literature. It's beautiful book, too:

Ready for that New Year's resolution? How about a resolution for schools across the nation? November is Native American Month. You probably didn't know that. It's also Thanksgiving. You probably did know that. Yes, I know, it's a long way off, but let's think ahead and make November 2012 the time to make a permanent paradigm shift in children's literature. Let's teach the true story of Thanksgiving and replace all the books with Indian stereotypes with books like this one, books that tell the real stories of this country's First Peoples. The real stories are way better, anyhow.



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Amazon Buys Marshall Cavendish: I'm just the writer here

On the surface, a union between book publishing and bookselling is unholy marriage. Everyone understands this, don't they? I’m a writer and we writers have been singing this chorus since time immemorial. Writers tend to champion free-standing publishers and independent booksellers. We all have indie buttons on our blogs or websites. We know there is nothing in the literary universe that beats the power of passionate human beings promoting the books they love. The power of the indie is that they have the freedom to carry a book for no reason other than somebody at the store loves it. Some editors—a diminishing number—have the same freedom. Fortunately, I found one of them. She edits books for Marshall Cavendish.

So here's my slightly different take on the Amazon buyout of Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books--a few points that none of the morally indignant people, who are talking the way I normally talk, are managing to mention. Please note, if you haven’t already read the press release of this buyout that was picked up everywhere, my young adult book, National Book Award Finalist  My Name is Not Easy, was one of the 450 titles acquired by Amazon. And please know, right up front, that I heard of this transaction only moments before you did. I was sent the press release at the same time it went out to the world, which was right before it was published in the source where you first read about it. Did I have any say over this business deal that affects me on a very fundamental level? No, of course I didn't. That's how the writing business works. I sell rights to a publisher. What the publisher does with the rights I sell is its business, not mine.

We all understand—and many of us have experienced first hand—the unhealthy influence that the big chains have had on the industry and on the cause of diversity in literature. Word has it that if Barnes and Noble says they won’t sell a certain kind of book, some publishers won’t buy it. Is this true? I don’t know. I do know that you can go into pretty much any Barnes an Noble in the country (except for the one in Anchorage, Alaska, bless their hearts—specifically the heart of book lover and book seller Renee Sands) and my books won’t be there, not even the book that was just acquired by Amazon, the one named a National Book Award finalist. Ditto, it appears, in the bulk of the independents across the country. But my books have always been available on Amazon because Amazon operates on a different model. They don't let selected buyers pick and choose. If it's in print--or even if it's out of print--they have it or they can link you to someone who does. 

Now, here’s my personal experience. I spend ten years writing a book, a book of my soul, one I was driven to write. Some people tell me it’s a good book, maybe even an important book, but I don’t really care for any of that. I'm writing it because I have to, because I'm a writer and that’s what writers do—we write the stories that speak to our souls, looking only at where we have succeeded and where we have failed, determined to do better this time and even better next time. Happily, in my case, my book is published and a small group of other writers sees fit to name it a finalist for one of the top awards in the industry. Suddenly lots of people want my book. My small publisher, who has never had a National Book Award finalist, goes into a frenzy trying to get the book reprinted and into bookstores. I’m patient with them. They get a reprint done fast and the book is out there. Or so I think.  Then I start getting reports from friends all over the country: no one can find my book. In NYC, not one Barnes and Noble carries it. Ditto in LA and Boston. Two weeks ago, my husband, who is president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, had ten minutes with President Obama. I didn't have a copy of the book to send with him so he decided to pick one up in DC. The book, after all, is his story. He went to five bookstores there and nobody had it. He finally found a copy at a used bookstore. Yes, President Obama got a used copy of my book.

This was all very frustrating. Why wasn't Marshall Cavendish getting my book out there? To everyone who told me they couldn't find my book anywhere, I had only one response: it's available on Amazon. Then I learned: Barnes and Noble stores in the major markets aren't buying it. Does it matter that My Name is Not Easy was a National Book Award finalist? Apparently not. Why is this? I don't know. Is it too regional? Too culturally specific? As one Good Reads reviewer said of my first book, Blessing's Bead, is it a case of, "I'm sure if you're into inuits and whatnot you might dig it. Just not my schtick."

So here’s my confession. I shop Amazon. I live in the northernmost community in the country. It's not on any road system. It's a $500 dollar plane ride to the nearest bookstore. I supported one of Alaska's largest independents before they went under. I got schools to do book fairs through them. I did events with them. I shopped with them. But here's the truth: half the time they didn't have the book I wanted and told me it would take two weeks to get it and the other half of the time their shipping was about a week slower than Amazon's, despite the fact that they were closer to me geographically. Just how far does one go in the name of loyalty?

And now, people are threatening to boycott Marshall Cavendish because of the Amazon buyout. To all those independents who say they're going to happily return all of their Marshall Cavendish stock I say this: Hey, I’m the victim here! I had no say over any of this. I just wrote the best book I could and followed my editor to a small publisher who treated me well. Like every other book ever written it probably isn’t everyone’s schtick. Written from within a little known cultural context, it had an uphill battle from the start. Then it got a lucky break. Okay—no. I don't think it was entirely lucky: I worked for it. I worked all my life for it. These independent booksellers who are returning their stock may think they're punishing Amazon, but in fact, it's me and the writers behind those other 449 titles who being punished. And what about readers, readers like me, who love shopping at small independent bookstores? Is it fair that we’re being denied access to books, not on the merit of the book itself, but only because of industry politics?

So now the rank and file is calling Amazon evil. Yes, the price-checking AP was a bit unsettling, but don't shoppers have the right to price check? Don't venders have the right to meet or beat anyone's price? Does it make me happy as a writer that people want to buy my books cheap? Not particularly, but I'd rather see my books in the hands of 5000 readers, at a reduced price than 500 at full price. Does it suit me as a buyer? Actually I am not sure why anyone would want to go into a bookstore to find a book and then go through the hassle and delay involved in ordering it online. If one is inclined to order online in the first place, why go into a bookstore to check out the books? First chapters and previews are available on Amazon. Is it unethical to read a book in a bookstore and buy it online? Somebody referred to this as intellectual shoplifting. Shoplifting, intellectually, from whom? The bookstore? Does the bookstore own the intellectual property rights to my work? Is it unethical stand in a bookstore, read an entire book, and then walk out and not buy it anywhere? It’s not a happy thought but, in the final analysis, the book has to sell itself. The book has to grab the reader and say: take me home. All we writers are asking is that booksellers give our books a chance, a fighting chance, to do so.

People can go ahead and say what they please about Amazon but at least they’re not killing our books by not selling them. Amazon is very democratic this way: they sell everything. Yes, the move into publishing is a game changer. But then again, maybe the game needed changing.

I made an interesting phone call the other day. I dialed in to Book Talk Nation to listen to a conversation between Judy Blume and Rachel Vail sponsored by Bank Street Books through a program administered by the Author’s Guild. I hadn’t intended to buy a book, but by the end of the program I just knew I had to get another copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing—an autographed copy for my granddaughter.  As I went through the checkout process—online—I mused, again, about how vital it is to have passionate people, talking about books in an open forum. Here was a wonderful example of an indie doing what indies do best and doing it in such a way that even I, in a breathtakingly remote corner of the world, could participate. Now, here was a model worth emulating.

My plea, as a writer who wants to see more rather than fewer book people, is this: come on indies, make a new game for the new millennium. Independent doesn't have to mean insular. Work together to build something core to the cause of literature, something that supports our books--all of them. Something only real people, real book people, can do.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The National Book Awards, a parting shot...then back to writing

Okay, you say, enough already on the National Book Awards. Let us move on, shall we? And yes, I am deeply into a new project. But I wanted to share this picture of me with one of the NBA judges, a writer I admire, Nikki Grimes.

And speaking of new projects, which I will do later, check out  Justine Larbalestier's post about Writing Liar with Scrivener:
"In the acknowledgements of Liar I wrote the following: “Without Scrivener this book would most likely not exist.” Ever since people have been asking me to please explain. Here, at long last, is my explanation."
Interesting. I use Scrivener, too. It's a writing program that gives me some freedom to play with new writing, to practice what writer Alison McGhee once referred to as the lego block technique  of drafting--you move pieces of writing around until you find what works where. Working with bits of a book is like working with colors on your palate. Which color adds depth or clarity to the whole when paired with another? Which is needed here? And here?

It's also like working with building blocks: which block of story needs a bit more support? What if I add this block, here?

Of course, a lot of it is intuition. With Scrivener,  I can follow a more intuitive process. I can say, Why Qilaa needs to do something here. Maybe she needs to do something with that rock she found on the beach...  So I label a section on Scrivener Qila and the Rock and there it sits until one day it hits me, no pun intended, and I know  what she's going to do with that rock. So I write it.

Writing a first draft is not at all a linear process for me. How about you?

Okay, here's the photo, courtesy of my daughter Aaluk. I like it.

Nikki posted a wonderful NBA reflection on her blog. Her book Bronx Mascarade was a book I studied when I decided to make My Name is Not Easy a multi-voiced telling.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Diversity in publishing--a conversation worth having

There's an interesting conversation on diversity in publishing going on over at Zetta Elliot's blog Fledgling that start's off with a look at numbers of black YA writers published in the US and blossoms into an important discussion about publishing and diversity. And we haven't even begun to think of what these statistics mean for readers, our growing base of multiracial, multicultural readers who are looking for books that speak to their experience. I think a lot about "multicultural" writing (which seems like jargon, somehow) and about lens shifting in our increasingly multicultural world. I did a guest blog on the topic on Cynstations recently. But I was really taken by, and wanted to share this interview with Nigerian/UK children's writer Atinuke, posted on Zetta's blog. I am always interested in the issue of negotiating cultural boundaries. It's where we live, isn't it?

And, just because, I am sharing a picture of my granddaughter, Josie, advertising my Alma Mater.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Back to the Real Work

I want to say that it's the day after Thanksgiving because we ate turkey yesterday. On Thanksgiving we went to the church for the Thanksgiving feast where we ate niqipiaq. So now I am thinking of that word, niqipiaq, which people translate as Inupiaq food--specifically the kind of meat native to the arctic: whale, seal, caribou, ducks, geese. But when you think of it, as I am doing now, niqi means food and when you add -piaq onto the end of a word it means real or genuine. So I take niqipiaq to mean the food geniune to the land you live on--real food. Whatever your dietary bent, you have to agree that it is healthiest to eat niqipiaq, right? The food of a specific land prepares you for life on that land. And in the arctic, we have to admit, this is no small thing.

Yes, I am back home after all the hoopla of the National Book Award. I meant to take pictures so I could come home and blog about it, but the only picture I remembered to take was the parting shot--flying out of Barrow--and that wonderful arctic winter sunset that I didn't know enough about photography to capture, in all it's glory.

The rest was an overwhelming blur of activity and honor. My friend Helen Frost had warned me that it would be somewhat disruptive. Yes, writing is such a solitary activity that things of the limelight represent the antithesis to it, I think. Rita Williams-Garcia told me to "enjoy my rah rahs" and advised me to "wear them like tiaras." I tried. I really did.

So people not of the Arctic always say they can't imagine how they would survive three months of darkness. I always say, well it's not like pitch black. There's a dusky period and there are the stars and the moon and the northern-freaking-lights, for heaven's sake. Please. Then I say something about biological clocks and how they tick differently for different people in different parts of the world, different stages of life, different seasons. I guess my clock is not set differently than yours, I tell them. Then I think to myself: Three months? No way, I don't think it's three whole months. Not whole months. We measure all measure time differently. Winter is a time of hibranation and gestation. These are artistic terms, you understand, and they are critical parts of the process. I like winter.

So I like being home, in the dark time, digging deeper and deeper still into the real work. See you in a few...whatever you may call them. And it's not really dark, see:

But I am happy, nonetheless, to be back north in the heart of the dark season digging into the real work as Gary Snyder calls it. Savaagpiaq, to coin a phrase, which probably makes no sense whatsoever in Inupiaq. Why would one engage in work that isn't real? But we do, of course.

But wait... it is a word, George says. Savaagpiaq. He translates it as heartfelt work. The real work, in other words.  Savaapiagniaqtuna. I am going to really work now. Never mind my spelling, bad in both languages.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


I suspect that my life has been forever changed by the incredible honor that was bestowed upon me when I was named a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award. 

When I got the call, I was lying in my bed (which doubles as my office) here in Barrow, Alaska. They told me not to share the news until after the announcement, which was a good thing because I was too overwhelmed to be coherent for some time after receiving that call. I was also a tad nauseous--it was so huge, so amazing, so ultimately daunting that I had a hard time processing it. I write from a place as far removed from the media centers of the world as it is possible to be. And I write from a culture that is little known beyond the Arctic. I’ve lived here the majority of my life—it’s what I know and love.

All I ever wanted to do was to write to the heart of my experience, living here, to give those readers willing to join me an opportunity to see what I’ve seen. This recognition means the world to me.

This cake, made by North Slope Borough School District Food Service Manager Bob Eason, was waiting for me, after our last school board meeting, as part of a reception to honor newly elected school board member Amos Nashookpuk. I thank Kathy Ahgeak for capturing the moment so well with this picture!

 I like this picture. I like it not because it flatters me more than most pictures (I take lousy pictures) but because when I look at myself, I see an aging woman who looks a lot like my mother--and I am suddenly gratified by this and by the fact that my mother's belief in me, my husband's belief, have just been validated in such a huge way. I am grateful for all that I have learned, living in this amazing place, most especially for the worldview I saw first in looking at life through my husband's eyes. And I am incredibly grateful for the fact that I have learned, as I age, how to trust in that inner wellspring of spiritual light that surrounds us all if we will let it. All is very light right now.

Before I was named an NBA finalist, I had conceived of a blog tour to advertise the release of My Name is Not Easy. I should have advertised the tour on this blog before the fact rather than after, but so it is. Here are the blogs I visited, before I became overwhelmed by life:  

There were several other blogs that I was to have appeared on, and will appear on later, but I was, for a few days, having a hard time stringing words together, much less writing blog posts. I look forward to getting back to what we writers call the real work.

With much gratitude, thank you. Quyanaqpak,

Friday, October 7, 2011

The view from my front door...

The owls arrive on winter 
wings, with messages we can't
decipher, watching us
with steady yellow eyes 
as if 
they know something
not at all

Oh! This reminds me of Nancy White Carlstrom's wonderful book, so quintessentially Alaskan: Goodbye Geese illustrated by Ed Young, a book that should never have gone out of print:

...When geese spread their wings in the sky
and fly honking south,
winter hears
and winter comes.





Yes, winter is here at the top of the world where we are all happy to welcome its pristine whiteness, its healing silence.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The connection lies between stories, across cultures . . .

…and my husband tells the stories; I’m only the scribe. This is what I tell people, anyhow, and the people who know us understand what I mean. It’s not entirely true, of course. I’m more than a scribe. I’m a writer, after all, which means that my work, even when it includes all the stories I’ve heard throughout my life, is still, in aggregate, me. George’s stories are now my stories, too. His extraordinary tales, especially those which fall outside of the frame of reference of my birth culture, are true. This is the spirit in which he tells them and it is the spirit in which I receive them.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez said he couldn’t write his stories until he saw them the way his grandmother saw them, as completely natural. I get this. I straddle a cultural line in my writing and for me, that line is erased by the stories. As soon as my words hit the page, though, I understand that for some people, the line remains and will always remain. Sitting on the edge of it, I sometimes think it’s my job to translate, from one side to the other, but it’s not true. My job is to write across that line as though it’s not there and let others negotiate it as best they can—hoping that for them, too, the line is erased. 

George says the English language is backwards and that the Inupiat, in learning to understand English, had to learn to think backwards. So the impetus for the post is at the end—backwards, perhaps, but I will get there. Read on.

I think of stories, of these astonishing and unbelievable stories and the way George tells them and I am reminded of the character of Edward Bloom, in the movie Big Fish, who lies on his death bed, telling his life story to his son. “Most men will tell you a story straight through. It won’t be complicated, but it won’t be interesting, either,” Bloom says. I always cry at that point at the end of the movie, where the characters we had assumed were Bloom’s inventions, all show up at his funeral, to honor him. The power of story.  

George’s stories are like that. A geologist by training, he says the world has seen seven ice ages. His evidence comes from all over the place, from some wild places, in fact, but his primary source is oral history passed on from generation to generation to generation to generation to generation to generation to generation to generation to generation to generation to generation as story. 

It’s where I start my new book, My Name is Not Easy:

The elders say the earth has turned over seven times, pole to pole, north to south.
Freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing,
flipping over and tearing apart.
Changing everything.

We were there.
We were always there.
They say no one survived the ice age but they’re wrong.
There were seven ice ages and we survived.
We survived them all . . .

I think of ice ages and I think of global warming and, from an entirely personal and probably insignificant level, the idea scares me: what will become of the people indigenous to the Arctic when the ice melts? What will become of all the Arctic expertise, contained in the language, when the Arctic is gone? It feels like a death too deep to fathom--but George laughs: it’s happened before and will happen again. The earth turns over, he says, and it takes three days for the migratory animals, the birds, the whales, to make shift. The people who know how to, will survive. The knowledge will transfer.

This, in fact, is the impetus for this post, the place were this small story of mine starts: 

I am scrolling through Facebook and someone has posted a video. It speaks directly to the stories George has always told in that way that makes me catch my breath, makes me sit up and say: yes, all things are connected; I’ve always known it. There is no line to straddle; the lines are all connections and connection is forged through story...

Here's the video, make of it what you will:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The end of the American Dream...

I'm a writer and like every writer I am also a voracious reader. In other words, I love libraries. I'm also a school board president and when I think of it, the link between education, libraries, reading and writing is so obvious it hardly seems worthy of comment.  What I have never been able to understand, though, is why so many people fail to make a connection between reading and librarians, the kind of librarians who generate an excitement for books that turns kids into lifelong readers and learners.

I've seen a lot of great librarians in my day but as the economy leads us to look deeper and deeper for budget cuts, school districts across the country are cutting librarians at an alarming rate. It feels like we're on a big ship headed for disaster and no one is able to change the course. Some of us keep running for the steering wheel but a whole bunch of people are blocking the way--good people faced with hard choices. The argument seems to be, "better a librarian than a teacher." To me, that's like saying "better I lose my lungs than lose my heart." You need both to survive. A library without a librarian is just an empty shell. I know, I've walked through a lot of empty libraries in recent years. Kids don't live there any longer and reading doesn't happen in them. I think National Book Award finalist Kathleen Duey says it rather nicely:
"As long as six years ago, speaking/appearing in schools, I began to hear about librarians being fired. Schools with no trained librarians became the norm in some states--or there might be one librarian serving 6-10 schools, spending half the day driving.   EDUCATION is being gutted to meet budget cuts. Really? Do we want to create a low wage-earning underclass? Because this is how you do it. You make education--even a self-guided/public library education like my own-- harder and harder for people of limited means. You take away the level playing field of good public education. You let the universities charge fees very few can afford. This dismantling of public education and public libraries is underway and growing. And it is the the worst betrayal of the American Dream I can imagine. "
 Anyone who doubts the connection between librarians and reading scores might also be interested in this study:  Something to Shout About: New research shows that more librarians means higher reading scores. Food for serious thought, I'd say.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Wedding in the Mountains

August 27, a perfect day for a wedding in Anaktuvuk Pass. The tundra was gold and red and glorious, the sun was shining, and the sky promised to go on forever and ever.
Reverend Mary Ann Warden flew in from Kaktovik for the wedding. Payuk, Isabel and our Josie were united.
Two families became one: the Edwardsons and the Nays.

Cakes, niqipiaq, good company...


...and a new son!  

In the end, we took argos up into the mountains for a bonfire in the setting sun and the next morning we flew home, through mountains full of caribou and sheep, our bags bursting with berries and paniktaq. Quyanaqpak to our new ilas!

photos by Nasugrak.

 photo by Debby

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Starting Backwards, or random memories of the newest book

Six a.m. on an otherwise beautiful day in Anchorage. George is still sleeping. I wake up early, ready to work, but when I turn on the computer and open the file, I discover I've saved one of the chapters of this book--a book I've been working on for an embarrassingly long time--under the same file name as the entire 245 page manuscript.

After a moment of hyperventilation, I remember I had saved an earlier version at the end of the previous month. I’ve only lost a few weeks’ worth of work. I'll survive. 

We’re staying at Hickle House, which is part of Providence Hospital, a peaceful place nestled in the woods and crowned by mountains with decks outside and a fireplace within. It’s a place for healing, which is why we’re here.  George has had a season of medivacs,  emergency rooms and surgery. We need healing.

He sleeps in an easy chair at the end of the bed where I work, his breathing still labored. I go to work recreating one of the chapters of this book, one I had been especially happy with.

I still remember the structure of it—a rather nice balancing act of conversation and memory, strung along a narrow wire of action that seemed to work. I can recreate it. But writing is a process full of serendipity and as I set about, in the still darkened room, to rewrite something I thought was good, I find something better.
There’s a lesson in this, I imagine.

George wakes with a start. He’s had a nightmare. He was trying to save something—he didn’t know what it was but whatever it was, he was about to lose it.

I tell him about the file lost on the computer. He laughs and says, “Are we really that connected?”

I nod. Yep.

Working with him asleep beside me always stirs my memory, somehow, tapping into those subconscious stores that enable me to write stories that are both his stories and mine. Like this one, My Name is Not Easy. 

Perhaps it is just the way a writer’s mind works, but for me, everything is connected.

First there is the connection of being at Providence, Anchorage’s Catholic hospital, because George grew up in a parochial boarding school, the school that started this story.

And then there’s a connection in being at Hickle House because Hickle was the Governor of Alaska when the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act was born. The Interior Department had put a freeze on state lands until Alaska Native claims were settled and Hickle opposed it. Oil had been discovered in Pudhoe Bay and the state wanted it-all of it. 

And there’s also, suddenly, a connection with the TV, which George has just turned on: Mel Gibson, as Maverick saying, “It’s their fault for being on our land before we got here.”

All of these things fit into this book somehow, trust me.

Normally when we come to Anchorage for medical visits we go to the Alaska Native Medical Center, but not this time. This time I transferred George from ANMC to Providence. ANMC had tried and failed at the surgery and they wanted to try again. I refused to give them a second chance. He was drugged and didn’t know what was going on. He thought I was being difficult--and it was hard moving away from ANMC, a place, so full of friends and family and familiar faces. Harder still as the last nurse there treated him like a national treasure and the one before that—a gentle Indian from the lower 48—had braided his long gray hair with such loving reverence that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that he would not react well to seeing his hair in braids.

Providence was scary at first. No Native faces. No wonderful Native artwork. A tiny sterile room. Then the nurse came in—a veteran Catholic nurse who knew George’s favorite nun from Copper Valley School, the nun who used to cook the rabbits he caught in the woods near Glenellen.

And now, here we are, recovering at Hickle House and eating chicken instead of rabbits. Hickle’s gone and the Catholics saved the day, this time, and I saved my book, so life is good.

George reaches over and pulls the curtain open.

“Hello Anchorage,” he says.

“Hello,” I answer, my voice falsetto. 

“You don’t look like Anchorage,” he says. “You look like Barrow.”

“In your dreams,” I tell him and we both laugh.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Birth of a Book . . .

The cover of my new book is up on Amazon! This is a book born of the stories my husband tells of his years away at boarding school, a book born, as well, of who I am as a writer and as a human being. It was a book I knew I had to write. It will be released in October so it's time to start preparing for the birth. I will be blogging from time to time to document the journey.  For now, the blurbs are in and I am thrilled. 

From William L. Iggigruk Hensley, author of the wonderful Fifty Miles from Tomorrow:

Debby Edwardson’s “My Name is Not Easy” brought me to tears as I remembered the loneliness and confusion when I left home for boarding school thousands of miles from my home and family in Arctic Alaska.   This young adult novel evokes a time and place in the Alaska Native world that is important to remember—when far off governments and powerful institutions made decisions that began to change our world—and the adjustments we had to make to survive.  It is an excellent work of fiction with important truths to be remembered. 

And from award-winning children's writer and poet Helen Frost:    

We think of the Civil Rights Movement as something that happened in the south, but here is a book from the far north that shows a different, and equally important, side of it.  In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been an unbearably dark and difficult story, but Debby Dahl Edwardson brings to it such deep love and intelligence that the reader experiences not only the anger and tears of these memorable characters, but also their joy and ultimate triumph. The words soar off the page and then, beautifully, bring us home.

And this one, from my dear mentor Ellen Levine:

My Name Is Not Easy, Debby Dahl Edwardson has given us an extraordinary tale of love, betrayal, and above all, survival, as a group of young Alaskan Natives are transplanted from their home villages to a parochial boarding school in the Alaskan wilderness.  Through their stories, Edwardson reminds us that the landscape we see is also the landscape of our soul, whether arctic tundra or urban canyons.  This is a novel that, like landscape, marks a reader’s soul forever.

Of course one expects something good from a friend and mentor. It's like your mother--they have to say something nice. But this one is from someone I have never met, talked to or even emailed. A wonderful surprise from National Book Award nominee Howard Norman: 

One of the rewards of a work of literature as imitable, haunting, and deftly composed as My Name Is Not Easy, is that it permanently takes up residence in one’s life.  Debby Edwardson writes with perfect verisimilitude.  The cultures of First Peoples in Alaska makes me think of the French poet Eduoard saying, "There is another world, but it is in this one."  Tough minded, full of hardscrabble humor, My Name is Not Easy is old-fashioned storytelling that – with fierce love and first-hand knowledge -- brings beautiful, harrowing, courageous lives along the arctic ocean to readers. This book deserves all great good fortunes.

Oh do let's hope he's right!

BREAKING NEWS: My Name is Not Easy has been picked up by the Junior Library Guild!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Snow Day in the Arctic

Is this a redundancy? Sure, we get lots of snow in the arctic--even full-blown blizzards--but we rarely get snow days. When a blizzard arrives with winds gusting up to 40 mph, however, visibility is reduced to zero, the roads are annihilated and everything shuts down. Even the planes, our only connection with the outside world, have quit flying.

And I love it! The snow envelopes one in a way that feels almost holy. We reconnect with our loved ones, freed from the burdon of all those important responsibilities that suddenly become meaningless with no means of outlet. Think of it as a retreat, a naturally induced retreat. Like hibernation. I've always compared the dark of an arctic winter to hibernation. And believe me, hibernation is a great thing for one who has burnt up major stores of energy frolicking in the midnight sun. Even more so for those past the age of frolicking.

Ah well, at least we still have our gas heat and electricity.  At times like this I think fondly of the wealth of coal we have stored beneath the house. And then, in the next breath, I consider the fact we have nothing to burn it in. Perhaps I should research coal-burning stoves on the Internet. 

At least we still have the internet! Which affords me my laugh of the day:

I'm teaching an online course in Alaska Native/Native American Children's Literature through Ilisagvik College and one of my students  (a teacher in Atqasuk, a small, remote village) posted a message today about doing a class project where the kids re-interpreted Winnie the Pooh for reader's theater, setting it in arctic Alaska. All the animals became arctic animals except for Eeyore, who became, appropriately, "an animal that was brought to Atqasuk and never got a flight home."

Hey it could happen to any of us. It happened to me over 30 years ago. But then, I am not Eeyore.  

The essential question of the day is this: when fate keeps you locked inside your den in the arctic, how will you respond?

I'll just write my way out.

Oh wait, what about the electricity? Should I worry? Check my stock of paper and pens, you say? Write the old way? Never! Now you have truly crossed the line....

On a clear day you can see forever . . .

This, however, is not a clear day. This is my driveway, 30 minutes ago. No, that's not the car, silly. That is randomly drifted snow. No--wait--my husband is correcting me: snow does not drift randomly. Snow drifts very specifically and you will most certainly want to understand exactly what this means and how it works as a navigational aide when you find yourself lost on the tundra on a day like this.