Won’t you join me in Twitterland?

I've saved a seat for you at the party. This image is from Biblio-Files recent guest post on bookish places in England.

Dear brave reader,

I know I’ve mentioned in my earlier letters how the upcoming publication of my first novel has opened new doors for me. It’s meant a couple of trips to New York City, a few speaking engagements, an interview or two. It’s all been very exciting. But someone is opening an entirely new door for me next week, the door to Twitterland. I have been asked to participate in my first “tweet chat,” and I’m hoping you’ll come along with me.

Last month, Biblio-Files blogger Kelly Ryan Kegans contacted me to see if I would like to participate in her #BiblioChat. Of course I said yes — her website is fantastic, and I enjoy her tweets. It was only later that I realized I wasn’t entirely clear on what I was agreeing to do.

Because I’ve attended blog discussions before, where people ask questions and talk via the comment section of a blog post, I assumed that was how we’d do it. But I wasn’t positive, and since I’m the guest, I figured I ought to make sure I had directions to the party.

Kelly kindly explained that no, the discussion would be happening instead on Twitter itself. By using the hashtag #BiblioChat on each entry, people can follow and participate in just that discussion, without being interrupted by all the other chatter on Twitter. She explained that I can also use tweetchat.com in order to simplify it.

I’m really hoping you’ll join us. Just go to twitter.com and set up an account if you’re not already on there. Then on Tuesday Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. Central time or 4 p.m. Alaska, do a search for #BiblioChat. You’ll see a running tab of the discussion. And if you want to comment, just include the #BiblioChat in your tweet so that everyone will be able to see it as part of the discussion. You can also go to tweetchat.com and use it to filter out any other tweets going on, and just focus on our discussion.

We’ll be talking about The Snow Child, which Kelly is reading right now, as well as my life here in Alaska as a bookseller and writer. If you tune in, you’ll be able to ask your own questions and share your own thoughts as well.

For those of you who are not already on Twitter, I know I’m asking you to drive with me down an unmarked, dark road to a party at a stranger’s house. But I also know it will be a ton of fun, and Kelly will put us all right at ease. A person who has such wonderful taste in libraries and books surely will be a great hostess.

So mark your calendar and say you’ll come along with me to the party — Sept. 6, 4 p.m. Alaska time.



P.S. Everyone who participates in Tuesday’s tweet chat will be entered in a drawing to win an advance reader copy of The Snow Child.


Autumn’s arrival

Dear four-season reader,

The other day as I drove home from work, I caught a flash of gold in the passing birch trees. It could have been mistaken for a single, dying branch, but it was not alone. By the time I neared our dirt road, just slightly north and at a higher elevation than town, most of the trees had been touched with yellow and orange.

This is how it arrives. Quietly. Gently. There is a chill in the air when I go outside to close up the hen house for the night. The cranberries have ripened bright red on the hillside. Fireweed has bloomed into downy seeds. The garden rows hold mostly vacant cabbage stalks and picked-over pea vines. And finally, after a summer of endless days, nightfall now brings complete darkness.

A few mornings ago, Mr. Baer called to tell me he had shot a spike-fork moose in the neighborhood. It was opening day. They will let the meat hang in their root cellar for a few days before they begin to butcher. On the highway, pickup trucks haul the evidence of other successful hunts — caribou antlers and full game bags. We hope to be so fortunate when we go sheep and moose hunting these next few weeks.

This time of year is a frenzy of preparation. We split wood, pick berries, hunt, and harvest the garden vegetables. As the days grow shorter, time seems to slip by more quickly.

Last night my daughter ran in from the back porch and announced, “It smells like snow outside, Mommy.” In truth, the snow won’t come for another six weeks or so. But it is, somehow, already in the air.

Autumn touches me with a sweet kind of melancholy. It’s something akin to the precise moment when the setting sun casts a golden light across the land, just before it gives way to cool twilight.

The beauty comes, in part, from its fleeting nature.



A question or two

Dear inquisitive reader,

My first official interview as an novelist appeared here this week on the Northwest Book Lovers blog. The blog’s editor, Jamie Passaro, asked me some great questions about my job as a bookseller at Fireside Books and how I came to write The Snow Child. I ended up having even more fun than I expected.

To give you a taste, here was her first question:

What’s it like working at Fireside?

And my answer?

Fireside Books is on main street in Palmer, a quaint and kind of artsy small town with a farming background. When I come in Saturday morning, I brew the coffee. (Our motto is “good books, bad coffee” but it is actually pretty good.) I turn on some Putumayo jazz or folk music. The bookstore is small and packed full, but neat and organized. It somehow manages to feel both cozy and light and airy. The floors and shelves are a golden, varnished wood, and customers who come in say it smells wonderful—like books and fresh brewed coffee.

Usually within minutes of turning on the OPEN sign, a few of my favorite customers come in, like the older man who swaps stories with me about gardening and snowstorms and old-time Alaska. Then a new customer will arrive, like the woman who, when I asked if she needed help finding anything, said “That’s what I love about a bookstore. If you knew what you were looking for, you’d miss out on half the fun.”

For the rest of the day, I receive new books, shelve, alphabetize, process and clean used books that customers bring in for credit, help people find and order books, answer phone calls, arrange the weekly Indie Bound bestseller display, banter with the customers and my co-workers.

Fireside Books attracts some of the more interesting, thoughtful, diverse people in our community. It is not unusual for several conversations to be going on at once—two teenagers in the young adult section talking about a new manga series, the owner and a customer standing near the counter discussing poetry and politics, two women from the same book club in the bestseller section choosing their next pick, and a mom reading a picture book to her little boy in the children’s section. It is a very stimulating, joyful place to be.

But my favorite question was her last one …

If you want to read the rest of the interview, and learn about some wonderful books and bookstores in the Pacific Northwest, go to www.nwbooklovers.org. And thanks again, Jamie!



Getting ready for, dare I say, … winter

Dear autumn reader,

With the help of some good friends (Thanks Adam and Kira!), we piled this birch in our yard earlier this summer …

We’ve spent the past week doing a lot of this …

And this …

So we’ll have plenty of this …

And won’t have to dress like this all the time …



Warm kindness of northern people

Dear tenderhearted reader,

This image of Norway, from http://www.visitnorway.com, reminds me so much of Alaska.

I can’t read a word of Norwegian, but thanks to Google translate, I’ve been following a blog called the Reading Room. Lise, the blogger, is giving away a free copy of The Snow Child, aka Snøbarnet, before it is published there in Norway Sept. 12. She asked people to describe why they want to read it.

Here’s what the first person wrote, as translated by Google:

As I wrote that comment for your review, is the theme close to my heart.  It is difficult to avoid getting personal when the question is why I want to read the book … I can content myself with saying that I and my partner have been in almost the same situation as the couple book is about. I know the grief of having lost a child, I know the sadness of not being able to have more children, I know the vast emptiness, emptiness feeling, difficulty with communication, different patterns of mourning and grief.  In many ways it helps to decrease slightly in grief again, by reading such books. Allowing oneself to cry a little, then move on to life’s highway. Exactly why I was so touched by your review and the book’s action.

And here, just as moving, are the comments from the following three readers. I’ve changed the name of the first person to Jane, to protect her privacy.

* I think the book sounds absolutely fantastic and competitions are always fun. But Jane’s reasoning is so incredible that I would rather attend the Team Jane. It fits perfectly to the description of the book.  So, I think Jane should win the book my ticket in the draw to possibly have her name printed on, and so can buy the book even when it is released 🙂

* I think the book sounds awesome out, and have read reviews with great interest and curiosity.  But I think that line, that Jane’s explanation is very good and will take part in Team Jane (Good idea!).

* I also participate in Team Jane:)

And here is Jane’s response —

You are very, very beautiful and fine .- I’m touched :) BUT!  I want everyone to participate on equal terms, and deny flatly that my explanation will count more than others.  I was very unsure if I would write the real reason, it was not meant to “outperform” everyone else’s comments, but I felt still to suggest why – Transparency is important, both for one’s own benefit and for others in the same situation. Another thing: we all have our problems and challenges, we all have at some time felt more or less the loneliness and emptiness feeling. I hope you prefer wins by just a draw, so everyone has equal chance.

Lise, the blogger, then wrote:

You had a very touching and nice grounds, Jane.  And very thoughtful of you who are on Team Jane. But as Jane requests … everyone will have equal chance. Therefore I encourage all who want to participate in the competition, you also could win the book for yourself :)

And then one last reader added her thoughts:

I obviously want to win this book, because you had such a nice review on it on your blog.  But like the others over here, so I can keep me on the Team Jane and hope she wins it for its fine grounds.

All I can say is I hope I get to visit Norway someday and meet some of these wonderful people.



Hateful things

Dear goodhearted reader,

My letters, I’m afraid, too often describe only the unique beauty and wondrous wilds of Alaska. Perhaps I wander off on tangents of romanticism or present an idealized version of my home.

Years ago in a graduate creative writing course, I discovered Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book. It’s a 10th century Japanese equivalent of the memoir, but what stayed with me is her amusing, telling list of hateful things. I highly recommend it.

In honor of truthfulness and in respectful imitation of Sei Shonagon, here is my list of hateful things:

* One forgets to bring in the liquid laundry detergent from the car, so that when it is time to launder one’s eight loads of clothes at the laundromat, it is a solid chunk of frozen soap and impossible to pour.

* The flock of ravens that follows one’s pickup truck around town because of the collection of trapping bait in the back. To be the center of such an embarrassing scene — hateful!

* The 35th straight day of constant, grating, silt-laden Matanuska wind that rips one’s hat off one’s head and blows plastic shopping bags into the trees. It is quite unpleasant.

* January. Frozen, dark, gray, holiday-less January.

* One makes the long drive home from work behind a pickup truck pulling a trailer full of four-wheelers at an agonizingly slow pace, only to have the driver launch to illegal speeds once a passing lane becomes available. Such charmless, detestable behavior!

* Bumper stickers on Alaskan automobiles that say “I Hate Snow.”

* One stands, overheated and exhausted in winter boots and coat, in the crowded line at the post office for 45 long minutes to hand a slip to an overworked, quarrelsome employee, only to receive in exchange … the annual Cabela’s sporting goods catalog.

* January.

* One spends the entire day making homemade eggnog, handwhipping egg whites from one’s own chickens and pouring in lavishly expensive brandy, but when one sets it on the back porch to keep chilled until the guests have arrived, one’s dog laps up half the bowl. One is forced to confess the embarrassing mishap to the guests, who choose to drink the last of the eggnog anyway.

* The two hours required to inflate the tires and start the engine in the rusty plow truck in order to spend half an hour plowing the driveway before needing to re-inflate the tires. (This hateful thing contributed by my husband Sam.)

* Daylight savings in a place that has 4 hours of daylight on winter days and 20 hours on summer days.

* Rocks in an otherwise perfect sledding hill. Hateful things!

* One calls to order a product, a pair of socks or a dish towel, only to be told that it will cost double the advertised price because of the cost of shipping to Alaska, which the telephone associate is not sure is even part of the United States. What foolishness!

* A legal, spike-horned bull moose standing in one’s garden, chomping one’s precious, tender cabbages and broccoli, three days before the opening of hunting season. One is tempted to shoot the thing anyways, but then one remembers she is married to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist with a badge, so refrains.

* One wakens to howling wind, blowing snow, and icy roads, only to learn that school has NOT been canceled. (This hateful thing contributed by my eldest daughter.)

* A cold and rainy summer that allows for only one dip in the neighborhood lake.

* January.

* One sits quietly minding one’s own business on an airplane only to have the nearby seatmate strike up a conversation and, upon learning that one is from Alaska, ask if one knows a certain famous/infamous never-to-be-named-here Alaskan, and if one admires/hates this Alaskan. Why must this conversation ever occur?

* A broken car heater that requires one to wear mittens, fur hat, coat, scarf, and snowsuit and to scrape the ice from the inside of the windshield as one is driving to town. Most hateful!

* One plans a sledding party weeks in advance, only to have it unexpectedly rain in the middle of winter and turn the hill to slush.

* The constant complaining of people who have lived in Alaska for 20 years but have always wanted to live somewhere else. How tiresome!



P.S. My favorite blogger The Rejectionist did a similarly inspired post a while back. I highly recommend it, too.

Turn of the table

Dear bookish reader,

Several years ago I attended the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show in Portland, Oregon. I went with Melissa Behnke, the co-owner of Fireside Books. It was so serious and so fun. We were bona fide booksellers with empty suitcases and notebooks, setting out on an important mission — to learn more about our trade and to discover, and bring home, exciting new books.

But we were also book lovers in a land of books.  We went on giddy binges of greed, walking the trade show floor and filling our arms with free books. We sat in on panel discussions and visited with other booksellers. We talked books, and talked books.

By far the most memorable event was the “feast of authors.” We were all situated at tables in a dining hall. Throughout the meal, selected authors sat down at our table and visited with us. Several authors came to our table that night; I remember two vividly. Floyd Skloot, a wonderful poet, novelist and essayist, told us about his memoir,  A World of Light. Since that dinner, his daughter Rebecca Skloot has published the bestselling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Another visitor to our table was Laura Numeroff, author of If  You Give a Pig a Pancake among may others sweet children’s books. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my daughter I had met her.

Never once did I think to myself “I wonder if I’ll be here again someday, but instead as an author.” It didn’t even cross my mind, even though I had already begun work on an early novel.

So imagine my delight and surprise when my publicist emailed the other day to say it was official — I am to be one of the guest authors at this year’s PNBA “feast of authors.”

I would be nervous, except I know how to dress in Portland, Oregon. And I also know — these are my people. They love books. I love books. We’ve got the whole world in common. We’ll talk about their bookstores and Fireside Books, and I’ll have to imagine Marlena my publicist at my shoulder, gently reminding me to not just talk shop with my fellow booksellers, but also tell them a bit about my debut novel. Maybe then I can describe how I was struck with the idea for The Snow Child when I was shelving books at Fireside. I can tell them that being a bookseller is the perfect day job for a would-be novelist.

I can’t wait until October!



And we’ll go together to pick wild berries

Wild blueberries near our house.

Dear secret reader,

Pssst. I know a place where we can find blueberries.  Fat, ripe, wild blueberries so thick on the bush that you can grab handfuls at a time. But first you have to hold up your right hand and solemnly swear on your neighbor’s blueberry pie that you will never reveal the location. No matter who asks or how they tempt or torture you, this secret must die with you. Really? Really.

You’ll need buckets. Gallon plastic containers with handles, the kind you can buy filled with ice cream at the super market, are perfect. Bring a few, just in case we get really lucky.

Proper berry picking gear -- boots and buckets.

Dark thunder clouds are gathering at the mountains. It’s sunny now, but there will be a downpour later, and then more sun. So wear your rubber boots and bring your rain gear. Grab the mosquito repellent, a few snacks for the kids and the dogs, and a bottle of water.

We’ll drive a little ways, and then we’ll hike a little ways. We might see some grouse or ptarmigan. An owl might perch in a spruce branch over your head. We’ll probably see bear or moose tracks in the muddy trail. And eventually we’ll find ourselves at the edge of alpine tundra, where the spruce and birch forest gives way to Labrador tea bushes, lichen covered rocks, and knee-high berry bushes.

The lowbush cranberries aren’t ripe yet, so don’t pick them. And the blackish crow berries are edible, but not very good, so let’s leave those behind. Here — these are the ones you want. You see? The fat, sweet-tart blueberries.

Nearly ripe lowbush cranberries.

When you first start dropping them into the bucket, they’ll make a loud “plunk,” but then, as your bucket fills, they will land silently on the heap of other berries. Your bucket will get heavy, and you’ll become completely absorbed in your task. You’ll skip over the skimpier bushes, the berries that are small or oddly shaped. You know what you want now. That luscious dark blue hanging heavily from the branch.

Tonight we’ll spread the berries on cookie sheets and put them in the chest freezer. Once they’re firm, we’ll transfer them into gallon plastic bags and put them back in the freezer.

When you climb, tired and content, into bed tonight, you’ll close  your eyes and see the tundra, the bushes, one berry after another dropped into the bucket as you drift off to sleep.

Come early winter, when you’re yearning for those sunshiny days on the tundra when the cinquefoil and saxifrage bloomed in the marsh and the owl flew off into the trees, you and I together will make some blueberry jam or a whipped-cream topped pie, and we’ll pretend it’s August again.

But for now, lose yourself in the bushes. Fill your bucket, handful after handful.



P.S. Thanks to Mr. Baer and Chickaloon Jenny! 🙂

A room of my own

A low impact woodland home constructed in Wales and featured on the website http://www.simondale.net.

Dear reclusive reader,

In her 1929 essay, Virginia Woolf wrote her now-famous words.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Lately I’ve been daydreaming — as I type on my laptop at our dining room table covered with books and papers, my husband at the other end with his stacks of work documents and his own laptop, my oldest daughter singing into her ipod, my youngest playing with her train set and watching Spongebob Squarepants with the volume on high, all of us together in our cozy home. I sit and I daydream about a quiet place. A room, with a closing door. A room of my own.

My daydreams have lingered here recently, in this hobbit-style house in Wales, but I’ve also daydreamed about a private library like one of these or a writerly cabin along these lines. Here, in one of these secluded, quaint, peaceful locations, I could lose myself in my next novel. I know I could. That is all that separates me from the freedom to imagine.

But before family guests arrived last month, I took the time to clean out my upstairs “cloffice.” It is an unfinished, windowless walk-in closet with an open doorway. The walls are unfinished Sheetrock, and a bare lightbulb hangs from the ceiling. When I sit in the metal folding chair at the rickety desk, my back touches the clothes on the rack behind me. Books threaten to bring down the one little shelf, and dozens of other books are piled in three-foot high stacks at my feet.

This is where I wrote The Snow Child. Two hours every night, one chapter at a time. It’s strange, but I don’t remember ever sitting here. All I can recall is the unfolding story, the words sometimes flying from my brain, other times coming slowly, painfully.

As I stood in my “cloffice” I realized I have a room of my own, and yet even it is only a metaphor. There hangs my wedding dress in its crinkly bag from nearly 20 years ago, and there my late-grandfather’s corduroy work shirt. Here is my bathrobe beside my husband’s, and there my daughters’ Christmas dresses with their satin green bows. The books have their own titles — Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Louise Edrich’s Love Medicine, Report of an Expedition, Fieldguide to Alaskan Wildflowers …

This is the space I occupy when I write.

If I want to lose myself in my next adventure, I don’t need a private hobbit house or an ornate library. If only it were that simple.  Instead, I have to be ready to spend some time up here, in my own mind. It’s not a vast space, and it’s a little rough around the edges, never tidied up or completely finished. It’s plastered with memories, some of the magical and joyful, some melancholy and frightening. Its decor is a haphazard gathering of books and words and art and music.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s my own.



Hello new readers!

Dear generous reader,

This is a quick shout out to several new subscribers to my blog — Dan in Boston (hi!), the North Carolina clan, and here in Alaska, the amazing artist Peggy! Thanks guys. It’s so much fun to know who is receiving my letters each week. By the way, all I can see when you subscribe is your email address and the general area of the country where you live. So with that in mind, I also want to say hi to Carol and a new follower from West Virginia.

Subscribing to the blog just means that each week the letters will be delivered directly to your email so you know when there’s a new letter. I try to post new letters on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The subscriptions help me know how many people are reading.

The only other way I know you’re reading my letters is when you leave a comment on my blog. I LOVE the comments. You all make the blog fun. It’s fantastic to see a conversation develop between readers in Alaska and Italy, or the Netherlands and Chicago. All the comments together give a more complex, interesting perspective on the topics I’m writing about. So please, if you ever have the slightest notion to participate, please, please do. Comment every day. Comment twice on the same letter. Whether you’re my neighbor, a relative, a friend, or until now a complete stranger, I’d love to have you share your thoughts.

Now, if it will only stop raining, we’re heading out to pick blueberries. I’m being led blindfolded to a secret spot and told I can take no photos that will give away our whereabouts (really), but I’ve been promised 10 gallons.



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