Alaska Women’s Summit 2014

Alaska Women's Summit 2014

I just got home from the second Alaska Women’s Summit in Anchorage, where I was blown away by the caliber of the presenters. The second day, attendees are encouraged to bring a younger woman with them, and I brought my niece, Dawn Peppinger, who started working for the US Postal Service in high school as a part-time carrier. Last year she was promoted to marketing manager for the USPS for the entire state of Alaska. Talk about by your bootstraps. And I’m not at all proud of her or anything.

Me, Lisa and Dawn

The point of the Summit is to connect, to keep each other informed about our work going forward, and to mentor. For example, Hillary Morgan of YWCA Alaska spoke about a YWCA initiative to achieve gender pay equity in Alaska by 2025. Today, Alaska women make 67 cents of an Alaska man’s dollar. Every panel was equally revelatory and informative and inspiring. I tweeted from it, and so did a lot of other attendees.

I myself presented on a panel with another Alaskan writer, Leigh Newman, talking war stories about the writing business. This morning I found an email in my inbox from a 25-year old Summit attendee named Rebecca, who writes, “I have had a few poems published in small, local journals, but have never done anything big. Any advice or information you’re willing to share would be a most welcome gift to me.”

This is my reply.

The best advice I can give you is to write every day. Even if it’s only one sentence a day, that will be one sentence more than you had the day before, and by the end of the year you might have a story, or an essay, or a poem, or a book. And don’t set the bar so high (“I’m going to write 10,000 words today!”) that you intimidate yourself out of writing at all. Start a blog if you haven’t already, and commit to writing something for it once a week.

Rewriting is your friend. W.H. Auden rewrote his poetry until he died.

Start or join a writing group where you read each other’s work and speak honestly about what works in it, and what doesn’t. Your guiding principle as a group should be constructive criticism, not destructive.

Finish. Some of the world’s greatest writers will never be published because they spend their lives rewriting their first four chapters and no time at all writing the last one.

So far as publishing is concerned, the industry is changing so rapidly today that any advice I give you will probably be wrong tomorrow. The holy grail of authors used to be a publishing contract with a legacy publisher in New York City. Today, many writers are starting out by publishing their work in e on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, all the e-book platforms. NY publishers pay attention. Amanda Hocking self-published on Amazon, became a bestseller, and signed a contract with St. Martin’s for $2 million for four books. John Locke and Sylvia Day, Hugh Howey did the same.

Here are a few websites that will greatly inform you about the business side of writing and the state of publishing today:

The Passive Voice He’s an intellectual property attorney, married to a novelist, and his website is the best aggregator of links to pro-independent publishing news.

Hugh Howey He’s in the forefront of independent publishing, and has the added benefit of being a nice guy about it. Really helpful to newbies.

Joe Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing An indie writer, snarky, fun, and right most of the time. He was one of the first indies to self-publish, and he’s been writing about it for longer than anyone else.

Subscribe to publishing industry newsletters, like PW Daily and Shelf Awareness. Consider attending writers conferences, like the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference in Homer.

But the most important thing is to write every day. If you don’t write, you won’t publish, be it with legacy publishers or independently. You have to do the work first.

Good luck!

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The guy who scored the soundtrack for Life on Mars is a fricken’ genius.

[from the stabenow.com vaults, February 25, 2011]


I watched Life on Mars on DVD last month, the British version.

Along with a weirdly wonderful premise, superb writing and everything else — casting, cinematography — lovely about it, it’s got the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard on a television series. I was already wowed when Cream’s “White Room” came thumping out of the speakers at the end of the first episode and brought me all upstanding and rocking around the living room. I couldn’t believe they were using original artists instead of those horrible synthesized elevator imitations we’ve all come to know and hate on American television programs. (I know, I know, ASCAP is only looking out for author royalties, and how can I object to that?)

So I googled and of course someone has already put up a list of Life on Mars songs on Wikipedia. You’ll notice it’s heavy on the hard rock, Sweet, Uriah Heep, Atomic Rooster, T. Rex–in short, all those bands that turned me off rock and roll back in the day. But here’s the thing. Every one of those songs is pitch perfect to the tone of the series, the time it is set in, and the characters inhabiting it. Much of the music is fast and loud and frantic to hold on, to the lyric, to the back beat, to our attention, to life, the universe and everything. Kind of like Sam Tyler.

But then it lightens up, sort of, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, Louis Armstrong, all the way to blue and bittersweet. Kind of like Sam Tyler.

The guy who scored the soundtrack for Life on Mars is a fricken’ genius, and so were the producers who signed the checks so they could use tracks by original artists. So was everyone else who had anything to do with the series. Both thumbs way up.

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“She had figured out how to set bail, and how high.”

In the six months since she had been sworn in she had stumbled through her first arrest warrants, fumbled through her first search warrants, and muddled through her first arraignments. She had figured out how to set bail, and how high. She had issued half a dozen restraining orders, and had taken emergency action in one case of child abuse that still gave her nightmares. She had tried, convicted and sentenced no less than sixteen drunk drivers. She had tried and convicted one fisher of fishing without a permit, a second for fishing past the end of the period, a third for harvesting female opilio, a fourth for harvesting undersized kings, and a fifth for fishing outside the district to which his permit restricted him. She had learned to discount most excuses offered by fishers, because if all the engines alleged to have broken down in her courtroom really had, half the Bering Sea fishing fleet would be in dry dock.

–Missing, Presumed…

The Collected Short Stories


Only in e.

On Amazon.

On Amazon.uk.

On Amazon.au.

On iTunes.

On Barnes & Noble.

On Kobo.


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