Archive for October, 2010


At Dusk

Bands of lava

Pack the sky

Blur the horizon.


By Dawn

A single moon

Hung like an ornament

Keeps watch.

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“They’re barefoot, moving silently along the carpeted hallway, searching for some clue to which hotel room might be Jenna McNulty’s.”

That’s the first line of Perpetual Check (Random House, 2009, 112 pages), by Rich Wallace. He’s the author of several realistic YA novels. Three of his books have been chosen as ALA Best Books for Your Adults.

From the Jacket Flap:

Randy is a chubby ninth grader with a Cub Scout hair cut who guesses M&M colors with his eyes closed and makes up words. He’s also a chess whiz who has defeated his older brother Zeke in nine of their last ten matches. Zeke is a high school senior, a soccer champ, and a chess natural who can beat just about anyone if he decides to really concentrate. So why is his loser little brother the better athlete, the better chess player, and the first to have a girlfriend?

Told in alternating points of view between brothers, Rich Wallace’s new novel brings to life one of America’s favorite pastimes in a suspenseful story about competition and family loyalty.

Perpetual Check is the fourth Rich Wallace book I’ve read. He does a really good job of writing from a male POV. 

I first heard Rich speak at the ALAN Conference several years ago and now I try to read everything he writes. He uses sports as a framework for his stories, but the stories themselves are about relationships.

In Perpetual Check, you don’t need to know anything about Chess in order to become swept up in the story.

Thanks for coming by.

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I’ve been happily buried in a revision/rewrite for the past ten days on a WIP I hadn’t picked up for over a year.

I remembered writing the first draft of LAST CHANCE, that’s the working title, in about six weeks. Then over the course of a year I revised it half a dozen times and finally gave it to one person to read. I had two other books I was working on, so when the critique came back I read it and then set it aside. I continued working on the two other books, and wrote a first draft of another book.

When I finally picked up LAST CHANCE, I was a little overwhelmed. I remembered being really excited by the story and then deflated by the critique. The critique did a good job of pointing out LAST CHANCE’s weaknesses which was what I wanted, but it also fired a couple of personal jabs my way which kind of threw me off balance.

Now I’m a guy who taught in a school for behaviorally challenged students for 15 years. I’ve been cussed out, lied to, and threatened too many times to count. I’ve even been punched and kicked a few times, but none of it was personal. By that, I mean those kids were going through tough times and for whatever reasons that’s how their anger, fear and frustration manifested.

My point: when someone is supposed to critique your writing, when that’s the understanding, and they start critiquing you instead, it’s not about you, it’s about them. Don’t take it personally.

Is this hard to remember? Sometimes.

Do the memories of those personal comments still get under my skin? A little.

Am I putting to use some of the comments directed toward the book? Yes.

Will I ever seek out this person for another critique? I haven’t decided.

Have I spoken to this person about where I thought the critique went astray? I haven’t and don’t plan to.

Since I started blogging—the above critique pre-dates my blogging-days—I’ve had the pleasure of trading manuscripts with some really great people who’ve totally focused on the writing.

Have you ever received a critique that crossed the fine line between the writing and the writer? How did you handle it? How would you handle it in the future? If you’ve never experienced this, what do you think is the best way to handle this type of situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(This weekend I was interviewed at Frolicking Through Cyberspace. Here’s the link if your interested: Frolicking Through Cyberspace)

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Heather Ayris Burnell, author of  the recently released picture book Bedtime Monster, (Raven Tree Press), was kind enough to interview me on her blog, Frolicking Through Cyberspace. If you’d like to read the interview, here’s the link: Interview

Thanks, Heather.

And, I couldn’t resist showing off the cover of Bedtime Monster and a short summary:

A little boy doesn’t want to go to bed. He whines. He cries. He throws a tantrum. He begins to grow long claws and a tail. What? A tail? It’s true! This little boy is not only acting like a monster, he turns into one! He growls a scary growl. He grows a tail. But, his parents know what to do. They calmly cuddle, rock, and sing to him. Here is a monster you might actually want to snuggle with as bedtime draws near.

Thanks for stopping by.

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This week I read Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick.


From the Jacket Flap: When Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an army hospital in Iraq, he’s honored with a Purple Heart. But he doesn’t feel like a hero. There’s a memory that haunts him: an image of a young Iraqi boy as a bullet hits his chest. Matt can’t shake the feeling that he was somehow involved in his death. But because of a head injury, he can’t quite seem to put all the pieces together.

Eventually Matt is sent back into combat with his squad. He just wants to go back to being the soldier he once was. But he sees potential threats everywhere and lives in fear of not being able to pull the trigger when the time comes. In combat there is no black-and-white, and Matt soon discovers that the notion of who is guilty is very complicated indeed.

Purple Heart is a page-turning, gut-punching read that gives you an inside look at modern war through the eyes of an eighteen year-old boy.

I’ve read two other YA novels by Patricia McCormick. Sold, which was a National Book Award finalist, and Cut, which was a bestseller. If you’re looking for realistic characters dealing with intense situations in contemporary times, check out any of her books.

Patricia was trained as a journalist and writes like a poet. That combination makes for some powerful writing.

Thanks for stopping by.

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 Some of you might remember the Other Northwriter. Yeah, my wife, Dana. She’s a little cyber-shy but was willing to let me post the photo below.

My view from the back of the kayak. No matter how fast I paddle I can never quite catch Dana.

She applied for and was granted a sabbatical for this school year. So instead of teaching her classes and serving on a bunch of committees for her job duties at the University, she’s writing a novel, and doing a couple of other writing projects.

So, yeah, we’re both writing full-time this year.

Point is, she’s not tied to a geographic location this year and neither am I, so we’re going to take advantage of this rare opportunity to be somewhere different for a few winter months.

It all started coming together when a good friend of ours needed a place to stay this winter. I was stressing about what we’d do with our house if we left because Fairbanks winters are hard on houses, even a small one like ours. I didn’t want to rent it out, and didn’t want to close it down either.

"Bummer. I guess the heater kicked off."

Anyway, our friend is going to stay in our house why we relocate for a few months to, drum roll please….Arizona.

This all happens in about a month.

Lots of details to still workout. The idea is that we’ll do a lot of writing, just in a different place. I love the southwest and have spent a bunch of time doing wilderness trips down there over the years, but it’s been a while.

We didn’t want to go somewhere totally new—like Italy, although we considered it—because then the distractions might be too great to overcome. And yeah, it would cost a little more, too.

So anyway, you’ll probably be seeing some red rocks and cactus on my blog this winter, but not for a little while yet. More details to come.

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The Walrus haulout at Cape Pierce.

One of the weirdest job duties I ever had was removing tusks from dead Walrus. I didn’t have to do this too often—only seven times. I was working as a volunteer on Togiak National Wildlife Refuge at Cape Pierce doing marine mammal, nesting sea bird, and migrating waterfowl surveys back in 1986. A portion of male walrus population remain in the southern Bering Sea in the summer while the females and young stay with the ice pack as it recedes north.

I don’t have photos from my time with the Walrus because my camera broke, but here’s a few I found taken at Cape Pierce from subsequent years.

Cape Pierce is a remote, windswept peninsula jutting into the Bering Sea in the lonely Southwestern corner of Alaska.

Cape Pierce is the cliffy peninsula on the right-hand side of the photo.

In the two and half months I worked there we had visitors twice.

It’s a 90 minute bush plane flight from the nearest settlement. Yeah, it was out there. And the wind blew almost all the time. Twenty miles per hour was normal. The highest wind speed I recorded was 65 mph.

The Walrus would haul out in these sand dunes—anywhere from six to twelve thousand of them.

A typical scene at Cape Pierce.

Over the course of several days the walrus would leave to hunt for food on the ocean bottom and then come back and rest.

The reason we had to remove the tusks from the dead animals was to prevent poachers from flying low over the herd and harassing them. Ivory sticking up in the air attracted poachers who would fly in small planes.

One shady character was rumored to have a gun mounted on the wing of his plane. We were given a description of his plane and were supposed to take cover if we spotted him in the air. Otherwise, we were supposed to make ourselves visible because just having people out there was a huge deterrent.

Before the Fish and Wildlife Service stationed people at Cape Pierce they averaged two disturbances a week. The ten weeks I was there we had zero disturbances.

It was a bloody, stinky job removing the tusks. Think major dental work on something big that’d been dead for a while.

One tusk of the 14 I removed.

I didn’t know that’d be one of my job duties when I accepted the position but hey, you can’t know everything, and given the circumstances, I was glad to do it.

It wasn’t your typical beach party.

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