On the Lit Road

by Martha Amore

Cross-posted from 49 Writers.

Hoarse from hollering over the bar din at Alice’s Champagne Palace, I walked out to the parking lot with my anthology contributors, Teeka Ballas and Dawnell Smith.

We’d just finished celebrating the Homer event on our Alaska book tour for Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry. We had an amazing discussion after our reading at the local library presented in conjunction with the Homer Bookstore, and it left us feeling inspired and hopeful for the future of books.

“Just follow us,” Dawnell said, urging me to camp with them across town. “We have a good spot, though we didn’t do the best job setting up our tent.”

“Kinda saggy,” Teeka agreed. “We’re not sure it’s gonna stay up.”

I imagined the ruckus when their two big dogs met my overprotective shepherd mix, so I decided to call Alice’s parking lot home. As I stretched out in my Honda Pilot, my dog at my feet, a box of books at my side, and a window full of bright stars in the black night, I thought of what had brought me to this place.

My co-editor, Lucian Childs, and I conceived of our anthology nearly three years earlier. As writers, we were used to hard work… the hard work of writing, that is. But in the past year, as our literary vision turned into a product we could hold in our hands, the work we faced was wholly different. The hours spent madly typing into our laptops were no longer in service of creating stories, but rather of marketing them. We became PR folk: print and digital media marketing strategists. Lucian created the web site and Facebook pages, and began building a platform on Twitter. We blogged. We outreached to Alaska LGTBQ and literary organizations to set up the book tour and to local media to help promote it. We queried the national literary world, asking to be included in lit festivals and conferences.

We came to appreciate what our writer friends who’ve published books before us had learned. To be a writer of books means taking on the work of promoting them.

Our most valuable lesson has been to embrace the power of community. Alaska has been an amazing place to make our book. The literary community is an incredible support. Many of Alaska’s literary lights agreed to read and blurb the book and to help us find potential contributors. For all that, we owe them our deepest gratitude.

When it came time to set up our Alaska book tour, bookstores, libraries and community organizations helped us along the way. Even so, we had to take ownership of the events and personally engage each community where the event was to take place. We learned that in order to have successful literary readings, it is not enough to simply set up a venue and create a flyer.

For example in Homer, rather than simply relying on the library and bookstore to put the word out, we asked one of our contributors who lives in Homer, Teresa Sundmark, to personally invite people in her circle. The result: a whole section of the audience was made up of Teresa’s neighbors.

Lucian and Martha speak at Gulliver's Books in Fairbanks

Lucian and Martha speak at Gulliver's Books in Fairbanks

For our event at Gulliver’s Books in Fairbanks, we reached out to the local LGBTQ and arts organizations: the UAF Gender and Sexuality Alliance, PFLAG, and the Fairbanks Arts Association. We were heartened by the turnout, especially of the queer, transgender, and gender neutral high school and college students. One young transgender man even came with his mom and told us about the openness he felt in his high school and community. For all the deep and sometimes painful discussions of sexual and gender identity we’d had, this young man showed us that in Alaska it’s a brand new day.

Our last afternoon in Fairbanks, inspired but exhausted, we decided to splurge. Budget be damned! Lucian, his husband Alex, and I drove the hour north of town to celebrate by taking a long soak at Chena Hot Springs. As the healing waters washed over me and began to lessen the stress built up from three years of hard work, I smiled and thought to myself, This too is the writer’s life.

A 49 Writers Crosscurrents event featuring Lucian Childs, Martha Amore, Indra Arriaga, and moderator Heather Brook Adams will begin this Thursday, October 13th at 7 pm at the Anchorage Museum. The event, called “Tales of the City: Writing from Alaska’s Urban Hubs”, will be preceded by an informal Building Fires in the Snowmeet and greet at MUSE Restaurant between 5 and 6:45 pm.