Growing Up Alaska: The Candy Bar

Growing up in a rural town in Alaska meant things were done differently. People didn’t lock up their houses or their cars. A neighbor was more than someone who lived next to you. And all of this was based on trust.

I was around eleven when this next story occurred and it was one of those rare occasions that I was selected to go alone to help my dad. In reality, both of my brothers were likely occupied with something else and my dad took the next available son.

That sounds worse than it really was because I was 6 years younger than my oldest brother and when my dad went out to do something, he tended to take someone that he could depend on that already knew what to do. I was a bit of a dreamer and admittedly was not the best of “just knowing” what to do.

But today was my day. I honestly don’t remember exactly what we had gone to do, but I believe we’d gone to pick up my dad’s drill rig. We were successful and were on our way home when my dad stopped off at Crabb’s Corner, the local one stop convenience store/gas station/laundry/hotel/cafe/bar/etc.

My dad filled up the fuel tanks on the truck and drill rig and gave me a few dollars to go in to get a soda to split and a candy bar. Now this was something special as we didn’t do this often and I was quite excited.

I ran in and looked through the limited selection of candy, trying to decide what I wanted. I picked out a Hershey Bar with almonds for my dad and finally selected a Butterfinger for myself, not because it was my favorite, it was simply because it was the biggest.

When I went over to the fridge to get a Pepsi for us to share, I noticed a strange man standing in the dark near the laundry just staring at me. As you can imagine, this gave me the creeps, so I quickly grabbed the soda and went to the counter up front and rang the bell.

The store was often unmanned and the bell next to the register was used to alert someone upstairs in the cafe/bar to come down. Only no one came, so I waited and rang the bell again.

I looked out the window and could see my dad was finished with fueling the vehicles and was climbing into the cab to pull the truck around to get us ready for the road. I knew that if Jim was managing the bar, he didn’t like it when people rang the bell, so I ran to the steps and peered up into the cafe/bar.

I wasn’t allowed up their without one of my parents, so I craned my neck as much as I could and looked around. The place was empty. There weren’t even any customers which was odd.

Movement in the dark room to my left made my hair stand on end as the stranger had moved and was now standing in the middle of the room, staring at me wordlessly. I couldn’t see his face in the dark, but I imagined it to be something sinister.

My dad honked the horn and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I ran to the counter and in a panic, didn’t know what to do. Normally, if someone doesn’t answer, you fill out a slip on the notebook with what you purchased and the cash. If you are owed change, you picked it up the next time you came in. If you had a line of credit, you could simply write and IOU. Remember, we were a tight knit community and trust was everything.

And that was the problem. I didn’t trust this stranger. So, in a most grown up way, I decided not to leave the cash behind, but rather wrote an IOU and rushed out to my dad waiting in the truck.

I bound in and had barely closed the door before my dad started off. I handed him the soda and Hershey Bar before buckling my belt as we turned out onto the road.

I pulled my Butterfinger out along with the $3 he’d had given me and was pleased with my split second decision that I was sure my dad would be proud of it too.

“Here’s the money! I left them a note because there was no one there but this strange guy.”

My dad just turned and stared at me without taking the money. “Why didn’t you leave it on the counter?”

I beamed up at him. “I didn’t see anyone in the bar and afraid the stranger would steal the money, I decided to leave a note instead.”

Rather than the familiar pride on my dad’s face, a look I seldom saw darkened his eyes. He stuck out his hand and I handed him the money. He set it on his seat next to him and stuck out his hand again. I looked at him confused, then reluctantly handed him my Butterfinger.

He set it wordlessly on the seat as well and drove down the narrow road until he found a place that he could turn around with the trailer and we headed back to Crabb’s Corner.

“I understand why you thought that was good, but I want you to remember that the people around here have to earn each other’s trust. People can take your home, your bike, even your life, but one thing they can’t take from you is your good name.”

We pulled back into the parking lot and as we stopped, he continued. “You have not earned their trust to leave them a note. Though you thought you were doing the right thing, it isn’t your responsibility to make sure anyone else is. It would have been better for you to leave the money counter and have the man steal it than to steal something with a promise.”

“But what if–” I started before my dad held up his hand.

“Trust can not be built on what ifs.” He picked up my Butterfinger and handed it to me before fishing another dollar out of his pocket. “Now, return it and apologize. You will pay double for your candy when you return it. If no one is there, leave a note and apologize.”

Crestfallen, I took the money and my candy and trudged back into the store. When the chimes on the door rang, I was greeted by the cheerful voice of Ms. Sandy, the owner. “Why there you are dear! I got your note. Did you forget something?”

I shook my head and placed the Butterfinger on the counter along with $4. I felt the tears burning the corner of my eyes as I felt ashamed. “I’m sorry I took the stuff without paying.”

“Why that is okay, dear? I got your note,” she said picking up the money. “Hun, here, you gave me too much,” she said scooting the extra dollar back towards me.

“My dad said I had to pay double for what I stole since I don’t have permission to leave an IOU.”

I turned for the door as Ms. Sandy replied, “That’s silly. I don’t let kids write IOUs, but I know you are good for it. Besides, I heard you ring the bell, but I was….busy.”

I pulled open the door and she called out, “You forgot your candy!”

I felt the tears well up again and I left before she could see me crying.

My dad stood next to the truck waiting and when I came out, he motioned for me to get in and then went inside to talk to Ms. Sandy as well.

He came out less than two minutes later and climbed into the truck before pulling out onto the road.

Once we had driven for a minute, he said in his low solid voice, “I know that must have been hard, but I want you to know that I am proud of you. I’m proud of you for making a good choice, even if it wasn’t the right one. I’m proud of you for standing up and apologizing even when you didn’t feel you were in the wrong. And I am proud of you for listening to me and not complaining or arguing.”

He reached into his jacket pocket and I looked up in anticipation, wiping the tears from my cheeks. He handed me the rest of his Hershey Bar and for a flash of a moment I was disappointed until I realized that this was his treat, something I knew he looked forward to and he had given it to me though I was the one at fault.

It was one of my most humbling moments in life and it has always stuck with me. I can’t look at a Butterfinger without thinking of him and remembering the pride on his face as he gave away his treat to soften my blow. And I will always remember how sweet it was to share that treat with him as we drove home.

Growing Up Alaska: The Tale of the Tail

Winters are cold in the interior of Alaska. We can see the temperatures plummet to below minus 60º Fahrenheit which can be painfully cold. One of my prized possessions was my fur trappers hat that I wore to keep my head, ears and cheeks warm.

I was traveling by snow machine with a friend to clear and mark the trail for The Yukon Quest, a thousand mile sled dog race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Fairbanks, Alaska, that literally went through my backyard. It was late in January, so we didn’t get much sunlight, and most of our trail breaking was done in the dark.

Luckily, the temperatures had risen to just above zero and along with that, it brought fresh snow. That meant that in places it was difficult to find the trail and we spent a lot of time creating new paths.

A sliver of a moon had already risen, even though it was early in the evening, casting silvery shadows in open spaces and leaving the trees as dark splotches against an even darker sky. The headlight from the snow machine cast a bouncing yellow light that reflected off the drifts and left long chasms of shadows the seemed to move on their own.

I was kneeling on my machine to help keep it stable in the soft snow as I followed my friend who had taken the lead since I was hauling the sled with the trail markers and reflectors. The sound of the engine and the rushing wind drowned out most sound and caused a hum in my brain that tried to lull me to ignore the world around me.

We pulled out of the woods and dropped down onto a wide creek and after taking a right, I noticed that my friend had stopped not far up the creek. We frequently stopped to mark the trail or simply to warm ourselves up or let our machines cool down.

I stopped and marked the trail showing the mushers that the trail was about to turn and leave the creek. Finished, I climbed back on my machine and sped along the trail to my waiting friend.

As I approached him, I could see he was sitting on his machine and drinking from his thermos. I was thinking about how cold I was and looked forward to taking a break and drinking hot chocolate from my own thermos being kept warm near the exhaust manifold.

He turned and looked at me as I approached and I saw his eyes go wide and his jaw drop open in either surprise or trying to yell something. Of course, even if he had yelled, I wouldn’t have heard him.

And that is when something struck me upside my head causing me to shift on my machine and go off the trail and sink into the snow.

In that moment, my brain slowed down as it tried to process all the information. One part tried to keep my machine from sinking while another part processed the pain at the side of my head and yet another part tried to process what had caused the pain.

My machine slowed and immediately sunk as I tried to stay on and I knew I was going to get stuck, so I turned my attention to my friend who was frantically pointing behind me.

I swung my head around and watched a huge dark shadow fly up and disappear into the trees. As the snow machine stopped, I turned it off and felt the side of my head to see if I was bleeding.

Luckily I was not. I pulled my hat off and found a large scratch along the leather on the earflap. I checked my head again and found that pain was coming from just over and behind the ear.

“Holy cow! Did you see it?” my friend yelled as he ran to me. It was hard to understand him as my ears still thrummed from the roar of the vibrations of the snow machine. He point to the trees. “That was a huge owl! Are you okay?”

I checked the side of my head again and was relieved to find I still wasn’t bleeding, though it hurt enough that I was sure there should be some kind of gash there. As I spun my hat around, I saw that I was now missing the last four inches of my prized fox tail that tended to flutter in the breeze behind me as I rode.

“Man, it got your tail!” my friend said as he inspected the side of my head. “It came out of nowhere and WHAM! It must have thought your tail was food!”

I spent a few minutes lamenting my hat and my head before spending the next twenty minutes getting my machine and the sled out of the soft snow.

As we continued down the trail, more than once I was sure I spotted phantom shadows out of the corner of my eye causing me to duck.

Even today, if I am walking near woods or working in my yard, when a shadow passes overhead, my instinct is to duck and I think of that great horned owl that took the tip of my tail.

Growing Up Alaska: The Boy Scout Motto “I Forgot”

Growing up in Central, Alaska, a remote town with a population of less than a hundred year round residents, you can imagine that we didn’t have a very big school age population. In fact, most of the time our school had about a dozen students between kindergarten and twelfth grade, my family making up about a quarter of the school population.

This also meant that we didn’t have organizations like the Boy or Girl Scouts, though we did have a 4-H club for many years. This did not mean we weren’t aware of such groups as troops from the Fairbanks area would travel up to our neck of the woods to float Birch Creek which was really more of a river.

One summer, when I was 14, I was on a break from mining and word spread that they local guide for the trip had injured himself and wouldn’t be able to take the Boy Scout troop and they were looking for another guide. I stepped up and volunteered, but the Troop leader was a little hesitant since I was about the same age as many of the kids in his troop.

But after hours of no one else showing up to volunteer, he agreed to let me guide them on a three day trip down the creek. So late in the afternoon, we set off for a three day float that we could realistically make in one day. This took the pressure off of making camps as we could pull in early to set up.

My canoe was packed lightly as I carried a small backpack, a shotgun and my sleeping bag. I was in the water and waiting for nearly a half an hour before the troop finally waddled down to the boat launch and we set off.

The first day was short and we set up camp a few hours later along a wide gravel bar on the north side of the creek. It was fun to banter with the other boys, even if they were a bit standoffish. I didn’t have many kids my own age around, especially at the mine site.

As the kids started setting up their camp, the troop leader asked me to set up downstream as he didn’t want his troop distracted by my shotgun. I got the message and quickly set up camp before walking back up to see what was going on.

Half the troop hadn’t finished setting up their tents yet and I overheard the troop leader talking to two boys who didn’t appear to have a tent. One of the boys who was almost in tears, shrugged and said, “I forgot.”

“How do you forget your tent on a camping trip!” the leader exclaimed. “It was at the top of the list!”

“I packed it,” the boy tried to explain, “but I left it in the van.”

The leader separated the boys and assigned them to other tents making them a bit more crowded.

It took the troop nearly an hour to get all their tents set up, well, at least all set up at the same time.

The mosquitos were thick, but thankfully, as it got later, a breeze picked up and cleared the gravel bar and knocked down a couple of tents.

The leader set about having them practice their fire building skills which lead to a bunch more of “I forgots.”

“Where is your knife?” “I forgot it.”

“Where is your hatchet?” “I forgot it.”

“Where are your matches?” “I forgot.”

“Where is your change of clothes?” “I forgot.”

“Where is your handbook?” “I forgot.”

Each time this was met with sarcasm from their troop leader who reminded them that their motto was “Be prepared.”

After a half an hour of watching fires go up and die out or kids going through a small box of matches, I began to be embarrassed that these kids identified as Alaskan.

Luckily, the leader built the main fire for the troop to cook their hot dogs around. I hadn’t been sure if I would be invited to join them, so I’d caught a couple of grayling for dinner that I had cooking near my own fire. But the leader invited me over and we sat around the fire telling spooky stories until the sun crept down to the horizon.

Fires out, we headed to bed with the promise that we would be up with the sun and heading down river.

So I was up four hours later and packing up as the sun came up. In July, the sun doesn’t set until around 11pm and comes before 5am, so I was shocked because I had to sit around watching the sun rise for nearly two hours before anyone else got up.

They had a morning routine which took them nearly an hour and a half to do, along with another dozen “I forgots” before they even began to pack up.

I showed the leader a map of the creek and made plans for our lunch stop, places of interest and our goal for the evening. In all, the trip would take us at most 6 hours. It took 10. Namely because when we were an hour downstream and I was showing them fossils, some of the boys realized they had forgotten stuff upstream.

I took one of the older boys and we paddled back upstream to gather the backpacks and tent that were left behind. We made quick work of it and caught up to them for lunch.

I travelled ahead and would set up wherever the group was planned to meet next. While they did their activity, I moved on to the next point and reached the campsite around 5:30 and they appeared closer to 7.

I set my camp up on a small bluff overlooking where a smaller stream intersected with Birch Creek. I’d carried my canoe up the bank and tied it off to a tree as well. I’d been watching the weather all day, and while it had been mostly sunny here, the mountains to our east and upstream had been obscured by storm clouds all day.

The water had started to change mid afternoon from nearly crystal clear to a murky gray from the silt being churned up from the rainwaters by the time the troop arrived.

They were exhausted and I came down and told the troop leader that it would be best to set up on higher ground, but he was frustrated and tired and refused to listen. The second adult chaperone, one of the boys’ dad, nearly bit my head off when I pushed the point because “the mountains are at least 20 miles away.” They beached their canoes and within a half an hour had their tents set up on the gravel bar as near to the trees as they could get since a wind had come up again.

Dinner was canned soup and within an hour, most everyone had gone to bed. I watched the fire as it burned low before putting it out and turning in myself. The sky was cloudy and I could smell rain on the air. It mostly sprinkled and I allowed the pitter patter of raindrops on my tent lull me to sleep.

I woke up to the sound of the little stream gurgling. It was still dark, but the creek was much louder now. I sprang from bed and ran out to see how much the creek had risen.

The little stream was now a raging torrent overflowing its banks and Birch Creek had risen enough that most of the gravel bar was under an inch of water. Kids had started to scream and yell as the frigid water soaked their sleeping bags and they awoke to find themselves now in the creek.

I threw on my boots and waded across the stream that I had once been able leap across a few hours prior. Kids poked their heads out of their tents, many still in their sleeping bags, as I ran up the gravel bar to where they had beached their canoes. Only a couple were tied off and even those had been tied to small rocks.

A few of the canoes were bobbing on the sides and one had started working its way to the main current, dragging its small stone along. I hefted the boats up the gravel bar and hefted them onto the higher bank where thankfully a couple of the kids had come out and tied them off.

By the time I was done, the water had risen another inch and many of the tents started to collapse as the current shifted onto the gravel bank. I no longer ran since the water was now above my ankles.

I counted off all of the kids who stood on the slightly higher bank and they were all accounted for. The leader was trying to save supplies and the chaperone had gotten trapped in his tent when it collapsed. He thrashed about and I pounced on him and yelled for him to hold still as I cut away the fabric that had cocooned him.

The leader and a couple of the older kids began to drag the tents up to the bank by the time I’d freed the chaperone and helped him pull his now destroyed tent up to the bank.

It didn’t take much to convince them to move to higher ground since the water had risen another couple of inches and the small stream was overflowing its banks just behind them.

Tents were tossed into canoes and I instructed them to take them downstream around the bluff point were they would be able to pull them up to higher ground. The rest of the troop waded across the stream and up the embankment to my site.

After a check on my own canoe, I started a fire while the leader took assessment of their supplies. Fortunately, the only item they lost was a cooler that had been left in one of the boats that had rolled over. Everything else was there, even if it were a bit wet or ruined.

We ate a breakfast of granola bars and hot chocolate as we waited for the sun to rise. The creek rose another 6-8 inches in the next couple of hours creating swift currents, but luckily the creek was wide here and we were below any white water.

The rest of the canoe trip could be done in under 3 hours, though the original plan gave us nearly seven. The leader and the chaperone were done with the trip and many of the boys were cold and on the verge of tears, so as soon as the sun was up, they decided to paddle to the haul out.

I paddled ahead, looking for any sweepers in the water or any trees that looked like they may fall in as the flood eroded the bank. The water was swift and it didn’t take a lot of paddling to reach the haul out in just two and a half hours.

We all started unpacking our supplies and carrying out canoes up to were the leader was going to bring the van and trailer down that they had left in the parking area.

About fifteen minutes later, he reappeared, walking instead of driving. “Do you have the keys?” he asked the chaperone who pulled out his set for the other van.

The leader looked a bit sheepish as he turned to his troop and said, “I forgot the keys in my jacket in the other van.”

My Writing Journey: Marketing Not Only Your Book, But Yourself

Your success as a writer is going to depend on two thing: How you define success and your marketability.

I am not going to define success for you, but for me, it was seeing my name on a book on a shelf at my local book store. It isn’t about royalties or numbers sold or even sustainability, it has all been about making my dream come true. And I did it.

With that out of the way, your success depends all on you. You, after all, have to write the story that you can sell. I’ll leave that to you, but I want to talk about what marketability has to do with your success.

Your marketability starts before you sign a contract. Think of it as ripples on the pond. You throw your story out there and the biggest waves are created by your inner circle. These are your friends and family who tell you how great your story is before you have even finished your first draft.

Then it ripples out and the farther it gets away from you, the bigger the circle, but the smaller the ripple. These are your social contacts. They may be online or in person through organizations that you are a part of. The ripple has less of an impact, but it is there.

Now, imagine your inner circle tosses out their own pebbles to add to your story (likes, shares, retweets and word of mouth) and now you have multiple ripples that spread your message. And each time you share or post something new and those people cast their weight behind you, your marketability grows.

So what is your message? “Publish my story!” “Buy my story!” If that is your message, your voice will be drowned out by the thousands of other people who are doing the same.

What you need is a clear message as to why an editor or the public should want to buy your book. And it isn’t just about being a good story. Every year hundreds of good stories go unpublished and dozens of not so good stories get published.

Why?

Over the last few years, I’ve seen many stories getting published by celebrities who are “writing” stories. A few are okay, but to be honest, a majority would have never gotten published if you or I submitted the same story word for word. So why did they get their book published?

One word: Money. Not necessarily their own, but because a publisher is expecting to leverage star power to sell books. They expect that people will buy the book because of the name on it. So if you are a movie or tv personality or some sort of influencer with millions of people knowing you just by your name, then the editor can hope that 1% of those people buy your book, you are looking at tens if not hundreds of thousands of book sales.

So how do you and I compete? We write good stories and we have a message. That mean to make your stories didactic, but be sure you have a voice, a purpose for writing the story. Then think of where it falls in the market. Who is going to buy this book? Focus on that and make your voice heard there.

For example, I wrote Pedro’s Pan which is a story about gold panning. I needed to leverage my voice by looking at my market. My story has content about history and minerals (education), Alaska (tourist), it is for children 5-9, it is about mining. So what is my message?

I am an educator who works with children 5-10 years old. I grew up in Alaska and my family mined for gold. I am a member of the Gold Prospectors of America. I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When I submitted my story to my publisher, they could see that I knew the needs of the age range. I had a connection with education and could provide content in that area. I am committed to improving my writing. And I am an expert in the area that I am writing about.

All of these, separate to my social media, have established my voice and platform. I have connections to people who can help me spread my message. They will become the most impactful of my ripples.

So then I can turn to social media to help boost that message. Again, my message isn’t “buy my book” but is instead, here is my story. I provide content that boosts my message. Gold facts, history, personal anecdotes, connecting to events and telling my story.

Take note that your marketability has nothing to do with your story. It is all about you. What do you have to offer? When people connect with that, they are more likely to be another ripple in your pond and buy your book. But even if they don’t, if they share your message, then you reach more people.

Once you sell your book, your marketability and the need to be marketable increases. Most publishers have a limited promotional account and they rely on you to get your story out there and that is done through the hard work you did to making yourself marketable.

And even when you sell a second or third book, even if the topic is different, your market platform is already there. Your content might need to change, but you will still rely on the same people to help you form ripples in your pond.

So go write great stories worth sharing. And as you do, be thinking about the people who are most likely to read it and start thinking now of how you will reach them, because if they never hear about it, they will never buy it.

Growing Up Alaska: The Gold Nugget

I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to know the hard labor of working on a gold mine. It is what my family did for many years, both in Alaska and the Yukon. I was fortunate to be included, despite my young age, in the family business. We found gold and we had hard times, but the following story is about none of those, yet it is an experience that changed my life.

When my family worked in Canada, just outside of Dawson City, the regulations there limited the amount and kind of work that I could do on the gold mine. This gave me a lot of free time which I spent much exploring the area around the mine or helping out wherever I could that wasn’t designated as “work.”

One of those things that I did was volunteer at a roadside gold panning business. For $5 you could get a pan full of dirt from the mine on the property and you could pan until you found gold. For $10 you could get a five gallon bucket of dirt and keep all that you find. And then for $25, you could pan all day.

The dirt was either overburden or tailings left from the old dredges. There wasn’t much gold in it and most tourists left with a small vial and smile of their memory of panning a dollar or two of gold in the legendary Klondike.

I was demonstrating panning when a large class A motorhome pulled up along with a smaller RV and a car. People began to pile out, stretching their legs and wandering about. There had to be nearly 20 of them and the last of them to unload from the motorhome was an elderly man in a wheel chair with an oxygen tank.

The man was in his late 80s and the owner of the mine talked with him. It turned out that the man had dreamt of coming to the Klondike since he was a kid. He’d even gone as far as running away from home to follow his uncle who’d come north to the goldfields, only to be brought home by railroad workers.

The owner was so moved by his story that he told the whole family that they could pan until each of them found gold. Within minutes, gold pans were loaded with dirt from the pay pile and all twenty family members were crowded around the panning stations.

The youngest in the family, all kids, quickly went through their pans and, not finding gold, ran to the pay pile to refill. Seeing that they weren’t going to follow directions on how to pan, I focused on the adults who had all gathered around the large water trough. They were laughing and pointing as some of them found some small flakes of gold.

I passed out vials and started helping the old man and his daughter settle the pan into the water. With his wheel chair and feeble hands, he struggled to get near the trough, so I guided him to the demonstration trough which was narrower and set up on a table, allowing him to get his legs under it.

He beamed as we lowered his pan in. We washed the rocks and I helped pick out the larger material. Once we had the material down to about a third of the pan, I left his daughter and a couple of others with him to check that everyone had a vial to put their gold in.

I was handing out vials when I heard the old man’s daughter scream. It raised the hair on my arms and I ran as quickly as my rubber boots would allow to the panning station where the family was gathered around the old man. They all had hands on him and my immediate thought was that he was having a heart attack or seizure.

His daughter stood upright at the sound of my boots, but it wasn’t fear in her eyes that I saw, but a huge grin.

As I approached, the group parted and the old man was shaking and pointing to his gold pan which two other people were holding to keep him from dropping it. In the bottom of the pan sat a nugget about the size of the tip of your pinky.

“Is it real?” one of the family members asked.

“I think it is iron pyrite,” another responded.

I stared down at the pan before pushing the nugget over. I was down at eye level with the old man who’s eyes were still wide with excitement. “It’s real!” I declared.

The commotion brought the mine owner out of his office where he was taking payment from other groups. When he spotted the nugget, his jaw nearly hit the ground. His land wasn’t known nuggets.

“Do I get to keep it,” the old man said as his shock wore off.

All eyes turned to the owner who could only nod. He quickly recovered and said, “You’re going to need a bigger bottle. Let me grab one and get my camera.”

The news of the nugget quickly spread and people gathered around. The sight of the nugget sent many running, old and young alike, to the pay pile. The old man continued to beam and show people his treasure while his daughter laughed and cried over him.

The owner returned with a larger vial and his camera. Many pictures were taken over the next hour before the family piled back into their caravan and headed on into Dawson City.

When my family returned to Dawson City the next mining season, we moved our operation to a different area and I didn’t get a chance to volunteer at the panning station, but my dad stopped in one day to talk the claim owner.

Seeing me, the claim owner waved me into his office and showed me a Christmas card he’d received from the family. It showed them gathered around the old man who wore a gold nugget necklace. They said that they had plans to return this summer if they could and thanked the owner and myself for making their dad’s dream come true.

The claim owner also showed me a letter that he had received from the daughter a few months later telling him that her dad had passed away. She let him know how much the nugget had meant to her dad and how much joy it had brought him as he showed it to everyone he’d met and told them about his adventure to the Klondike.

They had planned to bury him with his nugget, but had decided instead to send it back to the claim owner so it could return home to the Klondike, where they new their father would want it.

The claim owner had placed the picture of the old man with his nugget necklace and story into a shadow box that he had on display for the tourists to see.

I don’t know what happened to that nugget, but I do know that it changed many people’s lives and could never be valued in ounces.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
   It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
   So much as just finding the gold. -Excerpt from the Spell of the Yukon, by Robert Service

My Writing Journey: Finding a Home For Your Story

To be honest, writing, critiquing, revision and rewriting your story is the easy part. These are all things that you have control over. These are all things that you can invest yourself into. You can do as much or as little as you wish.

In my opinion, the hardest part of the journey is finding a home for your story. To accomplish this, some things are in your control and others are absolutely not. For example, you can control the quality of your work by refining it through other people who understand the market and the process. You can’t control the agent who gets your amazing story on the same day they had a rough doctor’s appointment or the editor who just purchased a similar story as yours.

So what can you do to help your story find its way into the world? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Read. Read books from your genre, your formatting style, similar to yours and completely different. This will help you understand the types of books that are being marketed and published. It will also help you understand how to prepare your own work.
  2. Write. Write your story. Then write other stories. If all of your time is invested in one story, it makes you short sighted because your story holds immense value to you. There is nothing wrong with this, but it can hold you back from making the necessary changes, even small ones, to make your story marketable.
  3. Read more books. Always be on the lookout for what is new in the market. Are there trends? Who is buying them? Does your story not fit in them? Why? Is your story a mold breaker or is it not written for the current market?
  4. Revise your story. Never settle for the best that you can do. If that is the way you see your story, you are admitting there is more that can be done. Rewrite your story from another character’s viewpoint. Rewrite the story from a different point of view, i.e. first to third person (and if really brave, second!). Change the setting. There are so many devices to help you find a new voice for your story.
  5. Join a writing organization. Make sure that organization covers the type of stories you write. Romance Writers of America isn’t likely a good place for a picture book author and likewise, the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators is probably not the best place for a high fantasy writer. (though this doesn’t mean you can’t write other things)
  6. Put it away. When you are finished with your story, don’t rush to your email and send it off. Put it away. Don’t look at it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t even think about it. Give yourself some time to detach from it. I suggest a minimum of two weeks. I usually try to give it a month, but sometimes, during that long period, my story will call to me. It might be a voice, or a clever line or a different starting point. When you pick it back up, you are seeing your story anew. You are open to changes and subconsciously your mind has been working out issues that you never saw.
  7. Read it out loud. Whenever you have finished your story. Always read it out loud. This will help you find cadence issues. Then have someone else who is not familiar with it read it out loud to you. No illustrator notes, just the story! (I suppose this could go after #4, but I find that after I let it sit, this step has more of an impact)
  8. Research. Look back over all those books you’ve read. Which are similar to yours in theme or format? Who published those? Who represented those authors? Make a list of agents and/or editors that your really want to work with.

1-8 are all things that you have control over. Now we will move into things that you have less control over.

9. Marketing. You have written and refined your story. You have researched agents and editors. Now it is time to send your story into the world. But what will that look like? Who is the market for your story? Is it regional? Is it national? Is it educational? Is it evergreen? Or are you going to self publish? These are all questions that you have to ask yourself. You can waste a lot of manpower, both yours and theirs, if you decide to blanket the marketplace. Strategize and be aware of who is likely to read your story. This will help you write a better query letter and refine who is likely to purchase your story.

10. Do I need an agent? If you decide to go traditional, the next step is to decide if you need an agent or if you are going directly to the publisher. There are a lot of factors in this. If you are submitting to a small or regional publisher, an agent isn’t likely necessary. If you really only have one or two stories and you aren’t looking at writing as career, again, most likely you don’t need an agent. This doesn’t mean you can’t have or want one, or that this may change down the road, but it isn’t necessary. However, if you are looking at a career as a writer with multiple stories ready or near ready, then an agent will be a help to navigate the publishing world as they have access to companies that might otherwise be closed to you. Again, you don’t have to have an agent if this is your career path and you can always change your mind later.

11. Submitting. Now that you have decided your path, it is time to start submitting. There are many strategies to this, but I find the following the best: Don’t flood the market. You’ve done the research, you probably have at least a half of a dozen agents or publishers in mind. Don’t limit yourself just these few. Instead, send out your submissions in batches. Choose a couple you are interested in and maybe a couple that might be interested in you. If you get rejections (and you will get rejections) with feedback, it will help you prepare for future submissions. Maybe they like your work, but the market is inundated with work similar to yours. Maybe the work doesn’t fit their branding right now, but they give you feedback on what they liked or didn’t like. Or maybe you get no feedback at all. All of these will help you prepare for your next round and you haven’t used up all your favorite agents or publishers and can make changes.

12. Celebrate the small victories. Writing can feel lonely. You put your soul into your work. They are like your children and it crushes you when they get rejected. So take the time to celebrate each step of faith every time you send your work out into the world. It can be as simple as letting your friends know so they can encourage you. Celebrate each rejection. This is hard, but each time you are rejected, it means you have eliminated one more path and you are one more step closer to finding the right path. I like to celebrate these with cheesecake. I did it. I submitted in the face of rejection. I overcame my fears. And now I get cheesecake! And as I eat my cheesecake, I think of how much sweeter it will be when I receive an acceptance for my manuscript!

Every journey is different. Some seem faster than others. We see the author who just got a three book contract, but we don’t see the years of work and rejection that got them there. We see the author who’s stories are being made into movies and a franchise and we don’t always hear how that same story was rejected by every publisher for nearly a decade.

I heard this quote today and I think it is befitting for the writer’s journey.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ― Plato.

Be kind. Be kind to those on the journey and support them. Be kind to those who have battled longer than you. Be kind to those who are just beginning as they do not know how long their journey will be. And be kind to yourself and rejoice in the fact that you have the freedom and courage to take this journey.

Growing Up Alaska: And Why I Don’t Like Grape Nuts

When I was 16, I spent a summer in Kodiak with a survey team with the Bureau of Land Management. Needlessly to say, that summer had so many issues, but those are all stories on their own.

We’d been sent to Olga Bay to do a land survey for some new native allotments. Our assignment had changed several times by the time we finally left for Kodiak, that there had been a mistake in the paperwork and everyone thought we were someplace else.

We arrived with about a week and a half of food and a week of military back up meals in case the weather turned bad and the supply planes couldn’t make it in. We’d never dreamed that the whole eight weeks we were there that they would never show up!

Again, another story.

On our third week and out of food, we all became creative. We ate a lot of fish, mostly salmon, and berries or whatever we could forage; but it was mostly salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

One thing that we did have left was a big box of Grape Nuts cereal, but no milk. Our boss suggested we have some for breakfast to break up the monotony of fish and I was eager to comply.

We rotated duties and it was my day to get the boat ready, so I was up early to begin my list of chores before the others got up. I fetched the water and got some boiling and pulled out the box of Grape Nuts.

Since there was no milk for the cereal, I poured myself a big bowl and carried it with me, eating it dry while I worked on the boat. It was a bit bland, but at least it wasn’t fish.

I finished my chores and walked back to the bunkhouse to make myself a cup of hot chocolate and greet the others. It was then that I realized I could have poured the hot chocolate over the Grape Nuts and made them taste better. I would try that tomorrow.

The others were all sitting down, munching on their dry cereal. My boss spotted me carrying my bowl, which was a large soup bowl and not a cereal bowl.

“How much did you eat?” he asked.

I suddenly felt very aware that they were all staring at me. Was there some special rationing that I was unaware of? Had I taken more than our boss had allowed the others to take.

I showed him the bowl and said a bit sheepishly, “I filled my bowl up.”

My boss groaned and shook his head. “Your staying in camp today.”

I thought this was a weird punishment. We were all hungry and they all had out their big bowls too! I was about to protest when our boss held up his hand.

“You’ve got dogs, right?” he asked. I nodded and he continued. “Do you feed your dogs wet or dry food?”

“For my dog team, I soak dry food.” I replied.

“And what happens when you do that?”

“The food absorbs the water and helps hydrate them,” I replied again, still not comprehending.

Our boss took out a couple of Grape Nuts and poured a little coffee over them. “Just like your dog food, these Grape Nuts are going to expand. Only, in your stomach. And you ate so many that there won’t be any room for them.”

It dawned on me what that meant, but I was sure that I would be okay.

“No you won’t. I want you to drink a lot of water today,” our boss said as he cleaned up his mess and the others got ready.

I watched them go and was kind of relieved that I had a day off. Normally on down days, we had a list of chores. The only command he gave me was to drink, lots of water, so I did.

My stomach began to hurt about an hour and a half later. I could see the bump forming and could feel things stretching. Nausea rolled over me, but I couldn’t vomit. The only thing that seemed to help was water, though I could only take it in sips.

The sun seemed to help too. The warmth on my skin seemed to make things settle and my muscles around my stomach seemed to relax, so I sat out in the grass and tried to absorb as much sun as the mosquitos would let me.

I had to lay on my back. When I tried to roll over, I could feel the water slowly slosh around in my stomach and if I was face down, the pressure on my stomach was too great.

I wanted to vomit. I gagged a few times, but nothing. So I drank some more water as often as I could and laid there.

The pressure started to ease about eight hours later, shortly before the crew returned. It still hurt, but at least I could move about and I no longer felt like throwing up.

I hadn’t eaten lunch that day and couldn’t stand the thought of dinner. The next morning my stomach still ached and it would for a few days more. I passed on breakfast again and nibbled on lunch (fish…again) but had no appetite.

It took a few days for me to feel normal again, though my sides still hurt if I sucked in or leaned the wrong way.

And I never ate Grape Nuts again.

My Writing Journey: Mentors and Critique Partners

When I first took back up writing, my future wife introduced me to the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) which is an international non profit organization that brings like minded individuals together through meeting, conferences and educational classes, all in the pursuit of writing for children (0-18). My first thought was, “I don’t need this. I can read. I’ve been telling stories and writing for years!”

I was wrong. I needed a group to help show me the way into this unknown world of rules and formats and genres, of editors and publishers and agents. I needed people who could guide me and support me and celebrate with me.

You may not join SCBWI and may rather find yourself within another writing group or organization, and that is okay. What is important is that you find people to share your journey.

Writing can be lonely. It can be frustrating. It can be soul crushing. But writing isn’t done in a bubble. It is driven by the world around you and sometimes you need someone to laugh with or a shoulder to cry on or someone who is there to pick up the broken pieces.

During a writing retreat, I met a well known Alaskan author, Tricia Brown, who not only gave me a glowing critique on my manuscript that would become Pedro’s Pan, but she has gone on to share her experience, her knowledge and her friendship.

I’ve joined critique groups, some focused on the areas that I am writing, others not, but we all share our journey, our struggles, our successes and our unique viewpoints. Half the time it isn’t about the story I bring to share, but to have someone to share it with, to see them growing and being there to celebrate success, big or small.

So don’t make this journey alone. Find others who you can support and will support you too. Find people who understand your struggles and I think you will find the writing community is extremely generous.

Good luck with your writing and perhaps I will see you out there one day.

Growing Up Alaska: In the Shadows

I’ve been more fortunate than many with my experiences of growing up in Alaska. Many people who visit or even come to live tend to find themselves in one of the cities. While wilder than most, it still has that feel of civilization.

I grew up in the rural community of Central, Alaska. We didn’t have running water, electricity, phones or many of the modern amenities when we first moved there. We would eventually get some of it it intermittently, but we always had the wilderness experience.

One such experience for me was a sled dog team. I was young and had a handful of dogs that I trained and ran. It was fun and a lot work to properly care for the dogs. I was diligent in their care and made sure to exercise them often.

It was during one of these outings after school on evening that I had one of my most terrifying experiences with a dog team. It had warmed up a bit to about ten degrees above and I couldn’t tell if the storm clouds were moving in or moving out.

I harnessed my young team to take them on a short 7 mile run. I’d been harnessing more experienced dogs to help the young ones out, but today I hooked up my 5 dog sprint team with some of the more inexperienced dogs. We were going to run a well known route and I expected a quick trip.

I staggered the runs of my dogs making sure to take the sprinters out the day before I did a long run with the distance runners. Sprinters needed to be ran almost daily, even if not very far, but if I let them run hard for longer, they would take the next day to rest while I was gone with the other dogs.

I ran my distance runners 2-3 times a week, though I would sometimes rotate them through my sprint team for shorter runs. This allowed them to open up for sprints and stretch their muscles.

The big difference between the two types of dog teams was speed and endurance. I needed one team who could run all out over a day’s run while the other needed to be able to pull a load at a sustained rate over days.

We took off down the trail, the darkness only pierced by my headlamp on this moonless evening. The dogs excitedly took to the run and I listened to the sound of the snow crunching under the sled and the steady pant of the dogs.

I let the young lead dog set the pace for the first half a mile, then I slowly reeled them in to a more manageable pace. These guys would run all out if you let them, but they wouldn’t last the whole route that way and would slow to a crawl when they wore out.

It took them a bit to settle in as they were excited to go. I’d been working on this lead who’d shown promise despite her age. She was a bit bigger than most leads and was highly intelligent, responding to commands pretty quickly.

We were about to miles into the run when I noticed the dogs peering into the darkness to our left. Their pace slowed and their ears perked up and I tried to follow where they were looking.

My headlamp shown on the trees about 30 feet to our left and behind us, but I couldn’t see anything. I called to the dogs to keep going and my lead started pulling the others to go a bit fast and reset the pace.

I kept looking out into the dark, but couldn’t see what was spooking the dogs. Occasionally I thought I saw shadows move, but it could have just as easily been just shadows played by me bouncing along on the sled.

The panic started as a trickle, a tickle up my spine and the hair raising on my neck and arms. I don’t know if I truly felt the presence in the dark or if I was now playing off the panic of the dogs. We started slowing to an easy walk and chills ran up my spine as the dogs began to whimper.

I jumped off the runners and ran along side the dogs, encouraging them to run. I did my best to distract them and command them on and in a few seconds they had picked up the pace again. I waited for the sled to catch up and swung onto the runners.

As I looked off into the woods, I saw the shadows move and this time it was no trick of the eye as I saw eye reflection in the dark. The creature was nearly twice the size of my sled dogs and was keeping pace with us.

My stomach knotted and I reached into the sled to unzip the gun case lashed down in arms reach. I yelled for the dogs to take the next left, following our normal route and moving out into some more open terrain along a recently put in road with a cleared easement on either side.

The lead dog was now pulling hard and we missed the turn. I inserted my snow brake and called for a stop, all the while looking into the darkness, the shadow gone.

I’d heard that the Forty-Mile Caribou herd (same herd as a previous story, a couple of years prior) had moved into the Yukon Valley near Eagle Summit, but that was over 25 miles away. Nonetheless, whenever the caribou came, the wolves in the area would start gathering and I’d been warned to be on the lookout for them.

I set my snow hook and called for my lead to come back to me. She started to, but then turned and tried to run away, pulling the line taught. I tried to make my voice firm and called for her again, but I could hear the panic rise in me.

I realized now that we were stopped that a brisk wind had picked up and even though we couldn’t see whatever was lurking in the shadows, my team could now smell them. Most of the team had laid down as if to hide and they were all whimpering.

I stomped up the trail, each dog looking up at me as I passed, though their gaze quickly shifted to the woods behind us. I reached the lead dog and tried to calm her. She was still straining against the line and I petted her to calm her down.

I took her by the collar and steered her in the way I wanted her to go, calling out the command quietly as I did so. I knew she was afraid, but to be a good lead, you have to trust the musher and follow commands.

As we walked by the other dogs, they stood up and began to follow. Once I had them all standing on the right trail, I ran back to my sled and pulled the snow hook. They leapt at my command to go and ran all out.

I wanted to put the woods behind us and move into the open country, so I let them run for a little bit. And a little bit was all they would go. We made it a couple of hundred feet before they slowed and some tried to lay down. They weren’t tired, they were scared.

I got them on their feet and realized we had over three miles to get home, no matter if we continued forwards or backwards. At this pace, it would likely take us an hour and a half.

Not only had the wind picked up, but the temperature had dropped below zero again and I knew I had to keep the dogs moving. I lifted them onto their feet and ran with the lead dog until I was sure they were going before letting the sled catch up and hopping on.

We repeated the couple hundred feet run before slowing and stopping. I tried to catch them before they stopped and flopped down in hopes of keeping us going. It was during one of these runs that as I let the sled catch up I looked to the trees and spotted the eye shine of the creature pacing us.

I imagined what would happen if a pack of wolves came at us. Would I be able to shoot them before they harmed my team? Would my team cower like they had been making easy prey or would they fight back?

I pulled the gun out a bit to make sure it was loose and kept an eye on our shadow. I was so intense on tracking the creature that I missed the dogs slowing down.

By the time I got myself in motion, the team had stopped and laid down whining. I tried to pick them up, but as soon as I stood them up, they would flop back down, even the leader.

They were all intent in watching the woods and I figured the panic would cause them to want to flee, but they were choosing to hide. I flicked my light towards the woods and spotted the creature had moved out of the trees and was standing not more than 30 feet away.

I froze. Then I began pleading for the dogs to get up and run! The creature took a couple of steps closer and I knew this was one of the biggest wolves I’d ever seen.

I hefted on the gang line and bellowed out for the dogs to go. They were instantly up and sprinting as I spotted the wolf charging us. I flailed for the sled as it passed and nearly missed the handle, running to jump on.

The next part happened as time slowed down. The wolf plowed up snow as it came surprisingly fast. I got one foot on one runner and shook of my mitten to grab the gun. I twisted and pulled on the gun which snagged on the cloth case.

It was in that horrible moment that I realized the wolf was coming for me and not my team.

I twisted to yank the gun free as I brought up my other arm to fend off the first bite. I felt myself lurch to the side as my foot slid off the runner and caught the snow, throwing me off balance as the gun came free.

I tried to turn myself and the gun towards the wolf only to lose my balance and tumble off of the sled which flopped over on its side in the deep snow before bouncing back upright on the trail. I on the other hand, ended falling sideways into the snowbank, my lamp, hat and gun flying off.

The wolf had slowed and now that I was free from the sled, bounded at me again. I tried to get to my feet and put my arm out to protect it from going for my throat while searching with my other hand in the snow for my gun, a stick, anything.

But much to my surprise, the blow didn’t come. My arm wasn’t clenched in the jaws of a ferocious predator. Instead, over my pounding heartbeat, I heard the jangle of metal.

I stopped my frantic search and looked up to see the creature standing in front of me, so dark that I could barely see the tail wagging. My mind raced trying to find an explanation for this, but honestly, the adrenaline was preventing any rational thought.

When she barked and bounded to one side, I could see the outline of the chain against the snow and new immediately what I was facing. I spotted my headlamp glowing in the snow and picked up to confirm my guess.

In the light of my headlamp stood another one of my dogs, Goldie, a German Shepherd. She was massive, even for her breed, and it appeared she’d broken her chain. She wasn’t a sled dog, but loved to run with them. I’d tried to harness her before, but she would have nothing of it.

Sometimes I let her run with us, but it was usually on short trips up to the runway and back. I never took her with the young ones because she would nip at them and run at them, spooking them. Just as she had tonight.

My knees suddenly got weak and I knelt down. After a few moments to calm down, I chewed out Goldie who took it all with a doggy grin and a wag of her tail. I searched and found all of my gear except one mitten.

I unclasped the chain, which we’d upgraded to the same chain my dad used to around the mine, and slung it over my shoulder before taking off after the team. I wasn’t sure how far they would go or which way they would go, but I figured I would follow them to the main road at least and if I didn’t find them there, I would go home to get my snow machine before searching for them.

Goldie stayed faithfully with me, her tail wagging the whole time. We walked about a mile before reaching the road. I had to shift the gun from hand to hand and had to warm the unmittened hand by tucking it inside my coat.

The temperature was still dropping and I decided to leave the chain next to the road and did my best to jog home. The air stung my lungs, but whenever I slowed down, I spotted sled tracks along the road. It appeared the sled had overturned again and the dogs were sticking to their well known path.

When I arrived back in my yard, my dad had my team tied up and was starting his snow machine to come look for me. When he saw me he wordlessly shut off his machine, and seeing Goldie, walked over to his drill rig and pulled off a light chain.

I tended to my dogs, checking for injuries and feeding them before getting dinner of my own. I took the young lead dog with me around the dog yard to help establish her role as leader. When she came to Goldie, they ended up nose to nose.

I wasn’t sure either dog would react so I held the lead’s leash tightly, ready to pull her back. But they just stood there for a moment before Goldie began licking the young lead’s face before laying down and playing dead. All except her tail of course, which beat the ground mercilessly.

My Writing Journey: Writing for Your Audience

Teaching fourth grade this year in a virtual setting has been eye opening, and not just for for my job as a teacher, but my job as a writer. This last week we did an exploration of our writing by looking at various samples of writing I have received. Since the students aren’t “seeing” one another constantly, it made it pretty easy to share work anonymously.

We looked at good writing and better writing and some pitifully poor writing. Just like I’ve learned from doing critiques, we always find something positive in our feedback.

I would like to break down the differences and apply it to my career as a writer.

POOR WRITING (KIDS): When the kids write poorly, it is usually not from a lack of skill, but a lack of motivation. It’s more of a “be done with it” attitude. Don’t worry about the directions, just put something down so no one harps on me for not getting my work done. There is no pride in their work and their expected audience is them.

(ADULTS): I see the same in adults (myself included). Poor writing here is often a focus of who their audience is. “This is my story and I’ll write it how I want it.” They never look at anyone else as really reading the story. They are writing the story they want to read and who cares about the details because I already know them and no one else gets it. They may spend hours revising and rewriting, but if they don’t understand that their audience is anyone else but them, it will always be poor.

GOOD WRITING (KIDS): When a kid does well in writing, it isn’t usually because of skill, but from the fact that they can follow the directions. They understand the expectations and write to their audience, the teacher. Here are the guidelines and I can check off the boxes and get a passing grade.

(ADULTS): I believe that many of us who have chosen a writing career, whether successful or not, fall into the “Good Writer” category. We understand the expectations and rules and we write to them. We understand who our audience is, though we often focus on the main two: Agent and Editor. Here are the guidelines and I can check off the boxes so they should want this.

The problem is, we get stuck in the formula and our stories are merely good. And sometimes “Good Stories” get published. Often at conferences, classes, seminars and webinars, we are told to follow the formula, this is what the publishing world wants; but that isn’t entirely the truth.

BETTER WRITING (KIDS): When a kid writes something that I want to share with the other class as an example of writing, it is often the kid who has gone a step beyond. They aren’t just giving fact or rehashing what they have learned, but they put themselves in the writing, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. This requires skill, but more importantly, your connection to the topic you are writing about

An example of this was a recent writing my class did on Treasure Island. The directions were to write about Jim’s escape from the pirates. One student not only cited the story to support his response, but he conjectured what Jim must have felt by imposing how he would have felt if he’d been Jim. He didn’t just follow the formula, he wanted to share a bit of himself. He understood that not only was his teacher his audience, but possibly his classmates and anyone else who picked up the report.

(ADULTS): I think this is the kind of writing we aspire to do. These are the kinds of books that we see more often getting published. You may not agree that the are “good” but in most cases, these books have a connection with them. That is why you can have numerous books on the same topic, because each author brings a bit of themselves to the story and makes them unique.

I know that when I wrote Pedro’s Pan, I put bits of myself in it. My experiences prospecting as a kid and an adult. My fear of not being what everyone thought I was. My dad showing me the way through love and wisdom. In the end, that is what the publisher bought. And in the end, that is the connection the reader makes. They can see that and experience it themselves.

GREAT WRITING: Great writing is the White Whale. Great writers don’t set out to do great writing, it just happens. What makes great writing is not the writer, but the audience. It is like art, opinions of what is good varies and most people don’t understand great art until they experience it. Just like great art, great writing comes from exposing a part of yourself to the world that you can never get back.

So as you set out writing, think about your audience. Are you writing this for yourself? Are you writing this for an agent or editor? Or are you writing this to share with the world? Is it your story, their story or everyones?