Oct. 7, 2010–Gasline Development President Talks of Whales and Pipeline Routes–Dan Fauske

Dan Fauske, President of the newly formed Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC), was the featured speaker during the October 7 meeting of the Alaska Professional Communicators, held at Kinley’s Restaurant. AGDC is a subsidiary of Alaska Housing Finance Corp., of which Fauske is CEO/Executive Director. The AGDC was mandated by the state legislature in the spring of 2010 to take over planning for an in-state gas pipeline. The goal is to determine the most economically feasible plan to deliver North Slope natural gas to Alaskans; deadline for the plan is July 1, 2011.

Speaking informally and affably, Fauske shared stories with the communicators about when he lived in Barrow in 1988, the time when three California gray whales were trapped in the Arctic ice. The local whalers normally hunt bowhead whales for food, but they took pity on these gray whales. The community worked tirelessly chopping ice blocks, jumping on them until they sank low enough to push under the edge of the surrounding ice. The point was to keep a channel clear so that the whales could breathe and eventually find open water. Community elders knew where the water was more shallow and warmer and also knew that the whales would not go there for fear of getting further stuck. A Soviet icebreaker joined the effort which became a five million dollar international media event.

Fauske’s remarks were relevant in that Hollywood film crews have been in Anchorage this past month making a movie of the story, “Everybody Loves Whales,” with Ted Danson and Drew Barrymore. Fauske said he’s curious how Hollywood will handle the role the native elders’ traditional knowledge played in the rescue effort. Plus, the Barrow area would be the starting point for the natural gas line.

Turning to his work with the AGDC, Fauske addressed several issues which have emerged during his team’s early months of study, including both the route of the proposed 24-inch bullet pipeline and the funding. The project is estimated to cost between $6 billion and $12 billion.

The proposed route will supply Fairbanks through a proposed pipeline route which would run west of the city, requiring a 43.7-mile 12-inch spur line to supply gas to the Interior city. The spur would cost about $235 million.

A question was asked about the probability of having the gasline follow the route to Valdez? A bullet line from the North Slope using the Glennallen route is longer, a significant consideration with pipeline construction costs of about $5 million per mile, Fauske says.

Furthermore, Fauske says the gas is needed where the population is – Southcentral Alaska and Fairbanks.

With regard to a state subsidy for the project, Fauske indicated that a subsidy of some sort seems likely.

“Without an anchor tenant, we will not make the project pencil out,” he explained. For the project to be feasible a couple of large industrial buyers and a possible one-time infusion of state investment so the tariff, or the transportation charge, for moving North Slope gas would be affordable by both consumers and industrial customers. Without some form of state contribution, gas moved 800 miles through the pipeline would cost about twice what consumers and industries now pay for Cook Inlet natural gas just forty miles away. With gas supply dwindling, this is an important issue.

Fauske also indicated that his team will present a range of options for meeting Southcentral and Interior energy needs in its report to the legislature and will primarily focus on the pipeline.

More about Dan Fauske

Dan Fauske has been the CEO/Executive Director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation since March 1, 1995. He directs the management of the self-supporting, public corporation with assets of $4.8 billion.

AHFC has 360 employees in 16 communities and owns 1,700 public housing units. The Corporation has returned $1.9 billion in annual transfer payments to the State of Alaska through cash transfers, capital projects and debt service payments.

Mr. Fauske serves on the governor’s gas line team and was appointed by the current Legislature to manage the In-State Natural Gas Pipeline Development Team.

Dan chairs the Alaska Council on Homelessness and has serves on the boards of directors of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle and the National Housing Development Corporation. In 2002 he was appointed by Congress to serve on the Bipartisan Millennial Housing Commission.

Prior to his career at AHFC, he served as chief financial officer and chief administrative officer for Alaska’s North Slope Borough.

Dan holds a master’s degree in business administration from Gonzaga University.

Dan Fauske

Dan Fauske

Sept. 2, 2010–The Fate of Nature–Charles Wohlforth

A summary of our September 2010 speaker, Charles Wohlforth
By Kay Vreeland

Charles Wohlforth’s subtitle for his recent book, The Fate of Nature, is “Rediscovering our Ability to Rescue the Earth” and in his talk to the APC luncheon meeting September 2, 2010, he marked out the paths toward this rescue. Chief among these is being grounded in our communities and in the stories we tell about our world. Writers, especially journalists, create and define culture in large measure, and culture is the key to solutions of environmental issues. We have known for some time that we are using up our biosphere and know the solutions for preserving it, but we have not gone very far toward rescuing the earth. In the end, said Wolhforth, it is culture rather than science, engineering or technology that will lead to rescue.

Culture grows out of stories we tell and our trust in these stories. Wohlforth’s early journalism career was at the Homer News where he learned his readers accepted what he wrote as true, since he saw the subjects of his stories every day. He learned then what statistics continue to show, that we believe people around us are most trustworthy, and that the message of corporate and government elites has far less influence. How stories are presented to us affects our actions; sadly, the current sensationalist climate in journalism skews reality by creating the perception that many others are not working for the good of society.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill ignited Wohlforth’s passion for the environment by the happy coincidence that he had a four-wheel-drive vehicle that could take reporters from Anchorage and the Valley to the scene. As a journalist there, he learned that the government, the Coast Guard and the oil company stood in adversarial conflict and many bad decisions were made. The shutdown of scientific studies through project cancellation and enforced secrecy meant that true stories were hard to come by and we still lack a lot of clear answers to the mystery of ongoing ecosystem damage.

Moving oversight from hierarchical institutions into the hands of the local community through organizations such as the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (RCAC) was successful in the aftermath of the 1989 oil spill. Unfortunately, although the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill had different physical aspects, the initial response was the same. Local involvement means a big company cedes power, but in the latest spill scenario, community involvement and scientific contribution are needed for real solutions to emerge.

Alaskans are strongly connected to place, as Wolhforth’s background slide show of nature scenes around the state emphasized. This relation to nature is part of the network of values that gives meaning in life. Values reside in connection, not only to nature, but to family and community. As Wolhforth quoted from his book, “The [environmental] problem is unimaginable in scale, nonlinear in shape, and infinite in complexity, and so may be the solution – in the interlocking relationships of human societies. And the solution may also be small enough for a single person to choose, which is important, since individual people alone are capable of making choices.”

Individual choices create new cultural norms, and individual action contributes most to changing culture, as we’ve seen in shrinking family size, facing race questions or environmental ethics such as less littering, or rescuing the earth. Journalists contribute to creating the cultural norms we live by, and they need to use this power well and conscientiously. Wolhforth’s message is that the fate of nature lies in great part in their, and our, hands.

About Wohlforth

Charles Wohlforth is a life-long Alaska resident and prize-winning author of numerous books about Alaska. His work includes writing about science and the environment, politics and history, travel, and as-told-to biography. A popular lecturer, he has spoken all over the United States and overseas. Wohlforth lives with his wife, Barbara, and their four children. They reside in Anchorage during the winter, where they are avid cross-country skiers, and in summer on a remote Kachemak Bay shore reachable only by boat.

Wohlforth, 46, graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1986 before returning to Alaska to work six years as a newspaper reporter, including covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill for the Anchorage Daily News. He became a full-time freelance writer in 1993, publishing articles in The New Republic, Outside, Discover and other periodicals,and writing three travel books published by Wiley. He also served two 3-year terms on the Anchorage Assembly.

In 2004, Farrar, Straus & Giroux published Wohlforth’s widely acclaimed non-fiction account of climate change in the Arctic as experienced by the Eskimos and the scientists studying it, titled The Whale and the Supercomputer. The book won The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology, among numerous other national and regional citations for science, culture, and journalism. His current projects include an upcoming book from Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press titled, The Fate of Nature: Rediscovering Our Ability to Rescue the Earth.

Charles Wohlforth

Charles Wohlforth

May 6, 2010–How I Stopped Worrying & Learned to Love My Web Site–Sonya Senkowsky

A summary of our May 2010 speaker, Sonya Senkowsky
By Kay Vreeland

Sonya Senkowsky, founder and current Webmaster of AlaskaWriters.com, a site offering a Web presence and networked community to Alaska writers, spoke to the May 6 APC luncheon on “How I Stopped Worrying & Learned to Love My Web Site.” She described, with explanatory slides, the process of creating a site that includes DIY Web pages for Alaskan writers. She also told of the unexpected professional benefits that can come from such a project, like the book offer that resulted in the recent publication of Alaska Then and Now: Anchorage, Fairbanks & Juneau (co-authored with Amanda Coyne).

Senkowsky is Creative Services Coordinator and Webmaster for Bristol Industries, LLC, an Anchorage-based company owned by Bristol Bay Native Corporation. In 1996, she began her Alaskan career as a features writer for the ADN. In 2000, to jump-start a transition to freelance biological sciences writer, she decided to create a Web site to introduce herself to prospective clients. She kept it simple: her resume, her writing samples, her travels, and her contact information. From there, she expanded into the Alaska Writers Homestead site, which she created herself after she found that only pre-made templates for retail stores, small businesses, or professionals, like doctors, were available for building a site. Because those wouldn’t work for her purposes, she fashioned her own template that has evolved into the complex site she runs today.

The heart of the AlaskaWriters site is an information page about each author who is a member; these pages make up the nexus centered on the Alaska Bookshelf page. Senkowsky created the template a member can use for a personal page to showcase their own content as well as give off-site links to their Web site, booksellers, or other relevant information. Outgoing, as well as incoming, links are essential for showing up at the top of today’s search engine results, and interaction with members’ sites keeps these links active and relevant. The whole process also strengthens and helps the larger writers’ community.

To make all this happen, a member simply signs in and updates their page on a Web form. The Alaska Writer Laureate, Nancy Lord, uses her page to change photos and add fresh information about her work; another writer wanted to find an agent via the site, and the page she created did, indeed, bring an agent to her. Another wanted to show editors her writing samples and to promote her book, and another’s goal was to promote her book with a photo of herself and of her book’s cover and a link to show how she was active in her writing career. Senkowsky’s husband’s book and CD set include an order form, a first for the site. Senkowsky herself was signed by a book publisher whom she repeatedly redirected to suitable writers and who, in the end, made the book deal with her.

As she planned her site with the idea that it be hers forever, Senkowsky knew she could not use free providers of Web page creation tools because if their company disappears, the site does, too. A personal domain is important for this reason as well. For licensing reasons, the main AlaskaWriters site is on Expression Engine, which interacts with a second content management system licensed for its use on individual author pages. A dynamic site, that is, one that is constantly updated, the AlaskaWriters community grows constantly with fresh content and new members.

Senkowsky looked back to tell of all her site has brought her: in her freelance business, Web design clients; in her writing life, exposure to the publishing community and early information about it; in her public life, speaking engagements; and in collaborative projects, work with people who came to the site with plans in mind, like Web site developer Susannah Gardner, whose Buzz Marketing with Blogs for Dummies (2005), Senkowsky contributed to via her site.

The most recent reward from her site is her current job. As she consulted with writers, she got a request from a CEO who wanted her to re-do their Web site to better serve the five companies in their industry and she agreed to take on the oversight of this project rather than its actual site design. As the project grew she moved into a fulltime job with Bristol Industries and has developed their writing and creative services department. This, along with publication of her recent book, shows some of the wonderful unanticipated consequences of her first small personal Web site started six years ago.

Always happy to share her expertise with others, Senkowsky invites everyone to check out the free-application Google site she created in preparation for this presentation, “5 Web Facts for Writers.” Here she explains basic Web vocabulary, pre-planning, how to build a site, the need for a host and a domain name (your URL), a decision whether to make a static site or a blog, the proper care and feeding of a site, and tips on promoting the site, including using social media (Twitter, Facebook). In conclusion, her advice, especially to those who are overwhelmed with the prospect of making and running a Web site, is to slow down and take it one step at a time, like she has done so successfully.

About Senkoysky

Senkowsky is a member of Alaska Professional Communicators and a two-time winner of its Sweepstakes award, given to the person who garners the most points in the annual Communications Contest.

After working a short stint in a suburban New Jersey bureau of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sonya Senkowsky came to Alaska in 1996 to escape the persistent smell of oil refineries on her daily commute, and to write for the Anchorage Daily News.

At the time, the newspaper had a vibrant Lifestyles section, which she served first as a features reporter and later as a part-time copy editor; in 2001, she left to become a full-time freelancer. As such, Sonya specialized in documenting and reporting on science fieldwork throughout the state – from dinosaur digs above the Arctic Circle to geology at the bottom of the Gulf of Alaska.

It was then that Sonya started her first websites, including AlaskaWriters.com, an online service offering a web presence for writers through “do it yourself” websites.

Through her websites, she has offered consulting and coaching to writers and scientists on freelancing, multimedia content management and Web outreach. Clients of AlaskaWriters.com include a number of prominent writers, including the state’s writer laureate. The site has also been home to numerous Alaska writing organizations, including the Alaska Press Club, the Alaska Writer’s Guild, and the Alaska chapter of Romance Writers of America—and Alaska Professional Communicators.

Sonya earned her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and her undergraduate degree in English/Communications from La Salle University, Philadelphia. In addition to having written numerous newspaper and magazine articles, she is co-author—along with Amanda Coyne—of Alaska Then and Now: Anchorage, Fairbanks & Juneau (2008), and an author of Alaska’s South Coastal Wildlife Viewing Guide (2009).

In addition to being manager and editor of AlaskaWriters.com, Sonya Senkowsky is currently Creative Services Coordinator and Webmaster for Bristol Industries, LLC, an Anchorage-based company serving the administrative and communications needs of more than a half-dozen engineering, construction and environmental remediation firms owned by Bristol Bay Native Corporation.

Sonya Senkowsky

Sonya Senkowsky

Feb. 4, 2010–On Writing Romance–Tracy Sinclare

A summary of our February 2010 speaker, Tracy Sinclare. By Arlene Lidbergh-Jasper. Tracy Sinclare, best known locally as a weekend meteorologist with KTUU, began her presentation at Alaska Professional Communicators’ February luncheon with an ice-breaker. “It’s much easier to talk to a camera than to a room full of people,” she said. “At KTUU, it’s just me and the camera.” After we all laughed, she told us about yet another world not often exposed to the public: Her experiences with the local chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA), and what she has learned about the art of writing romance novels.

Tracy’s family moved to Anchorage in 1972 when her father was transferred to Elmendorf Air Force Base. Her love for writing began at home and then developed during junior high school. In Tracy’s family, all her siblings were readers except her; she preferred to listen to stories first. If she liked a story, then she would read the book.

However, in 7th grade she read Victoria Holt novels, bodice rippers with deep dark heroes. Next, she read contemporary romance—even in geometry class. By 11th grade, she was writing romances during trigonometry classes. During her last year in high school, when the seniors dressed up as what they would be in 20 years, she showed up as a romance writer wearing a long gown and floppy hat with pen and paper in hand.

For about 16 years, Tracy said, she had great story ideas and read her work to her best friends. In 1992, she joined the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and finished her first book but never submitted it.

In 2002, just before her 20th class reunion, she would publish Silver Dagger. Since then she has written 15 novels and eight short stories, each in the range of 50,000 to 80,000 words.

Tracy also pursued professional communication training by more traditional routes. She received her B.A. in English and Broadcasting from Gonzaga University in 1986, and her B.S. in Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi University in 2007. She has stories in her head all the time, Tracy says.

She doesn’t write linearly but jumps around. Characters reappear from book to book, including in the dragon-themed romance novels she writes as a series, which she says sell really well. One such series is up to five books and another is up to seven. She has no agent, and explained that in the romance genre, it is common for a writer to sell his or her first book without an agent. Romance novels are a $1.37 billion industry, she told us. It’s three times as popular as religion with eight billion.

In 2008 there were 7,311 romance novels published, with total readership calculated at 748 million. Romance books hold more than 50 percent of the mass market in paperback fiction. Women are the book buyers 90 percent of the time. This is one genre that is written for women by women.

When people mention to Tracy Sinclare, “I never have read any of your books,” her response is usually “you are not my target.” Her target audience: 31 to 59 year-old women, who “like to read about relationships and how much care you put into them. And, of course, we need a hero and heroine.” Tracy then mentioned an essay by Jennifer Crusie, “Let Us Now Praise Scribbling Women,” reprinted on Crusie’s blog, which gives its praise in particular to women who write romance. She paraphrased: The last line these women write is that the heroine lives happily ever after. As girls, they read Sleeping Beauty, who got everything she’d ever wanted because she looked really good unconscious. Then there was Snow White, who got everything she wanted because she looked really good unconscious. Or there was Cinderella, who should be given some credit for staying awake through her whole story, but who got everything she wanted because she had small feet.

Girls have been taught to be more passive to get the “crown in the castle.” But in romance novels, women are active participants—and there is a hunky man. Romance books, Crusie concludes, create an “emotionally just universe.”

And then there are the “TSTLs, Too Stupid to Live Heroines,” added Tracy. “My stories are character-based, and I like happy endings.” But there must be a believable pace even in the happy-ending storyline, she said.

In re-writing Silver Dagger, Tracy said, she realized that the heroine can’t take her clothes off too early in the book until the love is established.

Tracy writes under a pen name and is not public about her works in her home state–but shared her time with us to encourage other romance writers. She recited a list:

  • “You might be a writer if, before you get on a plane, you make sure you have several books to read and pen and paper in case your computer battery dies.
  • You might be a writer if you hold conversations with the voices in your head, but your friends aren’t recommending that you up your medication.
  • You might be a writer if, when relaxing at a spa, you open the locker and think, I could stuff a body in there.
  • OK, that makes you a writer—or a psychopath!”
  • And finally, “You might be a writer if you understand when I say, ‘My characters won’t do what I want!’”

Tracy highly recommends belonging to a writing group. “Like the group MENSA for people with high IQs,” she said, “joining a writing group does give you support. You want a writers’ group that understands you,” she said. “It’s important to work with people who are working in the same genre.” A number of writing groups in town meet once a month. The romance writers meet at Jitters in Eagle River and schedule a craft talk once a month with the other three weeks given to the members’ critiques. She only attends the craft talk, which helps motivate her to want to write.

Her self-evaluation: “I’m a good storyteller and an OK writer.” Visit the Alaska chapter of the RWA.

A short Q&A period followed. Did she use a dedicated writing computer, i.e., one not connected to the Internet and used only for writing? “No,” she said. She writes on a normal computer in evenings and on days off, an hour a day with four pages an hour on average.

Tracy was then asked about Nora Roberts, a favorite of one woman’s mother and many others in the room. “What separates Nora from the pack?” Tracy answered. “I’ve met her at national conferences, and she is so popular that it’s hard to weave through the crowds of people, just to hear her. She is successful, writing for a number of years, has a fan base, and started when there were bodice rippers. She got in on the ground floor. Nora Roberts writes in different genres: romance, paranormal—and her toughest character is a female cop with a dark past. The In Death series is written under her pen name of J.D. Robb.”

Dec. 3, 2009–Tales of ‘changing paths’–Bill Sherwonit

A summary of our December 2009 speaker, Bill Sherwonit
By Dianne O’Connell

At the monthly luncheon Thursday, December 3, held at the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, nature writer Bill Sherwonit took Alaska Professional Communicators on a tour of some of the journeys–psychological, spiritual and natural–experienced during the writing of his most recent two books.

Speaker Sherwonit grew up in a strict Lutheran home located on the fringes of urban and rural Connecticut. Though he left behind the stern dogma of his youth, he said, a general spirituality and nature continue to inform his life and writing. His book, Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness, published by the University of Alaska Press (September 2009), chronicles his life and personal development along these lines. His book, Living with Wildness, (not “wilderness”), also by UAA Press (June 2008) focuses on the opportunities for living with the wild right here in the Anchorage bowl.

“Wilderness is a place or an idea,” he explained. “Wildness is a quality or a state of being – something within us. … It is only when we begin to get to know something that we can really begin to value it. The Coastal Wildlife Refuge in South Anchorage is so much more than treacherous mudflats, for instance. But you have to get out and experience it to understand it.”

“Writing requires me to pay attention to what is going on around me, promotes a kind of hyper-awareness. I’m going to be writing about this, so I have to keep alert.”

Sherwonit recalled an experience in the Chugach Mountains when a wolverine appeared and stayed close for about thirty minutes. “This was not the time to jump for my journal or camera,” he said, “but rather to just stay with the experience.”

“Absorb first, write second,” he suggested.

“I’m a very introspective, sensitive guy,” the writer told his audience. “I stand before you as a fallen Christian and a failed geologist,” venturing into a rambling, yet interesting, exchange regarding the human species, a bear’s right to act like a bear, and the bundle of contractions which represent humanity – from incredible compassion to horrific terrorism.

Sherwonit holds a Master’s degree in geology, as well as an impressive history as a journalist and writer of essays and narrative non-fiction works. He has called Alaska home since 1982, when he began work at The Anchorage Times. He’s been a fulltime freelance writer since 1992 and has contributed essays and articles to a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, journals, and anthologies. His essay “In the Company of Bears” was selected for The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007.

Sherwonit is also the author of 12 books about Alaska. He lives in Anchorage’s Turnagain area, where he writes about the wildness to be found in Alaska’s urban center as well as in the state’s most remote wilderness areas.

Sherwonit is the December 2009 guest blogger at 49 Writers, a literary blog for and about Alaskan writers. You can also learn more about his books and life at Bill Sherwonit’s website.

The meeting was the first Alaska Professional Communicators luncheon to be held at the AHFC building. The location is, to date, a temporary meeting place until the Board has determined long-term options to replace the former Golden Lion arrangement, explained Board president Connie Huff. A member survey will be forthcoming to solicit membership input.

Members should take note of the location, as the January 7 meeting will be there as well. AHFC is located at 4300 Boniface Parkway, at Tudor Road (next to the Alaska Club). The catering company has also changed, with food provided by Dianne’s Restaurant, of downtown Anchorage.

Bill Sherwonit

Bill Sherwonit

Nov. 5, 2009–Mr. Whitekeys and Alaska Still Find Each Other Funny–Mr. Whitekeys

A summary of our November 2009 speaker, Mr. Whitekeys
By Sonya Senkowsky

“Being a good communicator in Alaska—the bar isn’t all that high.”

With that and a smirk, on Thursday, November 5, 2009, Mr. Whitekeys launched his talk to the Alaska Professional Communicators, as well as a theme familiar to his fans: sharing a laugh over media bloopers from across the state.

From the Kodiak Daily Mirror: “Senate passes bill that would set up hunting season for children.” The ad from KFQD ad, which said: “Radio or TV experience required, but not necessary.” And from The Pulse, a local shopper: “Bring the world home. Hose a foreign exchange student.” This last headline-writer turned out to be in the audience; it was APC member Dianne Barske, who claimed authorship with a smile.

New media and technologies got some notice as well. Whitekeys found that his book Mr. Whitekeys’ Alaska Bizarre scored an Amazon.com rating of four and a half stars, while the classic Melville novel Moby Dick rated only four. The obvious conclusion, according to ‘Keys: “I am famous-er than Moby Dick, and there is technology to prove it.”

But the presentation was more than a cleverly customized recap of Whitekeys’ act. While continuing his trademark “can you believe this” banter, by citing a series of favorite quotes, the writer-entertainer and author of three books also shared a glimpse of his inspirations and the philosophies that have guided his career.

These included what he called “one of the best things ever said to me about writing,” a quote attributed to Mark Twain, passed along to ‘Keys by former Anchorage Daily News publisher Howard Weaver: “People love hearing stories about people.”

He quickly knocked that down a notch—adding, from Voltaire, this wisdom: “All books are too long.”

Since quitting his 26-year nightclub gig—a decision made because he no longer wanted to run a bar—the performer known to Alaska only as Mr. Whitekeys has been responsible for weekly Fly By Fridays commentaries on the KTUU Channel 2 Newshour as well as a monthly column in Alaska magazine. And he appears drawn to collecting comments on writing, including one by comedian Steven Wright, who didn’t understand why anyone would spend years writing a novel, “when you can buy one for a couple dollars.”

Despite the earlier posturing about his Melvillian accomplishments, Whitekeys still doesn’t take himself all that seriously. In one breath, he says, “I’m a journalist telling the story of Alaska.” In the other: “My job is to mouth off and make snotty comments.”

Both descriptions contain truth, but it’s the first that best answers the question “Where does he get his ideas?” When odd things happen to Whitekeys—and for whatever reason this happens with stunning regularity—he is the expert collector and curator of the moments they bring, filing them away for stories or songs.

There was the video shoot in Kodiak for his DVD, Mr. Whitekeys presents Alaska, the First 10,000 years, when he and four dancers set out in rain slickers to demonstrate the region’s typically gloomy weather. Except, the day of the shoot happened to be “the hottest, sunniest day of the year.” They arrange to have a hose replace the rain, but then find themselves with another problem: a rambunctious local who wanted only one thing: “I’m gonna spray those girls.” That was not allowed to happen (this is not that kind of act), but the story—well, it gets filed for sure under “Alaskans behaving badly.”

Then there was the day he was arrested for trespassing on railroad property in Seward while bird-watching. It was the officer who arrested him who ended up telling about a comic-book-like alert system once used to call out police in Palmer, using a red light mounted on a hotel chimney.

And, while the rest of the country was duking it out over health insurance, Mr. Whitekeys found himself musing over the debate in a different direction, and ended up writing the song, “We Want to be On the Death Panel.”

Shortly after this came his one-sentence lesson on movie-making and marketing: “You can’t say that, or else Wal Mart won’t carry it.”

In closing, Whitekeys told of a recent National Public Radio interview he’d heard with columnist Leonard Pitts, who said that in order to write about something, he had to care about it.

“I say that’s a bunch of crap,” said Keys. “I want a cheap laugh.”

Nonetheless, his parting quote still managed to be poignant. It came from Kurt Vonnegut, who said: “We are here on Earth to fart around.”

And if you are ‘Keys, to do it in style.

Mr. Whitekeys

Mr. Whitekeys

Oct. 1, 2009–How Dunlap Scholl and his art found new possibilities “Out of My Comfort Zone”–Peter Dunlap Scholl

From a talk given October 2009
By Peter Dunlap Shohl

Not long after I was diagnosed in early 2002 with Parkinson’s Disease, an old friend paid me a visit. A person of warmth and intelligence, he predicted a fruitful, if difficult time, a prediction based on experience with others who had faced severe illness. I appreciated the comfort offered, but deep down, and for that matter, from right below the surface, I filed this under “Yeah, right.”

Seven years down the road my friend is looking clairvoyant. Since that diagnosis, I have been surfing my strongest creative roll, period.

This creative episode marked:

  • The end of my indifference to computers as graphics tools and the shameless embrace of Photoshop, iMovie, Audacity, and Flash animation;
  • The launch and maintenance one of the first interactive political cartoon caption contests anywhere, Name That ‘Toon;
  • The creation of both an ongoing blog on Parkinsons Disease (Off and On, The Alaska Parkinson’s Rag); and Frozen Grin; and
  • Extensive Collaboration with Dr. David Heydrick, a neurologist with Parkinson’s Disease on materials for his Web site and a DVD designed to help patients deal effectively with their disease.

All this while remembering to take my pills.

I had no road map for the journey. I just booted up the computer and lit out for the country.

But first, I had to slam into a wall. For a creative person, that’s as good a start as any. As Rollo May observed, creativity is actually driven by limits. If you have no problems, you need no solutions. Luckily for me, I had problems aplenty.

Discomfort in a literal sense began to hedge me in. Repetitive strain problems that I have no doubt were Parkinson’s driven arrived at the point where my resourceful and bright ergonomics doctor ran out of ideas that would keep me drawing.

This was a double blow, first because drawing has been a large part of my self identity since I was a second-grader. And second, it has always been my living. I wasn’t ready to give it up to Parkinson’s Disease.

I knew that there were electronic drawing pads that would enable me to approximate the correct posture of a typist while I was drawing. Using the pad, I can keep my elbows in a natural comfortable angle while holding my head level to look a computer screen, where drawings unfold in a way that is magical.

When I pitched this idea to my doctor, a look of relief crossed his face. He smiled, and replied that it would work. And so far, it does. And it did far more. It was almost like a time machine that transported me from the 19th Century into the 21st. Although it took me a while to realize that I should make the trip.

At the News, I was producing cartoons in the same way that Thomas Nast did back in the days of the Civil War: pen and ink. The lyric vitality of a spontaneously drawn line and its power to describe and suggest was what attracted me to drawing in the first place. I set about recreating that look with the electronic pad and stylus.

Drawing while watching the screen instead of your hands is no big trick. Art students are taught to draw while looking elsewhere. Mastering the program that allows you to draw on the screen (I use Photoshop) was a different story. But that is where I really got lucky. My wife is not only a Photoshop ace; she is also a patient teacher.

Eventually I arrived at my goal of being able to produce work on the computer that was indistinguishable from my pre-computer cartoons.

If you look closely at one of my old cartoons you will see that the gray tones are made up of fine lines. This is a technique that is called “hatching”. It is popular among newspaper cartoonists because the presses we have reproduce it well. That was the look I worked to recapture on the computer. After much floundering, I finally nailed it. When I arrived at that lofty peak, that desperately sought grail, that ultimate moment… (By the way, if some of you would start humming the theme from “Chariots of Fire” here it will add greatly to the impact.)… that ultimate moment dearly bought with toil and frustration, that apex of mastery when I finally was able to reproduce the old style, I was rewarded with a moment of clarity.

I realized that recreating my old look was a stupid idea.

Take a two thousand dollar machine, equip it with some of the most sophisticated software available, and turn it into a fifty cent pen. Brilliant, wouldn’t you agree? That’s when I decided it was time I left the 19th Century. Since then I have been on a full-scale creative bender, exploiting the color, texture and effects at the computer makes possible. I began exploring and picking up steam, incorporating graded tones, trying to work them in with my old style, progressing to a full marriage of old and new.

Where to go from there? With my cartoons now appearing on the Web, it was on to color.

Meanwhile I was kicking around the idea of animations. The Mac comes loaded with a movie program (iMovie, old version) that I realized I could turn into a primitive animation application, essentially by speeding up slide shows.

This led to a grandiose plan to webcast a weekly political satire program, which would involve contributions from all members of the opinion staff, only parts of which got off the ground.

Eventually the limitations of iMovie as an animation program pushed me to learning Flash. Flash can be daunting. It’s like one of those amazing pipe organs with multiple sets of pipes, keyboards and pedals. The buzz among my fellow Civil War-era cartoonists was about how complex and difficult to master it is. When I sat down with the first tutorial in which the object is to make a simple ball shape roll across the screen the ball just squatted immobile, passive aggressive to the max.

But by now I had a grounding that made the prospect of tangling with flash less daunting. First, my experience with Photoshop convinced me I could learn this stuff. And, by the way, if I can, you can.

Second, I was building a critical mass of familiarity with approaches and techniques that seem to recur in these programs, stuff like time lines and layers begins to look familiar, and in the case of flash and Photoshop, both are made by the same company and share many common features.

Third, and most important, what those cartoonists who had taken on Flash already didn’t mention was…( and if you’re taking notes, write this down in all caps and highlight it with your boldest color…)

It is a blast.

Flash puts more potential and control over more facets of your creativity than anything I can think of. You can make up your own stories, import your own music, draw your own images and bundle them all together.

And they come alive! (maniacal, sinister laughter here). After some practice and some time studying a few books, I learned enough of my little corner of that massive organ to play tunes I couldn’t even have imagined without this instrument.

This was what led me to this next piece for the paper’s Web site. It’s called “Susitna Story” The script is reincarnated from a We Alaskans project (think Charlie Daniels meets Robert Service in the Mat-Su area).

What liberated this eruption of creativity? I believe it was a combination of things. A feeling of exhilaration as my medications finally restored my old abilities, which the disease had been subtly and significantly stifling over a period of years. Along with that came a sense of urgency driven by my own circumstances and the crisis that was rapidly overtaking the media world. I was also intoxicated with the amazing potential that was now opened by the suite of programs that I had begun to use.

And did I mention fun?

Finally, there was the support of editors and the tradition of experimentation at the Daily News that goes back at least to the early 70’s when Publishers Kay and Larry Fanning set the swashbuckling tone that I found when I arrived at the paper in 1982.

Unfortunately, the reality of my progressing disease and the regressing newspaper industry forced me to bail out. But not to stop. On leaving the Daily News, I started my blog “Frozen Grin” where this next piece appeared.

So what is the moral of this story? I was forced by circumstance out of my comfort zone. But I’ll trade a certain of comfort for passion and excitement. Giving up the 19th Century to embrace the potential of the 21st made it possible to redefine myself from cartoonist to cartoonist/writer/musician/animator at a time when Parkinson’s Disease has been trying to define me as “disabled”.

Imagine what it can do for you.

Peter Dunlop Scholl

Peter Dunlop Scholl

Sept. 3, 2009–McMurren’s Secret: Enjoy What You Do–Scott McMurren

A summary of our September 3, 2009 speaker, Scott McMurren
by Kay Vreeland and Sonya Senkowsky

Scott McMurren, Alaska’s premier travel blogger and longtime Anchorage Daily News travel columnist, spoke at the September 3 luncheon. He underscored his passion for travel–particularly cheap travel – and all the wonders that it can bring to the intrepid with handouts, including an informational flyer listing local travel deals (and link information for his blog/newsletter, Alaska Travelgram). Both of his travel coupon books, Great Alaskan Toursaver and Seattle Toursaver, were also available at an end-of-season 40 percent discount.

Though now known mostly for his online and on-air exploits, McMurren began by telling of his long print journalism past. He grew up in a family of journalists and media experts. His grandmother was the first woman Associated Press bureau chief, and his grandfather worked as a publisher for William Randolph Hearst. A life and career rooted in print journalism began for young Scott at age 11, when he delivered papers for the Washington Post, and continued through his college journalism degree, up until the day his newspaper travel column was discontinued in February after a 26-year run.

Since launching himself on the Web as a blogger, McMurren may now boast 15,000 subscribers to his online newsletter. He is also a regular columnist/contributor with online publication Alaska Dispatch. In addition, he also works “social media” nonstop, using sites such as Facebook and Twitter to direct followers to new postings and deals.

Being in new media means a journalist is always “on,” McMurren told us. When asked how many hours he spends on his Web work, he likes to say, “all of ‘em.” Today’s cyber-journalism, he explains, is a person’s “lifestream.” And, to properly inspire confidence and communicate authenticity, it’s a job that cannot and should not be outsourced. Bottom line, McMurren said, the secret to not burning out on an always-on schedule is to enjoy one’s work. His goal, he says: to enjoy everything he does 100 percent.

Of course, the man loves to travel. But the fun and adventure inherent in McMurren’s work have also included learning new ways to reach blog readers and viewers. For example, to enliven his blog, he’s learned how to shoot video, to be able to post such items as a first-person view of the “Alaska Canopy Tour” he took while riding a zipline through rainforest in Ketchikan.

Setting a small-but-high-definition-quality handheld video camera atop a tripod, he demonstrated to our group just how portable a professional-quality setup can be. (The resulting video is high enough quality to be used on television, too, he pointed out.)

More than a Web marketer of travel services, McMurren is proud to call himself a travel “evangelist.” He does not shy from the religious connotation; a minister’s son, he appears to have come by the comparison (and a certain dramatic flair) honestly. He had our group laughing at several points as he compared his mannerisms and voice to those of an over-enthusiastic preacher.

Finally, McMurren shared that travel is important to him because he believes in it as a leg of diplomacy — a way to learn about the world. And if we call can’t get out into the world to do the traveling he does? He urged us to host an exchange student – another learning experience he has tried and highly recommends.

Scott MMurren

Scott McMurren

June 4, 2009– “About Face” film-maker: Child’s cries for help led to friendship, film–Mary Katzke

A summary of our June 4, 2009 speaker, Mary Katzke
By Kay Vreeland

Mary Katzke, whose media production company Affinityfilms Inc. completed the documentary “About Face” in January 2009, spoke at the Alaska Professional Communicators luncheon June 4, explaining how the film was made, its story, and its future.

The film’s subject, Gwendellin Bradshaw, was horribly disfigured as a baby after her mentally ill mother threw her into a campfire. At the age of three, the girl lived next door to Katzke. Hearing children’s cries of “roast beef,” Katzke ran outside to find Gwen being pelted with rocks, and rescued her.

So began a long relationship. In crisis at age 24, Gwen decided to tell her story. Over the next five years, Katzke filmed the journey of Gwen’s search for her mother and for healing.

Documentary films are enormously expensive to produce, and it took four and a half years to raise half the budget for this one, said Katzke. A forty-minute segment of the film, completed and shown nationally, helped leverage its Alaskan origins and secured support for the remaining half of the budget within six months.

The film was made using four different video formats, interspersed with old black-and-white 8-mm footage to represent the memory of the injured child.

Now in the distribution phase, “About Face” was on the finalists’ list for Best Mid-Length Documentary at Toronto’s 2009 HotDocs Canadian International Documentary Festival. There are currently 15 requests for screening, across the U.S. as well as in Korea and Australia.

Katzke’s next project is to publish a discussion guide to accompany the film for training those who work with the homeless, the mentally ill, and women with postpartum depression.

Background information about Mary Katzke is on the Web site of Alaska Professional Communicators; the story and trailer of the film are at the “About Face” website.

May 7, 2009–Magical Masks authors from the Home Base After School Program–Mary Rhodes Rasheed

Student authors tell of Africa trip and other adventures

A summary of our May 7, 2009 speakers, Magical Masks authors from the Home Base After School Program: Mary Rhodes Rasheed, Cecilia Mora Pitts, Randall Wilson – with program coordinator Shirley Mae Springer Staten
by Barbara Brown

On May 7, Alaska Professional Communicators were treated to a slide show and presentation by students from the Home Base After School Program, who recently authored a children’s book and presented it to children in Ghana, Africa. The Home Base program is offered to 4th through 8th graders who live in the Fairview and Muldoon neighborhoods. All students sign a contract that they will remain with the hands-on program for three years.

In polished, well-orchestrated and vivid presentations, the students told us of many adventures, including how they met a U.S. senator, the U.S. ambassador to Ghana, and a man who flew solo around the world. The book they wrote and the trip they took to Ghana are outlined here, so I will give you some of the extra impressions the students shared.

Mary Rhodes Rasheed, one of the first Home Base students to sign on, showed off yet another of their projects: “If I Could Change the World” posters. Mary’s called for “No Smoking.” Later, she shared her poem, “Dream to Reality.”

Cecilia Mora Pitts recited her poem “The Sky Is the Limit,” and explained that Magical Masks, their book, had been conceived simply as a gift to bring the children of Africa.

Randall Wilson described the expectations he had of Africa, fostered by the media in this country. He expected small villages, sad faces and ill and hungry children. Instead, he found happy kids and big cities, but he did find poverty, too. Kids didn’t have shoes, and their schools were so poorly equipped, the benches designed to hold two students had to hold four. The only technology in the classroom: a chalkboard. He also found it was so hot, he couldn’t breathe at first!

In a visit to “the slave castle”—a castle in Cape Coast, Ghana, used as dungeons in the slave trade—the students heard that pregnant women had been thrown overboard, that slaves could exercise only once or twice a week, and that if they broke into a sweat, they were returned to the dungeon. A sign over the castle door read “Door of No Return,” because once captives left, they would board boats never to return to their homeland. When the Home Base students entered, they felt that there is finally another sign: “Door of Return.”

Cecilia was profoundly moved by her visit to an orphanage. There were no diapers; they used rags and safety pins. The Home Base kids provided sanitizer, but even bathing the babies in tubs with reused water felt unhygienic to the students. They experienced the difficulties of hauling water to make the day’s porridge. But they gave out stickers to the kids and were surprised when the kids pasted them all over their faces.

To arrive at the end of their journey, a village on stilts in the south of Ghana, they all had to take off their shoes and wade out into “hot, gooey water.” Finally, Strong Young African Men (Shirley Mae’s words) took them in canoes through the forest. The village will be the beneficiary of some of the proceeds from the sale of Magical Masks, and the village chief wondered how anyone had even heard they existed.

The students saw elephants, wart hogs—and even got into horseplay with baboons. But the real impact of the trip? Randall said he’d take his own education more seriously and pray for the kids in Africa. What a testimony to the wonderful work Shirley Mae Springer Staten has done as the director of the program. She took kids out of Fairview and gave them the world!

Shir;ey Mae Springer Staten

Shirley Mae Springer Staten