Many people, when they hear the word "editor," might picture someone with a red pencil tucked behind her ear and chained to a desk when she isn't riding the subway with pepper spray in her pocket to protect her bag full of coffee-stained manuscripts. While this image might be inadequate in New York City and other metropolises, it's even more so when you're talking about an editor in Southeast Alaska.
Take, for instance, my editor at Capital City Weekly, Mary Catharine "MC" Martin.
Besides being managing editor of a paper that caters to all of Southeast Alaska, she finds the time to teach a creative writing course at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), be a personal writing coach, write book reviews and articles for CCW, take photos for the paper, and write books of her own.
Before becoming the editor for Capital City Weekly, MC was a staff writer for the paper and spent two wonderful years, as she puts it, "traveling around Southeast Alaska--Yakutat, Angoon, Hoonah, Ketchikan, Wrangell--writing about interesting people doing interesting things."
She finds it funny to think of what she does as "work." As she wrote to me recently: "Tomorrow I'm going to go to a performance of the Git Hayetsk dancers--a group of Tsimshian dancers who perform wearing these amazing, evocative masks one of the group's leaders carved--to take some photos for the weekly. That's 'work,'" she adds with a sort of whimsical irony.
In the course of doing research for one of her book projects, she circumnavigated Douglas Island where she lives, across from Alaska's capitol, Juneau, where her office is located. (Techinically, Douglas is part of Juneau.)
"The front portion of the island is roaded, but the back--around 20 to 30 miles--is wild," she explains, and adds that while on her trek (anyone who's circumnavigated an island in SE Alaska on foot knows that's no mean feat), "I waded into the ocean to avoid two young black bears, creeped myself out and had to move camp, scrabbled up steep hillsides by digging my fingers into the dirt, and almost killed my feet."
Did the experience get her down and dissuade her from continuing to do field-research on her book? Hardly. This is an Alaskan editor we're talking about.
"By the end I was humming to myself," she says, even though her feet had swelled up and she could barely hobble home. "I had to wear flip flops for a week, but it was my favorite thing I did last year."
MC is a born wordsmith, spending most of her waking hours thinking about words and stories since she first learned to read. She became known for her obliviousness to anything going on while reading, including her name being called over an intercom or someone dancing around in front of her trying to catch her attention.
"Once you're in that deep, editing, at least in your head," she says, "becomes involuntary. Soon I'll be one of those people running around with an apostrophe on a long stick and I'll just stand there, an apostrophe activist, in front of signs that need them. Just kidding. Sort of."
MC's sense of humor is something I rely on when I send her my column, especially when I tell her it may be late or I can't get the accompanying photo because the tide isn't cooperating. If you happen to follow her boyfriend Bjorn Dihle's articles in the Juneau Empire, or have read his book Haunted Inside Passage: Ghosts, Legends and Mysteries of Southeast Alaska (early release in Alaska, official relase May 2, 2017), you will find more instances of her sense of humor being put to the test.
As Bjorn writes in a chapter titled "The Ghost of Castle Hill":
"One afternoon, as sheets of rain echoed off the windows and the wind made the condo shudder, I was feeling a little lost in the mental doldrums. I decided to incite the wrath of my feminist girlfriend, MC, in the hopes it would help with my writer's block."
He goes on to do precisely that. And, as he says: "My plan worked. After she finished screaming and throwing books and cutlery at me, I was able to concentrate and write again."
I have a hard time picturing MC, with her unfailing good humor, being driven to that extreme, but you never know. If anyone could pull it off, I'm sure it's Bjorn.
Bjorn and MC are a matched set with their sense of humor, love of writing and books, and the urge to experience the real wilderness. "Most years Bjorn and I take a few weeks and float down a river in the Yukon or Alaska," MC says. "So far, we've floated down the Stikine (which was amazing--we spent about a week traveling from Telegraph Creek, in British Columbia, to Wrangell), and the Nisutlin, Pelly, and Big Salmon rivers, all of which are in the Yukon. This year, as research for the Klondike book I'm [writing], we're going to retrace the route of the gold rush stampeders."
MC will be taking a break from editing (I'm going to miss her, but I'm looking forward to working with another Alaskan editor/writer, Clara Miller), to do a writing residency at Alderworks, in Dyea, Alaska, the start of the famous Chilkoot Trail, until early June. Then she and Bjorn and Fen will hike the 33 or so miles of the Chilkoot Trail and paddle the 550 or so miles from Lake Bennett to Dawson.
"It'll take most of June," MC says, "and I can't wait."
I look forward to hearing about it, and how her book project goes. I'll be sure to share the results with all of you.
NOTE: All the photos, except the ones MC took of her office and the view of Douglas Island, are by Bjorn Dihle.
MC has recently edited my latest column, this time about a ghost town treasure, appearing Wednesday, April 26, 2017, at www.capitalcityweekly.com.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)