Art Beat: Writer fights -- literally -- to publicize his book

mdunham@adn.comOctober 12, 2013 

Any writer will tell you that promoting their book is a real battle. But for Gordon Thomas, who publishes as G.E.M. Thomas, the battle is no mere metaphor. He stepped into the boxing ring to exchange blows with Wesley "Twinky" Louis at the Thursday Night at the Fights bouts in the Egan Center on Oct. 3. When the fight ended after three rounds, he stuck around to hawk his historical fiction books to fans.

Originally from New Jersey, Thomas said he's loved reading and writing all his life: "When I was a little kid, I'd write poetry and stories."

Writing took a back seat when he went off to college to get a degree in justice but the urge came on strong after he took off "vagabonding" and wound up working at an organic farm in Hawaii.

"You work three or four hours a day, then you get food and a place to sleep," he said. "I had the whole rest of the day to return to my roots and write. Whenever I had a chance, I'd go to the library."

There he learned about a Hawaiian legend concerning pale-skinned people who washed up on shore centuries before Captain James Cook arrived and put the Sandwich Islands on European maps.

"I was absolutely stunned that the story wasn't more well known," he said. "I was surprised that no one had turned it into a book."

So he set about researching. (His novels include big bibliographies.) He went to museums, visited historic spots, spoke with curators and Hawaiian elders.

The result is a self-published series titled "Strong Roads" that so far includes two volumes. The first, "A Spanish Shipwreck Survivor in Ancient Hawaii," presents the narrative of adventurer Alonso Truylos and mostly takes place in Spanish America, with his arrival in Hawaii coming toward the end. The second, "Blues and Greens and Blood," follows his life among the Hawaiians.

The latter book was a second round pick in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. Admittedly that's a large pool, with a couple of thousand books included, but something like 10,000 aspiring authors entered.

Thomas said he's taking advantage of the possibilities provided by online publishing. Patrons with iPads can read a version with multimedia add-ons. Tap a highlighted word and there's an expanded discussion of it. Click on the audio tag and hear how it's pronounced.

"I tell people it's one of the first 21st century works of fiction," he said.

You can check it out at here. More information about Thomas and his books is available at gemthomas.com and @strongroads.

Thomas came to Alaska last year when he had a job offer. Sitting around Hawaii waiting for a break was impractical, he decided.

As for the fight, he lost to Louis in a decision. But he thinks it went well. Just sticking out all three rounds of the Thursday Night sets is an accomplishment. "They've had writers come through the fights before," he said. "But they never had one who entered and left the ring.

"Boxing is an art form too."

Plus, it gave him another opportunity to promote his book.

Literary follow-ups

Alaska Book Week formally ended on Saturday but, as Thomas' tale reminds us, it's always a good time to celebrate literature. Here are a few literary highlights, announcements and tidbits that follow last week's doings.

Tom Walker, author of "The Seventymile Kid," a book about Harry Karstens and the first ascent of Mount McKinley, has been named Alaska Historian of the Year by the Alaska Historical Society and Museums Alaska. Walker will be the subject of an article in the next issue of Alaska History News. He was interviewed by the Daily News and an excerpt from the book was published in the Life and Arts section on June 2 of this year.

• Former Anchorage mayor Rick Mystrom will have a release party for his new book, "My Wonderful Life with Diabetes," at the Clarion Suites Downtown, 1110 W. Eighth Ave., 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Mystrom was diagnosed 50 years ago and, 60,000 needle sticks later, continues to maintain an exceptionally active life. "I want to show others they can live a healthy life with diabetes," he said in a press release. "Diabetes has become an epidemic, in Alaska and in America. It's time to turn that around, and we can, and we will. The future is healthy, and that's what I want to let people know." He plans a second book about living with the disease. More information is at rickmystrom.com.

Sherry Eckrich will be the featured poet for the next Poetry Parley at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Hugi-Lewis Studio, on Northern Lights Boulevard across from the Spenard Roadhouse. She'll be reading from her own work and, in effect, acting as hostess of the festivities. Among other things, she gets to pick the "marquee poet" for the event and she's going with former U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin. Members of the public are welcome to take part by reading one or more of Kumin's poems during the event. To get on the list of readers, send an email to poetryparley@gmail.com.

• Outside Anchorage, the Midnight Sun Visiting Writers Series will host author and marine biologist Eva Saulitis in a free public reading at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 in the Murie Building Auditorium at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Saulitis will read from her most recent book, "Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas."

• Still outside Anchorage, the Alaska State Museum in Juneau will host a readers' theater performance of "The Real Story of the Sinking of the Princess Sophia" by Mary Lou Spartz at 2 p.m. on Oct. 19. The play is based on the real-life disaster of 1918 when the passenger steamer Princess Sophia went down with the loss of all aboard, the worst maritime accident in the history of British Columbia and Alaska. History aside, Spartz said her play is fiction incorporating "fact, myth and gossip" that surrounded the tragedy.

• Speaking of theater, the public is invited to open rehearsals of Arlitia Jones' latest play, "Come to Me, Leopards," at Cyrano's, 413 D St. The events take place at 4 p.m. this Sunday and on Saturday, Oct. 19. Rehearsals will be followed by a discussion with the director, actors, playwright and designers. "It's our way of including people into the process of workshopping a new play and letting them see how that might be different from working on an established piece," Jones said. Read more about the playwright and the play in next week's Life and Arts section. "Leopards" opens on Oct. 25.

• Finally, high school students can get into the Thursday performances of "And Then There Were None" at Anchorage Community Theatre for free, thanks to a grant from Target. Good crowds have been reported for the Agatha Christie thriller, however, so you'll need to make reservations at actalaska.org or by calling 868-4913. The play closes on Oct. 20.

'St. John Passion' onstage

J.S. Bach's "St. John Passion" -- a choral version of the suffering and death of Jesus as found in the fourth Gospel -- will be presented in a staged performance by the Anchorage Concert Chorus. The chorus and characters (Steven Alvarez as the Evangelist, George Yang as Jesus, Kyle Gantz as Pontius Pilate, etc.) will be in modern dress. Sets and costumes have been designed by Margret Hugi-Lewis, and veteran thespian Dick Reichman directs the action. Grant Cochran will conduct the singers and orchestra in what sounds like a fascinating marriage of music and drama. There'll be two performances in Atwood Concert Hall, one at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, and the other at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20. Tickets are $30 at centertix.net.


Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

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