Writer Enjoys New Adventure -- Two First Places
Anchorage Daily News
I am usually pretty good at discerning fiction from reality, but Jeremy Pataky fooled me.
Perhaps that check mark in the "fiction" box of the contest form should
have clued me in. But somehow the understanding that I was profiling
the winner of two categories of the creative writing contest -- one of
them being, yes, fiction, the other poetry -- was superseded by
Pataky's incredibly vivid portrait of a small Southeast town. I was
sure he was writing a thinly veiled account of his own childhood, of
his grandfather's accidental and tragic death.
But Jeremy Pataky wasn't born and raised here. He's from Idaho, and his story "Ebb Tide" was entirely made up.
In fact, the story emerged like so much of Pataky's life and writing
-- through adventure. A few years ago, as a recent college graduate,
Pataky traveled by sailboat from British Columbia through the Inside
"We were exposed to several communities and places that I collaged
into this story," he said. "Sailing day after day through this type of
environment provided the natural details that I incorporated into the
Shortly after that auspicious entrance into Alaska, Pataky settled
in Anchorage for a few years, working as a tour guide in the summers
and a freelance writer and substitute teacher in the winters.
The summer tour guide gig took him all over -- Denali, Seward, Valdez,
Juneau. And traveling the same roads over and over provided this
observant writer plenty of material.
"Making the drive (to Seward) so frequently, often two or there times
in one day, gave me the chance to really notice particular details
evolve over the course of the season -- plants and colors, snowmelt,
the rivers, birds and other wildlife," he said.
Pataky says he's been a writer since he could spell his own name. He
graduated from Western Washington University with a focus in creative
writing and will study writing at the graduate level in Missoula,
Mont., next fall. Pataky won the Anchorage Press' Short Shorts
competition in 2003 and received an honorable mention in poetry in last
year's Daily News writing contest.
His plans to return to Alaska after graduate school to teach at a
university. Alaska has taken hold of him and figures heavily in his
"I think Alaska has improved my silences," he said. "It has taught me
economy of language. Nothing in nature is wasted, and we can try to
model that in language. If I don't return, I'll be denying an important
part of myself."
Among the laptops clicking away at the Kaladi Brothers Cafe in Title
Wave Books, you might have found Pataky last winter writing draft after
draft of his winning poem, "Fossil," which he says is still unfinished.
"Sometimes you force yourself to sit and write even with nothing to
say, and you write and write and nothing is happening and then suddenly
you're on to something you never would have discovered without a few
pages of drivel," he said. He describes creative writing as "a way of
knowing the world."
Pataky's work is very much place-based, as is his process.
"Winters, particularly in Alaska, lend themselves well to
introspection and writing," he said. "It's impossible to live in Alaska
without an awareness of season and other natural cycles, and even the
indoor ambiance of a warm house in winter is powerfully affected by
what is happening outside. The fossil emerged as a metaphor for the
rifts between elements present in my life with memories of how they
once were -- still there but changed. We're always what we were but
also always new."
It seems only fitting that I was never able to pin Pataky down for a
direct interview. In April, he took a boat from Florida to Copenhagen,
Denmark, and he has been traveling in Europe ever since. We found him
1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal, where he checked his e-mail on
the boat via satellite to discover that he was receiving the rare two
first place honors. He's in Prague, Czech Republic, now, dutifully
answering my questions via e-mail.
So if someday you find yourself reading a story or a poem evoking
the Czech countryside with rich, loving detail and thinking, "He must
have grown up there," don't fall into that trap. It's only fiction.