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Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Creative Contests  >  Creative Writing Contest
24th Annual Creative Writing Contest, 2005  -  Jeremy Pataky - 2005 Fiction and Poetry Winner
By Alexandra Berzon « Prev   Page 4 of 4  

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winner of two categories of the creative writing contest -- one of them being, yes, fiction, the other poetry -- was superseded by Pataky's incredibly vivid portrait of a small Southeast town.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 Passage.

"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 story."

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 writing.

"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.

About the Author: Alexandra Berzon is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.
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