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Soldotna author gets Rasmuson grant to finish first book

Cover art Kristin Link
Courtesy of Porphyry Press
"Compass Lines" is Soldotna author John Messick's first book.

First-time author John Messick, of Soldotna, was awarded a grant this year from the Rasmuson Foundation to finish his book, “Compass Lines” — out early 2023 with McCarthy-based Porphyry Press.

The book is a collection of literary essays about Messick’s travels in Alaska and beyond.

Messick is done writing, now. But the $7,500 grant will help him over the finish line. A little more than half of the money will cover the cost of childcare.

“Particularly during the editing process, and with the age of kids that we have, that time to write comes in 15- or 20-minute snippets,” said Messick, who has a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old and is an English professor at Kenai Peninsula College. “And you just don’t get the kind of focus that you would need.”

Messick said the hardest thing to find as a writer, particularly a writer with kids, is time to sit down and work. He said childcare will give him extra days to work on the editing process as the publishing deadline quickly approaches.

Publisher Jeremy Pataky, of Porphyry Press, said time is gold for artists.

“The best thing you can do if you want to help someone in their creative process is to do whatever you can do to give them the gift of time,” Pataky said. “And often that directly translates as money.”

“Compass Lines” is Porphyry’s second book; last year, it published “Cold Mountain Path,” about McCarthy from Homer author Tom Kizzia.

Pataky said he’s thrilled to see debut authors like Messick getting recognition and a financial boost from Rasmuson.

“Being able to do things like have a bit of a book tour and promote the book, take the time it takes just writing the book in the first place — it does take discipline and time and part of the fun, for me as the publisher, is sort of getting to see somebody in action like that,” Pataky said.

The rest of the Rasmuson grant will help Messick with those promotional costs — paying for hotels and plane tickets around the Pacific Northwest and in Alaska.

Messick said working with a micropress like Porphyry has been a good way to learn about the many parts and pieces of publishing a book that come after the ink has dried.

“Some of which involve the author a lot, some of which don’t seem to involve the author at all,” Messick said, “but are mind-boggling to me.”

And once the book is out, of course, it has to sell.

“It’s kind of a strange way to think about writing as an economic thing,” Messick said. “Because in the world of books, a lot of them don’t break even. A lot of presses bank on that.”

But Messick said working with Pataky, there’s an assumption that the work will sell and that it won’t operate at a loss.

“I think at least for me, that reflects a serious belief in the literary merit of the work,” he said.

As the year wraps, Messick and Pataky are adding the finishing touches on the work, finishing copy edits, writing blurbs for the back and finalizing the book’s cover — a piece from McCarthy artist Kristin Link.

“They say don’t judge a book by its cover. But I will say this is an absolutely gorgeous cover,” Messick said.

You can see that cover and preorder a copy of the book beginning next month on the Porphyry Press website. “Compass Lines” comes out in March.

Homer visual artist Kim McNett was another Rasmuson Foundation winner this round. According to the Rasmuson website, she’ll use her grant to create a two-panel mural for the Homer Airport centered around peat for the Homer Drawdown project.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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