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  Bear Down Bear North ~ Alaska Stories
Flannery O'Connor Award

In her debut collection, Melinda Moustakis brings to life a rough-and-tumble family of Alaskan homesteaders through a series of linked stories. Born in Alaska herself to a family with a homesteading legacy, Moustakis examines the near-mythological accounts of the Alaskan wilderness. The characters in Bear Down Bear North are salt-tongued fishermen, fisherwomen, and hunters, scrappy storytellers who put themselves in the path of destruction sometimes a harsh snowstorm, sometimes each other and live to tell the tale.   

"In this sharply-crafted debut collection, Moustakis invites readers into a world filled with gruff characters, breathtaking wilderness, and a fierceness of spirit as crisp as the Alaskan winter."
 Publishers Weekly

Flannery O'Connor Short Fiction Award Winner Melinda Moustakis writes about Alaska, where she lived as a child and where she retains strong ties. Her collection Bear Down Bear North, for which she won the Flannery O'Connor award, features stories set in Alaska. Moustakis gave us a chance to preview a few of the stories; look forward to the release of the full collection in fall 2011, when the book is released by University of Georgia Press. You'll also find stories by Moustakis in the 2009 Spring/Summer issue of Alaska Quarterly Review as well as in their Spring 2011 issue.

Imagery associated with rivers and fish runs through your stories. What makes these images important to you?

About six years ago, I started going up to Alaska in the summers to go fishing with my uncle and stay at his cabin on the Kenai River. He knows that river inside and out and I am extremely lucky that he takes me fishing and is an expert fisherman. I don’t know if there’s anything better than when you’re on a drift, dragging for rainbows, there’s no wind, the midnight sun is setting, and all you hear is the flick of a fly rod as you mend your line. I also don’t know anybody who tells a better hunting or fishing story than my uncle. I think this all explains my love of fishing and my love for fishing stories and fishing banter.

In many of your stories, sinister family relationships create tension that’s a lot like a fish running a line under the water you never know when it will surface. In terms of crafting a story, how does this tension evolve?

I think my writing really came together when I started to marry the idea of fishing or hunting with family relationships. What I mean is, the structure of a fishing story became the vessel that allowed me to write about relationships. If you think about it, when you’re fishing, you have some idea that a fish could bite at any moment, you anticipate it, but, you have no idea exactly what will happen. The fish might bite. You might get skunked and never have a bite. You might hook into a little dolly and throw it back. You might be fishing for rainbows and hook into a monster king and have a story you’ll tell for the rest of your life. In my story, “The Weight of You,” there’s a similar tension built around what the character Gracie wants to tell her brother, Jack, while they are fishing for kings. You know she has something to tell him something. Will she tell him? Won’t she? Why doesn’t she want to tell him? How life-changing is this thing that she has to tell him? Is she making it out to be a bigger deal than it is? Fishing and fishing stories taught me how to structure tension and anticipation... (The rest of the interview can be found at http://49writers.blogspot.com/2010/11/deb-49-writers-interview-with-melinda.html )