Homer has long been known for its support of new and established authors. Through college classes, readings, workshops and writers groups, local literary artists teach and nurture each other.
Two writers with books out this summer have taken that to a new level: they’re married.
Joan Brown Dodd and Doug Dodd last month published two new books. The author of several memoirs about living in remote Alaska, Brown Dodd’s “The Beggar’s Gift and Other Stories” marks her first foray into fiction. Dodd’s “Man in Hole” is a gripping memoir about growing up in rural Montana and his struggle with addiction.
Dodd will sign “Man in Hole” from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Homer Bookstore in Homer and at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at the Soldotna Public Library.
Brown Dodd, 85, grew up in Missouri, got her bachelor’s degree from Western New Mexico University, and came to Alaska in 1958 to teach high school English in Seward. A registered nurse, she also worked as director of nurses at the Seward General Hospital. In the 1960s she and her first husband, the late Charlie Brown, moved with their family to the Aleutian Islands. For 13 years they lived between Akutan and Dutch Harbor. Out of that experience she wrote “Cow Woman of Akutan” and “Welcome to 1960s Dutch Harbor.”
Dodd, 72, grew up on a remote ranch deep in the mountains of western Montana. In 1968 he received a degree in history and political science from the University of Montana. Dodd worked at a variety of jobs, eventually managing a municipal water system. What he rationalized as “recreational” drug use became even worse when he started smoking crack cocaine, he said. He lost his job and family, became homeless and wound up living in a rescue mission. As he strived toward recovering from his addiction he came to Akutan in 2001 to work at a fish processing plant.
“Divorced and destitute, I needed a change in scene,” Dodd said. “I needed a job where no one would know me.”
That Akutan connection lead him to Brown Dodd. On Akutan he heard about a mysterious feral cattle herd there.
“I didn’t believe that, so I went to look for them, and sure enough, they were there,” he said.
Then he wanted to find out how the cattle got to Akutan. Someone told him it had been a woman, Joan Brown, in Homer. All he could find was an address for her at Gold Rush Realty. Even though the business had closed, he wrote her there and his letters found their way to Brown Dodd.
“All I wanted to do was find out about those cows,” Dodd said. “It’s boring there.”
In August 2001 they began corresponding.
“Before the end of the year, before we ever spoke, we both wanted to get married to each other,” Dodd said.
They finally met after Christmas in 2001 and married in June 2002.
Those letters about Akutan lead to Brown Dodd writing her first book. She also took writing classes at Kachemak Bay Campus.
“As I wrote to Doug I wrote about my experiences,” Brown Dodd said. “…He encouraged me to put it in the book. I was his encouragement. I didn’t want to do that much work.”
The five short stories in “The Beggar’s Gift” came from classes Brown Dodd took at the college with instructors Nancy Lord, Rich Chiappone and Michael Armstrong. (Disclaimer: Brown Dodd took classes from Homer News editor and reporter Armstrong in the 1990s before he began working at the paper.)
Subtitled “Fables for These Times,” Brown Dodd said her brother, John Calhoun, told her “They have an O’Henry twist.”
“They all have a quirky ending,” she said.
Dodd said “Man in Hole” came about from a longer memoir he started writing. He said he didn’t get serious about writing the book until 2010.
“I realized the life I had, not so much the addiction, the life I grew up in didn’t exist anymore,” he said. “It was in an isolated, rural setting with no electricity — typical for maybe for Alaska, but not Outside.”
But then “the story took control of itself,” Dodd said. “It became about addiction. When I left the ranch, I wanted to leave the ranch so bad it turned out I hated it.”
Brown Dodd said “Man in Hole” has received a lot of positive comments. Other people have told him the book disturbed them, Dodd said.
“They haven’t been critical. They just said it caused them some pain,” he said.
A man Dodd knows whose wife died of cancer, and who has cancer himself, told Dodd “My book arrived when he was getting chemo. It helped him deal with his unhappiness and made him not feel sorry for himself. It’s hard to predict the effect our writing has on people.”
Dodd also has used his experience to help people through the Homer Community Food Pantry. He started out bagging beans.
“For the past five years, the people who need more than food — which is all of them, but they don’t ask — they come to me and I interview them,” Dodd said. “Joan says it’s like a social worker, but they don’t pay me.”
Dodd said he helps people because when he hit bottom people helped him.
“I feel like people dig themselves a hole. They can’t get out of it on their own,” he said. “People need to know that. These addicts aren’t werewolves. They have a disease. They can be helped sometimes.”
The couple have learned how to live together as writers. In their three-bedroom home, each has their own office.
“Joan is a little bit better at leaving me alone than leaving her alone,” Dodd said.
They read each other’s works and offer advice.
“He’s a good editor with words,” Brown Dodd said.
“Not so much with punctuation,” Dodd said.
“We just do that back and forth,” she replied.
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.