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By Katie Spielberger
Stories of Faith 061610 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly By Katie Spielberger

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Haines author Heather Lende released her second book, “Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs,” this spring.


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"Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs," was released this spring.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Story last updated at 6/17/2010 - 5:45 pm

Stories of Faith

By Katie Spielberger

Capital City Weekly

JUNEAU - Faith can be a divisive topic, but Haines author Heather Lende uses it as a unifying theme in her new book.

Lende explores many forms of faith in "Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs," which was published this spring. The book incorporates two personal narratives from Lende's life: her mother's death (the book's title come from her mother's final instructions), and Lende's own recovery after getting hit by a truck.

"I couldn't write about the accident or the recovery without talking about (faith)," she said.

Faith, to Lende, is the belief in something beyond one's self, in something that can't be proven - and faith as such crops up in as many different guises as there are characters in her book.

There's Wayne Price, who sees carving a totem pole as a way to heal. There's Tim June, who believed that his cancer was largely caused by environmental pollution and as a result has spent his life campaigning for clean air and water. Or there's even Tom Morphet, Lende's editor at the Chilkat Valley News, who runs a newspaper in a town of 2,400 - "If that isn't an act of faith, I don't know what is," Lende said.

Lende's first book, "If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name," is structured around obituaries Lende had written for the Chilkat Valley News, and what she learned about her community through writing them. In her new book, every chapter has a faith component.

Readers of Lende's columns - she wrote for the Anchorage Daily News for many years, and now writes for the Alaska Dispatch - may recognize some scenes and characters in her new book. A couple years after her accident, Lende, who does not keep a personal journal, went back to her columns to remember what she was thinking about at the time.

The columns "really do serve both like notes, and as a rough draft, and as a record of that time," she said.

In all her writing, in addition to the more universal themes she explores - death, healing, faith - Lende's purpose is to document the present-day community of Haines.

"I think it's really important to write about the way we live in Haines now," Lende said. "I think that as a writer, there's sort of an obligation to write about specific time and place so that years from now people can look back and say this is how people lived there then, this is how we took care of each other... The more specific we are about that, in a weird way, the more universal it is.

"There are lots of people who write about public figures. There aren't that many people who write about ordinary people who lead extraordinary lives."

Following in the success of "If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name," Lende's latest book has already received high praise. Booklist called the book "The best Alaska memoir of late, maybe the best ever." Alaska Writer Laureate Nancy Lord wrote of the book, "The genuineness of Heather Lende's experience and her thoughtfulness about life's bad breaks and unexpected gifts - expressed so well in her fine and funny writing - make me want to ordain her as goddess of good sense and song."

Since completing "Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs," Lende has switched literary gears, and is focusing on fiction writing through a Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. "I wanted to not write about people I knew, or myself," she said. She has a manuscript of a novel taking placing in the fictional community of Port Chilkoot, which has much in common with Haines.

As Lende's readers know, she is active in the community of Haines. Among other things, she coaches the high school cross-country running team and volunteers with Hospice of Haines. She writes at home all morning and tries to not schedule any community commitments until afternoon.

She also spends time outside on a daily basis. "Outdoor stuff really feeds my writing," she said. "I rewrite stuff in my head when I'm on a trail or on my bike."

Lende sees several parallels between running and writing - and faith, for that matter.

"You have to like the process as much as you like the product," Lende said. "I didn't rely on talent, I always felt better if I trained harder. If you just sit there every day you're going to hit a few good ones.

"It's also similar to going to church on a regular basis, and then when something happens you have that basis of faith under you that can help you when you need it."

Heather Lende will be in Juneau for a reading and book signing at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 17 at Hearthside Books in the Nugget Mall. Her personal Web site is www.heatherlende.com/.

Katie Spielberger may be reached at katie.spielberger@capweek.com.