Former reporter-turned author recounts process of writing four books

Bonnie Demerjian used to report for the Wrangell Sentinel in the early 2000s. One of the last stories she wrote for the newspaper in 2004 was about aviation author Greg Liefer.

Though she enjoyed writing various stories, it was Demerjian's own aspirations of being a published author that led her to leave the life of journalism to pursue one in writing books.

She's written four books in the past 20 years - Demerjian self-published three of them. The third one, "Images of America: Wrangell," was part of a series published by Arcadia Publishing.

Her first book, "Roll On! Discovering the Wild Stikine," had her researching the history of the river and working with photographer Ivan Simonek to capture the waterway. She also relied on historical photos from the museum.

"I was working at the Sentinel for about five years, and I said, 'Gee, I'd like to focus on something with a little more depth," Demerjian said. A friend suggested she write about the Stikine River, and since she enjoyed learning about history, she "had fun digging into that for a year or so."

Demerjian admits she wasn't a "river rat" her whole life, so she had a lot to learn about the Stikine.

"I was really interested in the history of it, particularly since it has such a rich history," she said.

It took about a year to complete the book. She worked to make sure she was accurate by talking to various people and recording their stories. She researched the history of the people and the natural history - but only up to a geographic point.

"It is kind of cut short because I only talked about it up to Telegraph Creek, and really the river goes on way up much further into Canada," Demerjian said. "It just seemed like too much of a challenge to really dig into that part of the river, which has its own story."

Demerjian said as she has looked back on her works, she realized that her writings are "place-based," due to her interest in places. Her second book, "Anan: Stream of Living Water," digs deeper into the area that is best known for its bear observatory.

"I wanted again to not talk about only bears and the natural history, but about the fishing history, the Native history, and just cover not super in-depth but some of all those aspects," she said. Demerjian did the research for the second book by talking to old fisherman and reading as much as she could find on the Native history, though there wasn't much in print, she said. "I read Tlingit stories that involved bears."

Simonek again contributed his photos.

In 2011, Demerjian was approached by Arcadia to write a book about Wrangell's history. The publishing company has a series of books, "Images of America," that gives readers a look back in time at communities all across the country. She said the company told her the book about Wrangell would be the first about places in Alaska. There are also books on Nome, Talkeetna, Eagle River, Cordova, Juneau, Denali National Park and Preserve and subjects covering whaling, icebreaking and the Yukon.

Photos for the Arcadia book were from the collection of the Wrangell Museum and private collector Michael Nore, who grew up in Wrangell and now lives in Washington state.

"He very kindly let me go through his collection, in fact I was only able to go through a small part of it because he has thousands upon thousands," Demerjian said.

When it comes to having a publisher versus self-publishing, Demerjian said the biggest difference is the expense. A publisher covers all the printing costs, editing, design and formatting. A self-published author has to cover all that, plus spend a lot of time on the work too. However, there is more control on the author's part with self-publishing.

"I knew the kind of look I wanted for my books. I wanted color photos," she said. It's a lot cheaper to print in black and white, "but I wanted them to look the way I wanted them to look."

Then there is promotion. "You have to market yourself and I have a lot of trouble with that. I'm not a real outgoing person, so I don't promote myself as well as I might."

Demerjian worked with Matt Knutson of InterDesign in Juneau for the design and layout of her self-published titles, then uploaded the files to an online service that provides book printing services.

Though with all she's learned, Demerjian still doesn't feel like she's an author. "This is a fun project. I love the work of researching the book and writing it."

It's been five years since her last book, "Rock Art of South Alaska," was published. Demerjian doesn't think she will be writing any other books, but she continues to write. Although now she's learning the art of poetry in a group led by Wrangell author Vivian Faith Prescott.

"I wrote these books because I love to do it, not to make money," she said. "Obviously, I didn't make all the money I spent on it, but I don't care."


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