Alaskan Delights – Stan Jones

We’ve just had the great fortune of getting mail all the way from Alaska saying how the booktrail has reached the farthest point of the earth! Well we were shocked  – very pleasantly I might add, and there may have been a happy dance or two around the room. That’s how we heard about Alaskan author Stan Jones who we just had to meet!

TUNDRAAnd so we did, and his books. And today, we’ve tempted him out of the cold to speak to us.

We warm him up with some hot chocolate and a little bit of flaming Christmas pudding and then we chat like crazy!….

Hi Stan!. What a pleasure to meet you and read your Alaskan set stories!

Can you tell us more about StanJones (1)and why he is your lead character?

 Almost from the moment I arrived in Kotzebue, I knew I wanted to write about that lovely part of the world and the fascinating people who live there. Crime novels seemed as good a way as any, because that form offers the author latitude to explore any aspect of culture, society, history, or circumstance that strikes his fancy.

The question was, who should be the cop in crime stories about the Arctic? It needed to be someone with ties to the place and people, but at the same time someone who was conflicted (the first law of fiction being, torment your characters!).

Thus did Nathan Active spring into being: An Inupiaq born in Chukchi, but to an unwed teenage mother who knew she was unfit to raise him. So she adopted him out to white schoolteachers, who soon moved to Anchorage and raised him there. 

Nathan resented his birth mother for giving him away, and grew up trying to pretend she and his birth place didn’t exist. He considered himself an Anchorage boy and set out on a law enforcement career by joining the Alaska State Troopers.

Luckily for fans of the series, life got complicated the moment Nathan completed training. The Troopers, with the customary blind perversity of every bureaucracy since the beginning of time, posted him to Chukchi for his first assignment and he’s been there ever since.

At first, he angled for a transfer back to Anchorage at every opportunity. But, over time, he has reconciled with his birth mother, and has come to appreciate Chukchi for the fascinating place it is. Now he’s there to stay, and has moved on from the Troopers to head the public safety department of the Chukchi Regional Borough. He’s The Law north of the Yukon River and south of the Brooks Range, as he puts it.

Despite all the change, Chukchi is still as unique as ever. As a character put it in the very first Nathan book-White Sky, Black Ice–“It makes sense if you don’t think about it.”

You are a native of Alaska. What is particularly special and dear to you about Chukchi where Nathan Active  is  born?

Caribou hunter's cabin
A Caribou hunter’s cabin (c) Stan Jones

Chukchi is fictional, but is modeled pretty closely on a real village named Kotzebue. My family has lived there at various times and one of my children was born there.

Chukchi (Kotzebue) is about 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Chukchi   Sea. Because it is above the Arctic Circle, that means there are a few days in summer when the sun doesn’t set and few in winter when it doesn’t rise–talk about the edge of the world!

One of the side-effects of this phenomenon is what they call Village Time, meaning that people don’t pay a lot of attention to the clock. Since it’s either light all the time or dark all the time for much of the year, one time’s as good as another!

Chukchi/Kotzebue is home to about 3,000 people, around 80 percent of whom are all or partly Inupiaq Eskimo.

KotzebueBluff
Kotzebue bluff (c) Stan Jones

Kotzebue

The first time I landed there was a clear October day. When I stepped off the Boeing 737 jet, it was about five degrees above zero (Fahrenheit) with the wind rolling in off the sea ice at 15 or 20 mph. It was beautiful and, strange as it may seem to denizens of milder climes, it just felt right to me.

Since that day, the place has never been out of my heart or head. I haven’t lived there in a while, but my wife and I still go back to visit whenever we can.

The last such occasion was September of 2015, when President Obama paid a visit–POTUS on the Permafrost, as the occasion came to be known. While I was there, I managed to give one of his Secret Service agents a signed copy of one of the Nathan Active books, Village of the Ghost Bears. I signed it for the president, and expressed the hope that, having seen the real Kotzebue, he might enjoy reading about the fictional version. Wouldn’t it be cool if he read it and posted a review on Amazon!?

And with that thought (Stan we think he should for sure!) we leave Stan warming his hands by the fire and filling his flask full of hot chocolate ready for the ride home.

You can get the book here: Tundra-Kill

And meet Stan here: sjbooks.com

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All This Will Be Lost – Alaska – Aleutian Islands – Brian Payton

All this will belost

Why a booktrail?

The story of a little known event in the second world war which took place in the Aleutian islands of Alaska

Story in a nutshell

June 3, 1942.

The Aleutian Islands, Alaska

No one would think that this tiny and far away place, so distant from the centre of the WW2 would become embroiled in an international situation but on this day it did. For it was on this day that the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed Dutch Harbor in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This was the start of a war which saw some 2500 Japanese troops invade the islands capturing those of Attu and Kiska.

Against this backdrop, married couple John and Helen are separated by the needs of war. John is war journalist covering events whilst his wife Helen remains back in Seattle.

When John’s plane is shot down, he must decide if to surrender or to survive in the Alaskan wilderness before trying to return home.

Place and setting

alaska-map-one

Attu The island which was bombed in the Aleutian campaign of 1943 Kiska The island which was bombed in the Aleutian campaign of 1943 Dutch harbour The Imperial navy bombed this area which started the invasion Pribilof islands (St Paul) People here were evacuated by the US military and takes to south east Alaska where they were interned.
Attu
The island which was bombed in the Aleutian campaign of 1943
Kiska
The island which was bombed in the Aleutian campaign of 1943
Dutch harbour
The Imperial navy bombed this area which started the invasion
Pribilof islands (St Paul)
People here were evacuated by the US military and takes to south east Alaska where they were interned.

The Alaskan wilderness – 

“The fog is better than an ally; it is a close personal friend. It covers his mistakes and spreads its protective wing over him, allowing him to escape detection”

Snow, Fog and the occasional report of Japanese antiaircraft are the only things to define space and time in this cold and unforgiving place. The fog misdirects those it envelopes and distorts the image of your surroundings. It also risks revealing the location of John, the missing war correspondent whose plane has just been shot down. He is there to avenge his brothers death in the Canadian air force

This is a rural and brutal landscape at the best of times but during war time especially so.

That night up in the nest, the boy pulls the parachute to his chin. Storm’s blowin in,” he observes. Easley listens to the fury of the williwaw, the signature gale of the Aleutians

This wind which ‘becomes an avalanche, a full stampeded of sound and sensation that strips the moisture from your eyes, bullies and casts you to the ground.

This is the landscape which acts as the prison John now finds himself in. With the brutality of  war ever present, the story of the Japanese invasion is evoked with raw, naked emotion. The Aleutian Islands must surely be one of the harshest places on earth for survival. How to find one man amidst all this silence and isolation?

This is a part of the world forgotten or blacked out by history – glimpses of the conditions of the American soldiers in WWII in the North Pacific are raw and poignant. Conditions and evacuations of the Aleut Indian natives also help to evoke a time and place little written  about elsewhere.

Such a significant time in US history. When the US forces attempt to take back the island……the result is like having a bird’s eye view of a real piece of US history.

Seattle

Life in Seattle may be far removed from war time bombings yet the isolation felt by Helen as she waits for new from her husband is as isolating as any prison.

At the library she examines the papers for any mention of Alaska

No news and no idea of where he is. Always a couple, now she is forced to live a new life and a very different one with its own set of challenges. She finds strength in her faith and religious beliefs but her life in the dark is a lonely one. So it’s not long before she sets out to Alaska herself to discover the truth.

Bookish musings

A wonderfully evocative novel of a fictional love story  – but not the soppy kind – this one shows the feelings of loss and struggle from both sides of the war – mixed with the very real historical backdrop

I knew nothing of this battle in the war and although had heard of the islands had little knowledge of the landscape there. Well, it was an unforgiving place in WW2 and like the best survival stories, this has all the fictional and factual strands to weave a very believable and challenging tale.

I’d never been to this part of the world before either via a book or for real but now I feel I have tasted the snow, heard the planes and felt the utter despair of having to hide from an invisible enemy.

The struggle of those involved on all sides was heartbreaking to read but inspiring at the same time. The section about the dog and how its written to show  the state of humanity  and what a man is willing to do in order to survive is particularly powerful.

Hold the Dark – Alaska – William Giraldi

hold the dark

Why the booktrail?

The Alaskan wilderness is all encompassing and eerily evoked

Story in a nutshell

Alaska

The wolves have come for the children of Keelut.

Three children have been taken from this isolated Alaskan village, including the six-year-old boy of Medora and Vernon Slone. Torn apart by grief, she seeks the help of nature writer and wolf expert Russell Core. She wants answers and think this is the man to help her – he understands harsh environments, he might understand the wolves.

But when Russell Core arrives on the mountain, nothing is as it seems.Someone is watching. There are eyes in the wooded darkness…

Place and setting

Denali “Denali makes its own weather. There're more lost planes in this state than there are lost kittens in a city.” Bering Bridge  the wolves are said to walk across this land here Skagway
Denali
“Denali makes its own weather. There’re more lost planes in this state than there are lost kittens in a city.”
Bering Bridge
the wolves are said to walk across this land here
Skagway

You might want to wear your thickest woolen cardigan when reading this book and have a cup of something hot in your hands as this book will give you the chills. Not sure if the idea of wolves coming for the villagers’ children or the landscape of snow and ice is the most chilling but when together, the result is eerie to the extreme.

The wolves came down from the hills and took the children of Keelut. First one child was stolen as he tugged his sled at the rim of the village, another the following week…..

Keelut is a small and remote village in Alaska. When Russell arrives on the plane he is immediately lost in a land of snow and ice, of snow up to his shins and hills which “loomed in protection or else threatened to clamp”

This place doesn’t have roads he is told so even his journey to Keelut from the airport is one fraught with danger. And once there his journey gets harder when he is told more about the wolves and the missing children. Torn between his love for the animal  since he has worked in Yellowstone park as part of overseeing their reintroduction since the gray wolf has been hunted to near extinction by that point.

The warnings that he shouldn’t be there come thick and fast-

Do you have any idea what’s out those windows. Just how deep it goes?How black it gets?How that black gets into you?

The warnings don’t come soon enough however for in his search for the wolves responsible, Medora Slone goes missing. This is the part of the journey where violence and grim grim reality come to the surface….

There are eyes in those woods and they are watching…

Bookish musings

A short novel at only 190 pages but one which packs a punch. Its writing is as stark and direct as the subject matter but this fits nicely to highlight even more the fear and the rawness of the story and landscape.

Disturbing in many places (more so than the blurb even suggests with the killing of children) and detached characters made this a short sharp shock of a novel. The landscape is both seen through the eyes of the ones who live there – the families who have lost their children but we as  readers see it through the eyes of the nature writer and traveller Russell Core who loves and fears the creatures but who tells us later on that he even disliked the book Peter and the Wolf for the way it taught us to hate and fear the creatures. So seeing him in this landscape, having to face the possibility that these creatures are responsible  for deaths is interesting.

Once Medora Sloane goes missing, the novel takes a new dark and twisted turn and the psychological study which follows is perhaps one of the darkest dips into the human mind that I’ve read in a while.

Grim but ultimately fascinating