A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Interview with Deb Vanasse, author of Cold Spell

I just read Cold Spell, by Deb Vanasse, and really enjoyed it.  You can read my review below, and here's my interview with the author.

Cold Spell has an interesting range of characters.  Who was your favorite to write and why?

I’m always delighted to talk about characters—they’re the pulse points of any novel. Choosing a favorite is tough, though. It was Sylvie’s voice that opened the story for me. I’m intrigued by characters who long to be noticed, who find subversive ways to get power, as Sylvie does with her sexuality. So often, our longings betray us, as is the case for both Sylvie and Ruth; that line between impulse and self-control is constantly shifting. In many ways, the two of them mirror each other, not only as mother and daughter, but also in the ways that they fool and also frighten themselves. I can relate to all of that. I also ended up falling hard for Lena, a character I was sure I wouldn’t like. I have lots of outtakes written from her perspective. I love it when characters surprise me like that, weaseling in where I didn’t expect them.

The glacier in Cold Spell is almost like another character in the book.  If you could describe it in three words, what would you say?

I feel place intensely, both in life and in fiction. I think you find that often in places like Alaska where people choose to live intentionally—landscape not as backdrop, but as relationship. I love the traditional Native idea that landscape is sentient, that it acts and reacts as humans do. In this book, I especially loved working with ice, which on the surface appears stagnant and off-putting but is actually vibrant and moving and full of power. As a character, the glacier is potent, multi-faceted, and transformative.

Part of this novel takes place in Alaska, a state that most people only experience as a tourist, or through film.  What are a few things about living there that travelers don’t usually see?

Each new “reality TV” episode chips away at what those of us who live here consider to be the real Alaska. It’s amazingly diverse, in every way—people, landscape, cultures, opinions—and quirky, a word I don’t especially like, but it captures in part the idea that it’s easier to be your own person here than in many places; the showboating that you see on TV isn’t at all who we are. It’s also impossible to truly feel the effects of a vast, changing wilderness unless you put yourself in the middle of it on a regular basis and engage all the senses: the smell of tundra in autumn, the taste of wild blueberries warmed in the sun, the searing cold when you breathe air at 40 below. Seeing Alaska through a tour bus window, or worse yet, on a screen, simply isn’t the same. I’ll admit a bias, but I truly believe that, short of living here, the best way to experience the astounding variety that is Alaska is through books.

What do you find most difficult about the writing or publishing process? 

I love what I do, but none of it’s easy. The hardest thing these days—and to some extent, maybe it’s always been this—is cutting through the noise so your book finds its readers. That, and you have so many choices, especially when you write fiction. You have to develop a huge sense of discernment, coupled with a readiness to let go of whatever’s not working in a story.

What else have you written, and what are you working on now? 

Besides my published books—several for children plus two travel-related (one under a pseudonym)—I have several projects in various stages of completion. Closest to publication is a biography of Kate Carmack, the Tagish-Tlingit wife of one of the men who discovered gold in the Klondike. It’s a passion project for me, the first rendering of the Klondike gold rush from the perspective of those who were there first, Alaska Natives and the First Nations of the Yukon. I’m also compiling some of my writing about writing into book form, and I’m looking into revising a novel in draft. But I never feel complete unless I’m crafting something brand new, so I’m also spinning material for another literary/book club crossover novel. I have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time!

How can people contact you?

I’m always happy to hear from readers. The best way to reach me is via the contact form on my website, www.debvanasse.com, or by email at debvanasse (at) gmail.com.

Co-founder of 49 Writers, Deb Vanasse has authored more than a dozen books. Her most recent is Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cold Spell, by Deb Vanasse


This is an absorbing story, and the feelings of isolation—not just geographical—are palpable.

Being quite obsessed with Alaska at the moment, I find the portrait of this particular rural Alaskan community very interesting, though I actually enjoyed the first half of the book more. Perhaps this is because I identified so strongly with the mother and her magazine picture.  Then, when she got to Alaska, her reaction surprised me and I found myself disconnecting a little.  But this is all part of the complexity of the characters, and Deb Vanasse did a great job at it.  I had a hard time keeping a few of the minor characters straight, since so many were introduced together, but that didn’t detract much from the story.

The style is very literary, very introspective.  It’s thus a little slow, but in a good way, a deep way.  Some of the prose has the feel of poetry to it. Like much poetry, individual bits may not be clear, cloaked in metaphor and hiding things between the lines, but all together they create a cohesive whole that beautifully conveys the atmosphere and the emotions of the characters. 

The ending isn’t tied up in a bow, which is realistic and literary, but I needed just a bit more closure, even if it wasn’t happy.  I want to know what was going to happen to these characters I care about, and what final decisions they’re going to make.

This was a very good read, and I look forward to more of Deb Vanasse’s work, much of which is set in Alaska.  

*I received an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review*

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Aspen giants

When I think about the largest life forms, I usually think of elephants and whales and such.  But some scientists consider the largest known single life form to be a stand of trees in Utah.  As many as 47,000 apparently separate aspen trees there are actually the same organism, all from the same root stock.  The trees share the same exact DNA, all turning colors in the fall at exactly the same moment.  The world is amazing.

Bear Creek Trail, Colorado
This beautiful aspen grove is only about five minutes from the Bear Creek Trailhead, which is on the road between Dolores and Rico, in Colorado.  The trail system here is great for longer hikes or tiny strolls.  

Aspen dwarf my fellow hikers

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Telegraphing in Colorado

We stopped for gas in Dolores, a tiny town in Colorado, and next door was a darling little historic train station.  Inside was a little museum, where I got to actually click away on a real telegraph!  It made the coolest sound, and had a strange sort of resistance which would make it harder to accidentally press the button when you didn't mean to.

I wasn't actually transmitting anywhere, but they're trying to get a program together where they hook it up (via internet, I'm afraid) with the Durango-Silverton Railroad museum, and let people "telegraph" back and forth.  Isn't that awesome?

Me, telegraph mistress extraordinaire.
If ever you're in the area, Dolores is a charming place, just north of Cortez, and the drive between there and Telluride is absolutely gorgeous.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Scary Animals

Fun sign in the Arizona desert.

But keep this in mind:
Number of snake bites I've sustained, after living more than 20 years in Arizona: 0
Number of scorpion that have stung me:  0
Number of ticks that have burrowed under my skin in the approximate 3 years I've lived in tick country:  6

I've only even SEEN 8 or 10 rattlesnakes in the wild, and I hike and camp.  My Dad worked for the Forest Service in the Arizona desert for years, often out in the field.  The only one of his colleagues ever to get bitten by a rattlesnake was holding it in his hands, trying to explain how NOT to hold a snake.  We've had scorpions in our house, of course, and my brother had a painful and somewhat scary encounter with one at his place.

But those ticks in other places...some of them can kill you with encephalitis or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  They can give you life-long lyme disease and transmit a bunch of other nasty things I can't pronounce.  Yet we're not as scared of them.

We have scary critters in Arizona, but they're plane-crash scary:  horrific and dramatic, but not likely to actually happen to you.  It's those ants and dogs and hamburgers that we should really be worrying about.  

***Knocking on wood as we speak***.