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.