More gratitude, more books …

Dear returning reader,

Last week I wrote about how I received endorsements from fellow authors — by choosing books I admired and writing to the authors to ask if they would read The Snow Child.

In gratitude to the authors, and to give you some ideas for your next read, I am sharing their books. I want to point out, too, that these authors have many other wonderful books they wrote before and since these titles. But I want to share the books that first caught my attention and inspired me.

So here are the rest.



The Woman Who Married a Bear, by John Straley. Like all of Straley's Alaska mysteries, it's in the tradition of hardboiled detective novels, but has a dark heart of poetry. Beautiful writing!

The Girl with Glass Feet, by Ali Shaw. This strange, beautiful, haunting novel tells the story of Midas Cook and his love for Ida, a woman with a terrible affliction.

The Spanish Bow, by Andromeda Romano-Lax. With some of the most exquisite descriptions of music I have read, the novel follows cellist Feliu Delargo through the turmoil of 20th century Europe and his own passions.

Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin. This captivating historical novel tells the story of Alice and how her long life was affected by "wonderland." A fabulous read!

The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue. A modern retelling of the changeling folktale, it blends fantasy with reality. Moving, utterly believable, and lyrical.


In gratitude to authors & readers …

Dear book-seeking reader,

I’ve learned a lot about publishing since my debut novel was acquired by Little, Brown & Co., and I’m sure I’ll learn more.  But one of the biggest surprises has to do with endorsements from fellow authors. They are the quotes that appear on the back cover of a book, extolling its virtues.

Like many people, I assumed these “blurbs,” as they are called in the business, were the result of nepotism. Somebody knows somebody’s editor, or they have the same publisher, or they went to the same university. I didn’t know many famous authors, so I figured I was out of luck. I was in for a pleasant surprise.

With encouragement from my agent and editor, I chose books that I loved, books that inspired me and made me want to be a better writer, books that I handed to my favorite customers at Fireside Books. Then I went about writing letters to the authors. It wasn’t easy. I apologized for bothering them, told them why I admired their books, and asked if please would they take a look at The Snow Child to see what they thought. And here’s what they had to say.

In heartfelt gratitude to the authors, and as a gift to you, my dear reader, I want to share their books. So here are four. In my next letter, I’ll share the others.



Gap Creek, by Robert Morgan. Julie Harmon is perhaps my very favorite character from literature. She earns a hard life in late 19th century Appalachian high country.

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick. A Gothic, mysterious historical novel with one of the most finely crafted plots I have ever encountered.

The Green Age of Asher Witherow, by M. Allen Cunningham. An incredibly lyrical novel, it's set in a California coal mine in the 1800s. Grounded yet otherwordly, poetic yet compelling.

Ahab's Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund. This historical novel takes a lesser character from Moby Dick and creates a moving, atmospheric story that swept me away.

La Bambina Di Neve

Ciao i miei lettori,

I’ve had an exciting few days as a debut author. First, I learned that The Snow Child is a Spring 2012 selection of Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program. This is such an honor, and a thrill! I have to confess, I made a clandestine, late-night visit to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble to see where my book would be displayed with other Discover books come February.

But my exciting week continued. That afternoon, my former newspaper editor came to my home with her notebook and camera to interview me for an article about my book for the local Frontiersman’s Peak Magazine! It was such fun, in part because I got to catch up with the woman who taught me to fear grammatical errors and helped me become a better writer. (Regrettably she couldn’t brake me of my homophone troubles.)

Then yesterday, I had an early morning telephone interview with a reporter from The Bookseller, the UK equivalent to Publishers Weekly here in the United States. She had read The Snow Child and had such insightful, thought-provoking questions. I felt as if I could have talked with her for hours. And — Holy Mackerel — I was being interviewed for a British magazine!

Finally, when I thought I had topped out with good news, this bellissimo cover from my Italian publisher arrived in my email. La Bambina Di Neve will be published in Italy at the end of November.

Somebody pinch me — this must be a dream.



P.S. My copy editor is otherwise occupied these next few weeks, so please excuse any grammatical errors, typos, or other embarrassing mishaps. And my poor Italian can be blamed entirely on Google Translate 🙂

Books — glorious, bountiful books!

Dear book-seeking reader,

One of the perks of attending the recent PNBA book conference in Portland was discovering some great new books. As I met fellow authors and walked the trade show floor, I found all kinds of wonderful new titles. There are more than I could possibly list here, literally dozens and dozens, but I do want to draw your attention to a few that I’m particularly excited about.

Pure, by Julianna Baggot, comes out in February. It is a post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age novel that has been described as extraordinary, startling, and addictive. I am only 50 pages or so into it, and am entirely consumed by the world and characters. This is the first of a trilogy, and I am sure it is going to be a hit with both young adults and adults.

Here is a description from “Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.”

Among the Wonderful, by Stacy Carlson, came out in hardcover in August, and is next in my stack to read. The novel is set in 1840s Manhattan and explores the extraordinary, curious museum of P.T. Barnum as seen through the eyes of the two main characters — a giantess and a taxidermist. It sounds fascinating!

Publishers Weekly wrote, “The acrobats, bearded lady, Australian tribesman, Native Americans, and myriad of bizarre animals offer a constant source of fascination and surprise, and while Carlson rightfully revels in the oddities and curiosities, she also creates emotionally resonant characters who, despite being freakishly tall or joined at the hip, are driven by desires, fears, and that familiar need for human connection.” And the Library Journal described it as “Intelligent, engrossing and utterly unique.”

Dove Creek, by Paula Marie Coomer is available in paperback. I missed my chance to get an autographed copy of this novel, but fortunately the Washington author offered to mail me one. I’m looking forward to its arrival in my post office box. It has been described aswise, eloquent, fiercely honest” as well as “lyrical in its language, vivid in its detail, important in its observations.”

The novel tells the story of a woman venturing from her home in Kentucky to an Indian reservation in the Pacific Northwest. “She finds a new life as a much-loved healer–a blonde, female, hillbilly shaman whose self-destruction and dogged perseverance come together in a novel of intimacy that crosses the boundaries of culture and time,” according to the book description.

Bear’s Loose Tooth, by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman, is a picture book just out in hardcover. Author Karma Wilson was a table away from me at the dinner where we were presenting to booksellers, but it was only after I left Portland that I realized she was the author of one my daughter’s very favorite books — Bear Snores On. Her  books have great rhythm and rhyme, making them a lot of fun to read out loud, and the illustrations are wonderful.

In this newest in the series: “Bear and his friends are munching on their lunch, when all of sudden…Bear feels something wiggling and wobbling in his mouth. Oh, no! What can it be? It’s Bear’s first loose tooth!”

Girl Discovers Reading Then Discovers Life, a journal from Nancy Pearl. I really don’t need another journal. I have dozens of half-filled writing journals scattered around my home and office, but who can resist a reading journal from book-lover extraordinaire Nancy Pearl? The journal has lined, blank pages with occasional mentions of some of Pearl’s “Life-Changing Books,” like Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
For those who haven’t discovered her yet, Nancy Pearl is a Seattle librarian who has written books on books, including Book Lust. She is regular contributor to NPR and an advocate for literacy, books, and libraries. Inspired by her love of books, I’m hoping to use her journal to keep a record of what I read. I say “hoping” because I’ve tried to do this before and have never been successful. Try, try again?
How about you? Have you read anything lately that you’re really excited about? Or are you looking forward to the release of any books?

How to catch a chicken

Dear studious reader,

Our daughter came home from middle school the other day with an assignment — to write a five-paragraph essay explaining how to do something. Her dad and I had fun joking about the possible topics she could choose. How to Pester Your Baby Sister. How to Coerce Your Parents into Another I-Tunes Purchase. How to Avoid Washing the Dishes. As you can imagine, she was not amused by our suggestions.

It was only after her evening chores that she was inspired to write her essay. Again, Sam and I offered up amusing takes on the topic, but she said she would just tell it straight — that it didn’t need any embellishments. I think she was right.

So, in unedited copy, here is Grace Ivey’s essay:

How to Catch a Chicken

Knowing how to catch a chicken is a very important skill to master. Whether a chicken has escaped the henhouse, or you need to capture one for dinner, it’s good to have a plan. The basic three steps are getting prepared, cornering the chicken, and grabbing the chicken.

First, get ready by putting on protective clothing. Wear either a long-sleeve shirt or a coat to protect your arms, and a pair of thick gloves. Then, make sure you are wearing long pants, in case the chicken attacks.

Next, find a specific corner you want to chase the chicken into. Once you’ve found a corner, find a route to scare the bird directly into it. Then, make sure all other escape routes, besides to the corner, are blocked. After that, get behind the chicken and herd it into the designated area. Block the way out of the corner with your body.

Finally, hold out your hands and quickly grab the chicken so that you’re holding down its flapping wings. Make sure the head is faced away from you, so it can’t peck you. Then, you can carry it and move it anywhere you want.

After you go to the hassle of all this, it pays off.  Whether your mother makes warm chicken noodle soup or you just put the chicken back where it should be, this task always ends with a feeling of satisfaction … and exhaustion.



P.S. I reprinted this essay with Grace’s permission, with the understanding that I inform readers that it was written under the duress of her language arts class, in case someone should mistakenly think she did this for fun.

On a library shelf, in a far country

Dear kind reader,

I’m think I just received my first official piece of fan mail.

This morning I received an email from a gentleman in Norway who read my debut The Snow Child, which was released there last month. He is a retired school teacher and an author himself. He borrowed the Norwegian translation of Snøbarnet from his neighborhood library.

He went on to say how much he enjoyed the story and hopes I write another book.

It probably goes without saying that this is incredibly thrilling. To have a complete stranger, from another country, take the time to write to me and share his feelings about my book!

What added to my delight, however, was the fact that he had checked it out from a local library. From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, library loans don’t earn money or boost placement on the bestseller list. However, as a reader and a book lover, the thought of my novel passing across a library check-out counter is incredible.

As I read his email, I thought of all the books I’ve discovered at our local libraries. When I was a little girl, the Palmer Public Library was in a cramped corner of City Hall. The library didn’t fine you if you turned in a book late, but there was a jar on the counter where you could, if compelled by guilt, donate some spare change. On afternoons, the librarian would sit on a chair and school children would gather around to hear her read a storybook.

Over the years at various public and school libraries I have found unexpected treasures, books I had never heard of but have stayed with me forever. My own daughters love stopping at the Sutton Public Library to check out books and visit with librarian Nancy Bertels. It is a warm, welcoming place.

And it fills me with joy to know that my novel has found such a home, on a shelf in a neighborhood library where, maybe, someone will stumble upon it and decide to take it home for a time.






Home again

Dear returning reader,

I made it back home from my trip to Portland, Oregon, just in time for the first snowfall of the year. At about 8 last night, my husband turned on the porch light and the darkness was filled with huge, wet snowflakes. Our daughters cheered and ran out onto the deck in their bare feet to catch snowflakes on their tongues. Then our oldest dashed back into the house with a handful of snow and slid it down the back of my neck.

As a family, we’re unusual even for Alaskans. We welcome the first snow. We have the greatest sledding hill in the world. We build snow men and snow angels and snow forts. We cross-country ski and snowmachine. We watch the comings and goings of wild animals by their tracks. Most of all I love the clean, quiet feeling of a blanket of fresh snow across the land. It makes me feel at home.

As does a dish of caribou stroganoff, which I made for dinner last night. And a crackling fire in the wood stove.

Hoyt Arboretum in Portland's Washington Park. Photo from

I’ve always liked Portland. There is so much culture and energy, art and innovation. At the Pacific Northwest Booksellers trade show, I met some wonderful literary people, and discovered some books that I’ll write about in a letter later this week.

Friends from Alaska are living in Portland now. When I was done with the trade show, they took me to 23rd Avenue, with all its upscale shops. I had my first bowl of matzo ball soup, and it was delicious. Then we wandered through a beautiful neighborhood of Victorian turrets,  well-trimmed hedges, and $1.2 million price tags, and then up into Washington Park with its towering cedars and hemlocks and its elegant rose gardens. It was a lovely afternoon.

Portland has great beer, fabulous coffee, and entertaining people watching opportunities. It has an enviable book store and countless concerts, plays, gallery shows, readings, and other artsy events.

But at the end of the trip I was ready to come home to Alaska. To snow. To caribou stroganoff. To a warm fire. To family.



A bookstore tourist

Dear kind reader,

I wanted to let you know I’m off to Powell’s — oops, I mean Portland, Oregon.

This photo from Powell's website doesn't do the store justice.

Powell’s, of course, is the bookstore in downtown Portland. It occupies an entire city block, and claims to be the largest used and new bookstore in the world. In a word, it’s fabulous.

I think I might have first visited Powell’s while I was attending college in Bellingham, Washington. I had a good friend who was going to school outside of Portland, so occasionally I’d take a long weekend to drive down and see her.  And as I recall, that might have been one of the first times I walked among those glorious shelves.

More recently I was there with Fireside Books owner Melissa Behnke. It’s a funny feeling to enter Powell’s as a bookseller. I had a mixed reaction of admiration, jealousy, and inspiration. Oh, I’d think proudly, we have that book. Wow, those are really cool displays. I wish we had chairs like this in our history section!

The reason Melissa and I were in Portland together several years ago was to attend the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association annual trade show. It’s an event that brings booksellers together to learn about their trade, discover new books, and generally have a great time. As I mentioned in an earlier letter, this year I have the opportunity to attend as an author.

I leave tomorrow, and on Friday I’ll attend a PNBA dinner in which authors visit with booksellers and tell them about their books. It’s terribly exciting and surprising to be going to discuss my own book. During the two days I’m in town, I’m also hoping to get a chance to roam the trade floor and snag a few advance reader copies. A good friend and former co-worker at Fireside Books lives in Portland now, so maybe we’ll get together for coffee. I’ll have a chance to catch up with Amanda from Little, Brown. And Katie, who works at Fireside Books now, is attending the conference as a bookseller, so I know we’ll flag each other down at some point.

But, amidst all this business and fun, I’m going to make sure I can sneak over to Powell’s for an hour, or two … or three.



P.S. I’m afraid all this book business won’t leave much time for me to write a letter to you Friday — so I’ll see you on Monday!

A walk in the woods

Dear quiet reader,

By the end of the day yesterday, I needed a break. We had spent the afternoon painting urethane on wood trim, hanging doors, and wiring light fixtures as a part of our ongoing home construction project. We had also spent the weekend in a state of excitement and awe at the recent news from Norway. Between the paint fumes and the surprising new reality of The Snow Child’s success overseas, I felt a bit of vertigo. I needed to get my feet back on the ground.

“Let’s go grouse hunting,” I said.

So just before dusk, we abandoned the wires and paintbrushes and put on our boots and coats. Sam grabbed a .22, and I helped our 4-year-old daughter get dressed. Then we set out into the woods behind our house, the fallen leaves crunching under our feet, our golden retriever jaunting ahead with a moose bone in her mouth.

As I’ve mentioned in previous letters, hunting for me is rarely about just hunting. It’s a reason to walk quietly in the woods, to leave behind the day’s cares and pay attention to details of the natural world that at first glance seem small but are in fact bigger than any of us.

We stepped over bear scat in the middle of the trail, and, farther up the hill, noticed where a cow moose and her twin calves had bedded down, leaving their imprints in the dry foliage. Our daughter measured herself against the tall, wild grasses that have yellowed in the autumn, and begged a shoulder her ride from her dad. We inspected a squirrel nest in the side of a hollow cottonwood tree, and we joked about how messy the squirrel was — throwing his trash of leftover spruce cones just outside his door. As we neared an old-growth spruce forest, an owl swooped silently through the air and disappeared into the trees.

It is unusually mild here for this time of year. Most of the leaves have blown to the ground and each night it frosts, but it has yet to snow on us. The afternoons have been warm and calm. As we hiked back down the trail, the sun was nearly set and in the far distance we could see the Matanuska River winding through the valley, the sunlight glinting off its water.

Much to my surprise, we actually did get a grouse. Sam shot it among the alder bushes not far from our house. When we returned from our stroll, he cleaned the bird. I coated the small pieces of meat in seasoned flour and fried them in olive oil in a cast iron pan on the stove. It was delicious, if I may so myself.



P.S. Welcome to my new subscribers. I hope you enjoy my letters.

Good news from Norway

Kjære lesere,

This morning when I woke up shortly after 6 a.m., I went downstairs to start the coffee, pack lunches, and check my email. It seemed like a normal day, until I opened an email titled “Congratulations.” It was from my Norwegian publisher, Alexander Elguren with Pantagruel. Pantagruel is the first and only publisher to have released THE SNOW CHILD so far. SNØBARNET arrived in bookstores in Norway last month. Here’s what this morning’s email said:

“The great news today is that SNØBARNET entered the fiction bestseller lists at 10th place (out of 15 reported places)!”

I couldn’t contain my excitement. I shouted for my husband and oldest daughter to come quick, I had big news. As I read the email out loud, I felt my voice quaver. This was beyond my wildest dreams. But as thrilling as it was, it was Alexander Elguren’s next words that moved me the most.

“Even more than the numbers, I am overwhelmed by gratitude and joy to see how SNØBARNET seem to have become a favorite of the booksellers & bookbloggers in Norway! They – the many dedicated readers and enthusiasts working in the booksellers around the country – are rooting for SNØBARNET.”

I am so grateful for, and humbled by, this support for my book on the other side of the world. As I’ve followed the various Norwegian blogs and reviews, again and again I have been touched by how warmly they’ve welcomed my SNØBARNET to their country.

I told my husband and daughter that I couldn’t wait to write this letter to you, but I was afraid I wouldn’t even know what to say. Grace, who recently read The Wizard of Oz with me, provided a quote from the movie. As the Lion said, “Awww. Shucks, folks, I’m speechless.”



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