Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night

Dear giving reader,

I was thinking we could have a gift exchange — I could send you each some snow. We have more than enough to spare, more than three feet, and it’s still snowing.

In return, won’t you send me some sunshine? Sunrise is currently 10:15 am., sunset 3:45 p.m. And here at our house, we have lost direct sunlight because the sun does not rise far enough into the sky to clear the mountains. For at least another week, we will not see the sun at all. But winter solstice has come and gone, so bit by bit we will get our daylight back.

I hope you and your family have a very merry season.

May all our wishes come true,


P.S. I’ll write to you again after the New  Year.

Snowy and dark at our house this morning.



From Alaska to the BBC airwaves

Eowyn at the KSKA studio in Anchorage to record an interview with BBC.

Dear radio reader,

Last week I mentioned I had a few exciting news items coming up, and one of them is official now – I was interviewed by BBC’s World Outlook, a program that focuses on unique personal stories from around the globe. More than 40 million people listen to the program in English, in addition to many other languages.

The morning of the interview began with a dark, snowy, white-knuckle drive into Anchorage. We had received nearly a foot of snow during the night, and at 6 a.m. the roads weren’t plowed for much of the way. I worried I would slide into the ditch and miss my chance to be interviewed by one of the most respected and longest-running radio programs in the world.

Fortunately, I arrived at the public radio studio just in time to hear Tim and Lucy’s lovely British voices through a headset. The BBC producer and interviewer were wonderful to work with, as was the technical guru David at KSKA.

The story began airing in other countries earlier today. I’ve already received friendly messages from India, Japan, and France, from writers and readers who said they were inspired to hear about how I wrote my novel.

In the next day or so, the story will be available to play via the Outlook website, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/outlook.

There was a downside. BBC Outlook posted on Facebook a photo of me with a moose I had shot. The photo drew comments from people who were offended, and several used vitriolic language to attack me personally.

This has been a dilemma for me from the beginning. On one hand, many people seem interested to learn more about our rural lives in Alaska, how we hunt for our own meat and have forsaken some of the creature comforts of cities to live the way we do. Without this lifestyle, I never could have written The Snow Child. At the same time, I wonder about putting my life and family on display, and opening it up to this kind of criticism, when ultimately I just hope people read and enjoy The Snow Child.

I am curious to ask you, dear reader – do you enjoy knowing about the private lives of your favorite writers and artists? How much do you share about your own life in social media?



The Snow Child book trailer

Dear modern reader,

Trailers are a relatively new trend in book promotion. They are short videos that are posted on websites and circulated online through social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

When they started out about 10 years ago, book trailers usually featured authors reading passages from their books or talking about how they were inspired. They have evolved into more exciting short films similar to movie trailers, with music, actors, animation, graphics and an artistic flare all their own. They are even recognized through Moby Awards, and this trailer took top honors last year.

For the past few months, my UK publisher Headline Review has been working with Little, Brown, and Co., an artist and a designer to create a trailer for The Snow Child. So with much gratitude, and without further ado …





You’ve got to read this!

Dear book-seeking reader,

I don’t know why it sometimes takes me so long to listen to smart people. For months, some of the most critical readers I know have recommended The Raven’s Gift by fellow Alaskan author Don Rearden. I’ve been busy with a lot of reading and writing of my own, but that isn’t all the kept me from it.

In all honesty, I was afraid I wouldn’t like it. Don seems like a really nice guy, with a young family and a desire to do good in the world. He’s always supporting great causes. It seemed easier to just not read his book, than to read it and not like it.

I needn’t have worried. The book is fantastic, one of the best books about Alaska I have ever read. It calls to mind Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King, but at the same time it is all its own.

The Raven’s Gift is the story of a couple teaching in a remote Alaskan village when a epidemic sweeps through. People are dying in isolation, and others descending into savage violence. It is a survival story and an edge-of-the-seat thriller.

But what makes it unique is its depth. I frantically read from one page to the next, driven by that delicious desire to know what is going to happen next. Even through all the action and drama, I was moved and educated by the description of Alaska Native culture and life in a Bush village. It’s here that Don makes some brave, compassionate, and important observations.

It is clear, too, that not only is Don a good writer, but he has the knowledge and experience to write this book. Few other people would.

There are only a handful of Alaska books I recommend to everyone, locals and outsiders. This is one of them.

One small caveat — The Raven’s Gift is published by Penguin Canada, and so can be a little difficult to track down here in the U.S. But talk to your local bookseller to see if they can special order it for you, or order it through Fireside Books and they’ll ship it to you. And campaign U.S. publishers to pick up this fabulous book.

I recently saw another blogger pairing books, like one would with wines and foods. I loved the idea. So I would like to pair The Raven’s Gift with two of my other favorite Alaska titles — Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner and Two Old Women by Velma Wallis. These three books combined are devastating, amazing, and important.



The good, the bad …

Dear busy reader,

As if this time of year isn’t crazy enough, I’ve had an unusually hectic week. On the downside: my laptop died just three weeks after its one-year warranty expired, our water pump is leaking all over our basement floor, we ran out of heating oil, and our oldest daughter had to get painful, expensive braces put on her teeth.

On the upside, some fun news related to my debut novel The Snow Child, so much news  … that I can’t tell you about yet. I know it’s unfair of me to drop hints like this, but I truly wish I could spill the beans. All I can say is I’ve been emailing, talking on the phone, and doing a lot of hopping up and down. But here in the next few weeks, I hope I can let you in on all of it.

In the meantime, here are a few news items I can pass along:

  • The social networking site for readers, www.goodreads.com, is giving away 20 copies of The Snow Child during the next month. Sign up to win here. Unfortunately, the contest is only open to readers here in the US.
  • And at the end of January, I’ll be off to Denver for an author event at one of the world’s most fabulous bookstores, Tattered Cover. It’s an all day event with four authors — Karen Essex, Courtney Sullivan, Thrity Umrigar, and me — meeting with readers and talking about books and writing. Tickets for the event are on sale now. Learn more here.
  • For those of you in Alaska, Fireside Books is giving away a Snow Child tote bag with every copy you pre-purchase by coming into the store, while supplies last.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with all of the good and none of the bad,



A Matanuska Colony Christmas

Dear holiday reader,

Downtown Palmer during Colony Christmas, with Pioneer Peak in the distance. Photo by Ruth Hulbert

This past weekend, we celebrated Colony Christmas in Palmer. It is a small-town festival, featuring a snowshoe obstacle course down main street, reindeer petting, horse-drawn sleigh rides, fireworks, hot cocoa, Santa Claus, craft fairs, and a parade. Yes, a parade in the middle of winter when temperatures are often below zero Fahrenheit. The floats begin to make their way down the street well after dark on Saturday afternoon, so they are all decorated with Christmas lights.

In between running the till and helping customers at Fireside Books on Saturday, I tried to sneak outside for a couple photographs to share with you. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good shots.

The Palmer train depot, by Ruth Hulbert.

But Ruth Hulbert, who also grew up in Palmer and works at Fireside Books, offered a couple of her photos from a previous Colony Christmas, just so you all could get a feel for the atmosphere.

The event is held in honor of the Matanuska Colonists, who ventured north to Alaska in the 1930s as a part of the New Deal. They were farming families, trying to earn a new life in the Last Frontier. Many of them struggled those first few winters, but they pulled together to celebrate Christmas the best they could.

The Palmer train depot where the Colonists first arrived in the valley nearly 80 years ago remains an important gathering place. During Colony Christmas, it is crowded with arts and crafts and people bundled up in coats.

In typical small-town fashion, when I took my oldest daughter to the orthodontist the other day, the receptionist and I began talking about Colony Christmas. She pulled out her smart phone to show me this fascinating short film of the train coming into the Palmer Depot in the early 1930s.

For those of you who have read The Snow Child, this would have been very similar to the town of Alpine, where Jack and Mabel arrive by train to begin their new homesteading life.

Happy holidays!


‘Tis the season … near and far

Dear holiday reader,

Earlier this week I received an email from the publicist with my Australian publisher. She and I both have young daughters, and in addition to normal publishing business, she mentioned that they would be getting their Christmas tree this Saturday. What a funny coincidence , I wrote in return — we’ll be getting ours on Saturday as well.

I know there will be many differences in our experiences. It’s in the 70s Fahrenheit in Australia this time of year, and there will be blue ocean water and warm breezes. Here at our home, we will be cutting down our tree in the woods in knee-deep snow and freezing temperatures.

But more than the differences, I was struck by the similarity. Literally on the other side of the earth, a mother and her daughter will be decorating their Christmas tree just as we are hanging lights and paper snowflakes on ours. It made the world seem smaller, cozier, more wonderful.

Around our house, we love this time of year. Beginning Nov. 1, I play Christmas music on the stereo whenever I can. Sam hangs colorful lights on the spruce tree in our yard and along the roof of the hen house. We put up a Christmas tree that reaches to the top of our vaulted ceiling, and I place a wreath by our front door. Here, where the cold and darkness encroach daily, these little bits of warmth and light are precious.

But even in those places where the hot sun is shining and the beaches are inviting, I am sure the twinkling lights and red ribbons of Christmas bring joy.



Book Betties

The Betties

Dear friendly reader,

This past weekend my book club did its annual vacation. There are seven of us women — a fishery biologist, a retired accountant turned full-time poet, an attorney, a bookseller/novelist, a preacher’s wife who also runs a motorcycle leather shop, and two journalists. We are moms and wives, grandmothers and professionals. We are readers and writers, quilters and runners. We are the Betties.

(It’s a long, funny story that earned us that name. But some things that happen in book club, stay in book club.)

We first met about eight years ago to read and discuss Unless by Carol Shields. And we have met nearly every month since. During those years, we have discussed Candide and To Kill a Mockingbird, As I Lay Dying and If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. During National Poetry Month, we read poems. Once a year, we read a children’s book and invite our daughters and sons.

Over the years, we have celebrated weddings and births, supported each other through hard times, and mourned deaths, including the passing of one of our own dear members. And, as we have shared our lives and our books, we have become more than just a book club. We have become what Anne of Green Gables describes as “kindred spirits.”

In past years on our annual retreat, we stayed in rustic, lake-side cabins and at deluxe ski resorts with spas. But this year we went to the home of one of our own, in what we call a “staycation.” A Betty husband chivalrously volunteered to go on an away trip so we could have the house, and outdoor sauna, all to ourselves.

We began with dinner at The Grape Tap, a lovely restaurant specializing in fine wine. We ate bacon-wrapped figs and sipped rich, multi-layered Cabarnets. Then, over the next two days, we hiked up a snowy butte, warmed up in the woodstove-heated sauna, laughed and made paper snowflakes, cooked crepes and scrambled eggs in the dark during a power outage, laughed some more, and debated the finer points of the graphic novel Feynman. We also began plotting our next Betty retreat — we are dreaming of a trip to California’s wine country.

Books, it seems, do bring people together.



P.S. Are any of you members of a book club?


A few of my favorite surprises

Dear December reader,

This time of year is full of surprises, magical and happy surprises. And this weekend proved it.

My first surprise was a Kirkus review of my debut novel, The Snow Child:

“… The mystery of Faina’s provenance, along with the way she brightens the couple’s lives, gives the novel’s early chapters a slightly magical-realist cast. Yet as Faina’s identity grows clearer, the narrative also becomes a more earthbound portrait of the Alaskan wilderness and a study of the hard work involved in building a family. Ivey’s style is spare and straightforward, in keeping with the novel’s setting, and she offers enough granular detail about hunting and farming to avoid familiar pieties about the Last Frontier. The book’s tone throughout has a lovely push and pull—Alaska’s punishing landscape and rough-hewn residents pitted against Faina’s charmed appearances—and the ending is both surprising and earned. A fine first novel that enlivens familiar themes of parenthood and battles against nature.”

My second surprise — a starred review from the Library Journal:

“Here’s a modern retelling of the Russian fairy tale about a girl, made from snow by a childless couple, who comes to life. Or perhaps not modern–the setting is 1920s Alaska–but that only proves the timelessness of the tale and of this lovely book. Unable to start a family, middle-aged Jack and Mabel have come to the wilderness to start over, leaving behind an easier life back east. Anxious that they won’t outlast one wretched winter, they distract themselves by building a snow girl and wrap her in a scarf. The snow girl and the scarf are gone the next morning, but Jack spies a real child in the woods. Soon Jack and Mabel have developed a tentative relationship with the free-spirited Faina, as she finally admits to being called. Is she indeed a ‘snow fairy,’ a ‘wilderness pixie’ magicked out of the cold? Or a wild child who knows better than anyone how to survive in the rugged north? Even as Faina embodies a natural order that cannot be tamed, the neighborly George and Esther show Jack and Mabel (and the rest of us) how important community is for survival. VERDICT A fluid, absorbing, beautifully executed debut novel; highly recommended.” [See Prepub Alert, 9/21/11.]–Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

And my third surprise:

My husband and two daughters built this sweet snowman while I was away this weekend.

Wishing you many happy surprises,


Happy birthday to Fireside Books!

Fireside Books

Dear festive reader,

Ten years ago, our small town of Palmer, Alaska, welcomed a new arrival. It started when a sign appeared in the window of a shop on main street. Over the years the building had housed women’s clothing, adventure games, and flower arrangements, among other business ventures. But this sign said something to the effect of “Book store coming soon.”

Having lived in this town my entire life, I can honestly say this was the most extraordinary thing I had ever seen. More exciting, even, than the time the moose trampled the police car at the main intersection.

When the sign went up promising a bookstore, my mom and I and all of our reader friends began keeping close watch. We would phone each other: “I walked by today and they were putting up shelves.” “Do they have an open sign yet?” “When are they going to open?!?”

Fireside Books co-owner David Cheezem.

On the first week of December 2001, David Cheezem and Melissa Behnke officially opened Fireside Books. And during the past 10 years they have created a hub of arts and literature in our community. It is a place where readers come for books, writers come for inspiration, and thinkers come to talk about politics, philosophy, poetry and the weather. It is also a place for starving artists to find gainful employment.

Two years after they opened, I realized I was ready to leave the newspaper business. I thought long and hard — if I were to work anywhere else in our community, where would it be? Only one place came to mind. I walked into Fireside Books as a regular customer and asked if they were expecting to hire anyone soon. I am perpetually grateful for that day David and Melissa welcomed me onto the staff as the only full-time employee at the time.

Eight years later, I have come to consider Fireside Books a kind of second home and “bookseller” an important part of my identity. We no longer have a spare inch on the shelves — we have had to convert the basement into a storage warehouse for the back stock, and we fight for room to display our favorite titles face out. We are often swimming in used books to process and customer orders to receive. It is a busy, wonderful place to be.

So happy birthday to Fireside Books, and a heartfelt thank you to David and Melissa! You have helped make our small town a better place.