Recently, I cyber-met a new writing acquaintance and I'm thrilled to report she's from Alaska. We've exchanged a few emails so far and she's free with sharing experiences with me about Alaska. Yay! She also pointed out to me that the residents make fun of actors and movies that poorly portray the state. Such as Steven Segal in a movie where he rode a snow mobile across the state (or from Canada to Alaska, something like that). Yikes, would my book be hated by Alaskans as well?
This is where research comes in, the topic we're all blogging about this week. If you do the work well the first time around you won't have readers who live in your setting ready to lynch you. I started to write and then as I got really into the world I was creating, I wanted to clarify details to make things pop and to maintain consistency throughout the story. If I waited til the end to do all the research I could miss small references throughout the piece or could have to re-write a scene because the plausibility went way down with incorrect information.
I started watching a super-cool cable show called Alaskan Territories. It taught me more about Haul Road and the Alaskan pipeline then I ever cared to know, but it was truly fascinating. Having this information made me switch the timeline in my story. The Inn couldn't have opened in 1970 like I had planned, but closer to 1990.
When I wrote to my Alaskan contact and told her about the underground tunnels on my resort and how they were built, the windmills I had planned, and the insulated greenhouse, I wasn't sure what her reaction would be. Turns out, she had lived in Barrow for a bit, where the town had underground tunnels for utilities and gave tours to the public because it was considered a building marvel. And she told me that the military up there has the best vegetables (possibly from a greenhouse) and the town shops at the dump for fresh veggies because the military has to throw them out by a certain date whether or not the food appears spoiled. My new contact even mentioned windmills had been tried because of the terrific resource of severe wind across the tundra, but they froze up. A problem I solve in my book through imagining heat coils within the windmills, powered by the windmill itself.
Learning about the unique state, through books and TV shows, really helped to pull me into the world I was dreaming about. Picking a spot for my made up town was exciting once the topography of the land came into play. The extreme weather and learning to survive in such harsh conditions has produced some extraordinary individuals.
If you're a history buff or have an interest in World War II, then I recommend you check out Castner's Cutthroats. An elite group of Army soldiers recruited from the local Alaskans when the Japanese started to land in the Aleutian Islands. These sixty brave, experienced men single-handedly saved the 2,000 troops our government deployed without the correct outerwear or equipment to survive the night, let only the "two to three days" they were expected to be there. Which by the way, turned into weeks. Scattering these sixty Alaskan men among the unprepared troops to teach them how to live off the land and stay alive was the smartest thing ever done during that whole skirmish.
Their skills proved invaluable not only for surviving but for eventually eradicating the Japanese from their foothold on the remote islands as well. I was so fascinated by this human aspect of the war that I gave one of my characters a father who was one of these brave men. A father who passed his skills on to his eager son.
Speaking to someone via email who currently lives in the remote state my book is set was great. She unknowingly validated parts of my work with her casual comments and sharing of experiences. It is my sincere hope that one day I'm lucky enough to go and visit this state extensively. Now, do I want my first trip to be in the winter above the Arctic circle, just like in the setting of my book? Well, maybe not my first trip! ;-)
Have any of you been to Alaska? I'd love to hear any stories you'd care to share!