I live on Prince of Wales Island in far Southeast Alaska. It’s further than “far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the galaxy,” and for most people, it’s a place unimaginable–no movie theater, no mall, few roads, and few people. Well, MOSTLY it’s few people. Summer is different. Our island explodes with two-legged life — mostly male, mostly fishing boys, or cannery workers, or guides, or loggers. I keep hearing this is a “hard place for women,” and there’s no doubt that divorce rates here are high, but I don’t think it’s any harder or easier than any other place.
I write here. Not only do I write in Southeast, I write Southeast. From the moment I arrived and began walking through these forests, the world became smaller–everything coalesced. That’s not to say I’m going to write some new legend about Southeast. Not in the least. I do recognize that every rock and tree, every breaker that crackles against the shore, every raven argument with every eagle, has some story to tell.
Southeast is broken land. It’s a collection of islands, and when I want to get off-island and go to Ketchikan, I have to remember that Ketchikan is just on a different island. It’s float planes and ferries, boats and kayaks, and it’s always being sure and careful in whatever you’re doing because, in the end, Southeast is a place where Nature is trying, actively, to kill you. If you’re unprepared or stupid, there’s a chance you won’t survive to tell the tale. Alaska is a helluva place to live, and even more of a helluva place to write.
Craig is a tiny fishing town on the razor’s edge of forever. Save for a few barrier islands, we’re the last landfall before you hit Japan further west. Weather slams us from the Pacific, winds in excess of 75mph routinely howl through town, bending the cedars, as torrents of rain, to the tune of nearly 14 feet each year, pound down. I live in a rainforest, some of it only a remnant of what it once was, before the logging started. Elders tell me that they can remember harder rains, harsher winds, raindrops the size of which I could only imagine, and the rains came nearly everyday like that. But, the cutting of the trees has changed the weather patterns, they say.
The young bucks don’t talk about the weather, unless it’s to complain about their lot aboard boats that go out after herring and salmon, halibut and ling cod. They seine, they troll, some gillnet, some longline. In the bar, the seine boys tell me longliners are nasty sons of bitches ’cause they have to bait all those hooks, so they’re perpetually pissed off and, therefore, can’t get laid. Longliners tell me nearly unmentionable things about the sexual dysfunction of seine boys. It’s not that they’re crude and uneducated, it’s that they’re crude 20-somethings away from home and usually making good money for their stints aboard these boats. And whether they seine or longline, they all drink like … you know. They are also, for the most part, voracious readers…..
Beyond the boats and the fishermen, the island harbors other inspirations–dark places that drip with possibility and need only the gentlest of urging in the right direction to come to their full potential. When I was half-way through writing In Dark Places, which is set in an interior Alaskan copper mine not unlike Kennecott, my husband brought me here, to a mine called Salt Chuck to stand before this–The Portal. “Stand here,” he said as he placed me in front of it and then removed his hands from my shoulders and backed away. The Portal breathes. Not only does it breathe, it breathes icy air even on the hottest of our summer days. “You can use this,” he said, still smiling, “to finish the one you’re working on now.” I stood there, feeling The Portal breathe, feeling the tickle and pricking of that icy air that danced its way through the 60°F (yes, that’s hot) heat of the day. I felt the writer’s block begin to fade, and I heard their voices distantly, then more strongly, and then they were there once again….
That picture at the top? It’s across the channel (on the Craig side) from Fish Egg Island near the old cannery. That island out in the distance? In my imagination, that’s San Angelo Island of The Fishing Widow, but in reality, it’s San Juan Bautista, not far from Sumez, across Bucareli Bay where the Spanish really did explore and write in the late 1700s… and the murder to the Spanish monks in their mission and the creatures and revenants that crawl through The Fishing Widow, and Brother Alesio and Lita … Elizabeth and Priam … and Ethan and Nan… well, they’re all right there. Because they are. Right. There. Standing in front of me. Every day. In that place. The place I write. The place I live. The place where I was born….
I’ll be doing several of these over the course of The 12 Days of Creepfest! Write a scene based on a given writing prompt and you could win. And I don’t mean little, you could win BIG! Ready? Here’s the prompt:
He hesitated, feeling the burning of eyes from somewhere behind him, or above ….
GO FOR IT!
Oh, wait … you’re probably wondering about the prize … This prompt’s prize is THIS:
You waaaant it. Post comments here or email to email@example.com
Happy Writing! KEEP HOPPING!
♫On the Third Day of Creepfest, My True Love Gave to Me…♫
(I’d bet you’d love to know……)