Coffin Hop Day 3 …. Horror Alaskan Style!

Welcome to DAY 3 of Coffin Hop!

I write Alaskan Gothic. More than just a “setting,” The Great Land is actually a character in my writing. People who have read The Fishing Widow agree that it could not be set anywhere else in the world–and not just because it’s the Sitka Herring Sac Roe Fishery that’s depicted. No matter where I go in my writing, real and imagined Alaskan mythologies and creatures snake their way in to every tale. Add to that a rich and diverse history — we’ve had the Spanish, Russians, Americans through the ages, I’m pretty sure the Basques at one point showed up, and there isn’t enough room on the blog to mention all the Native Alaskan groups and their contributions to Alaskan history — and this place is an endless tale that twists and turns through time….

The one I have in edits now is In Dark Places. Set in an interior Alaskan copper mine not unlike Kennecott, the story follows a crew of miners working South Adit–one of the most remote places on the mining landscape–in the winter of 1913. Bitter cold and darkness sets in and, while there’s an underlying sense of foreboding and uneasiness, the characters (and the reader) are left with a sense of is it real? Is it imagined? Like fishermen, bless their hearts, miners are a superstitious lot. Toss together a multi-national crew (Irish, Swedish, Welsh, mid-Western Americans, Dutch), and each one brings his own stories, his own legends…and, being guys, they talk about it. It was a surprising story to write, because, honestly, I didn’t understand it until I got about three-quarters of the way through. What does that mean? Who are THEY? Whoa, what the hell is THAT? Yeah. Nothing planned, and everything twisty like I like it.

On rare, sunny days on my far-flung island, this is where I like to be best. At this table, looking out over what I imagine San Angelo Island was in The Fishing Widow and writing. Of course, howlingly-bad, windy, rain-swept, cold days are nice, too. And for In Dark Places, I’m at the disadvantage of trying to REMEMBER what -40°F feels like. I mean, I remember, but I want to be able to convey it (especially the sticky eyeball part). Then again, that’s what edits really ARE for ….


Ready? This one is all sorts of cool-io. Since I’m talking Alaskan and there’s this little thing I wrote for Coffin Hop called “Salmon In The Trees,” I figure this is the perfect day to have that as a prize. But, wait! There’s MORE! Because I ripped off the title (shamelessly, but, hey, titles aren’t subject to copyright!) from Ray Troll and Amy Gulick’s book about how salmon are important to rainforest ecologym, I feel this overwhelming urge to somehow make amends… so, in addition to the COFFIN HOP DEATH BY DRIVE-IN COLLECTOR’S EP, I’m offering these two goodies to go with ’em … Ready?

The first is a t-shirt from Ray Troll’s Soho Coho shop in Ketchikan (you get the pick the size):

The SECOND thing is an enameled pin with a sentiment near and dear to all our hearts (I reckon):

What do you have to do? Well, hmmm…. how ’bout leave a comment about WHERE you like to write and WHY. (which, by the way, is administered out of Trinity College Dublin where I’ll be on Tuesday! Yay!) will pick the winner, um, RANDOMLY from the comments! Spread the word, and Happy Hoppin’!


♫On the Second Day of Creepfest, My True Love Gave to Me …. ♫

♫Memories of summer … and a tidbit a-bout living where you write….♫

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….

And now for something completely different!  It’s CONTEST TIME!

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 ….


Oh, wait … you’re probably wondering about the prize …  This prompt’s prize is THIS:

You waaaant it. Post comments here or email to

Happy Writing! KEEP HOPPING!

♫On the Third Day of Creepfest, My True Love Gave to Me…♫

(I’d bet you’d love to know……)


NaNo Rule #1: Sometimes it’s just best to listen to the ones who will talk to you…. Excerpt from In Dark Places…

It’s become my #1 NaNo Rule: Who’s talking? Okay, I’ll listen.  I’m still working on In Dark Places from last year–even though I got to well over 70K words with it.  Josiah’s been talkative the past few days.  I’ll listen. I’ll write it down… after I get the nerve to crawl out from under the desk… talk about unnerving…. Not this part, though… yet.

I know I’ll work on a bunch of things over NaNo.  I still want to hunker down and get to work on my latest idea, but who am I to hold up a hand and say, “Ep! Ep! Not now!” to ANY of my characters? Here’s bit that leads into ANOTHER bit that I’m not going to post here yet, but trust me… yikes…Enjoy! (and then GET BACK TO WRITING YOUR NANO! BREAK’S OVER!) ^__^


An iron-cold breeze played at the edges of Josiah’s coat as he left the Assay Building, closing the door quickly and turning toward the low water crossing of Kupfer Creek that
skirted the structure.  He glanced up briefly at the trestle, but thought better of it, striding quickly, purposefully, toward the ice scuffed rough with the feet of other men, with the conveyances that would forego the rails in winter in favor of the frozen creek.  He pulled his scarf more tightly around his face and his dark eyes strained against the gathering gloom as he moved swiftly toward the frozen crossing.

“Josiah Craig,” a low voice drifted across the frozen creek toward him.  Josiah hesitated.

“Where is he?” Josiah ventured softly from behind his scarf.

He received no answer.  Josiah felt his heartbeat quicken.  He waited.

“Please,” he whispered, a ring of light from a lamp above him on the trestle reflecting off his wire-rimmed glasses.  He shook his head.  “Where is he?”  Josiah felt a twinge within his chest; he bowed his head as he reached within the folds of his coat for a moment, bearing down pressure against the muscle that continued to spasm.  He drew a trembling hand from beneath the coat and realized the heat against it was blood.  Josiah felt his eyes close.

Josiah looked up, startled, at the sudden audible draw of breath across the creek.  The boy, Lennart’s assistant, Olaf, stood on the opposite bank, his eyes wide as he took a shaking step back.

“Olaf,” Josiah smiled as he quickly withdrew his hand from sight.

“Mr. Craig,” Olaf faltered as he took another step back.

Josiah hesitated.  “How are–”

“Fine, sir!” Olaf said quickly.  He continued to stare across the creek at the mining engineer.  He took a breath. “Lennart’s expecting me.”

Josiah’s brow furrowed.

“But I’m fine here, sir,” Olaf continued, his voice nearly breathless.

“What’s the matter, Olaf?” Josiah ventured as he stepped closer to the frozen creek, wiping his hand carelessly against his wool coat.

“You can’t–” Olaf faltered as he stumbled back.

Josiah stopped.  “Can’t what?” he ventured.

Olaf looked away and shook his head.

A smile twisted Josiah’s lip as he stepped carefully out onto the ice.  Olaf’s breath caught.  He watched as Josiah quickly and nimbly crossed the low water crossing, his feet feeling across the ice easily and stepping gingerly onto the icy bank beside Olaf.

“Sir–” Olaf’s voice caught.

“What is it, Olaf?” Josiah ventured quietly, his breath condensing in the cold air as he leaned toward Olaf.

“It’s just that,” Olaf stammered, “I was afraid that–”

“That I would fall?” Josiah smiled helpfully.  He watched Olaf grasp at the proffered explanation.

“Yes, sir,” Olaf said readily, “that’s it, sir.”  He looked away from Josiah and shrugged uncomfortably in his coat.  “I should go, sir,” he muttered.

Josiah smiled and watched Olaf take a tentative step out onto the ice.  “Olaf,” he said simply, and Olaf turned back to him.  “It’s true what you’ve heard.”

Olaf’s eyes grew wide.  “Sir?” he faltered, his voice trembling.

“Evil cannot cross running water,” Josiah continued.  He watched Olaf visibly relax.

“Sir?” Olaf feigned ignorance, but Josiah was not taken in. Olaf took another breath. “You’re bleeding, sir,” he whispered.

Josiah followed Olaf’s gaze and gently pulled away his coat.  Olaf jerked back abruptly, slipping on the ice, nearly falling before Josiah caught at  his arm.

“Sir!” Olaf yelped.  He trembled as Josiah’s eyes darkened suddenly.

“I may be too late,” Josiah whispered urgently as he pulled at the boy’s arm.  “You must come with me.”

Olaf’s blood chilled suddenly in his veins.  “Lennart–” his voice caught as Josiah pulled insistently at his arm, pulling him up the rise toward the depot.  Olaf stumbled behind Josiah who moved swiftly down the rail bed, past the store, past the bunkhouses and the school.  Olaf attempted to jerk and twist against Craig’s grip, but was too terrified to
attempt an all-out struggle.  He looked down at the school as the trim figure of Emma Worthington swept out the front door, taking time to turn and lock it before dropping the key smartly into her purse and turning toward the walkway that would lead her up to the rail bed.  In an instant, Emma met Olaf’s frantic, pleading gaze.  The boy watched the
schoolteacher pale before he turned back to Craig who continued to stride toward the edge of Kupfer.

©2011 A.K. Marshall