Dear well-traveled reader,
In my last letter, I left us on a British Airways flight north, with hot tea and milk and little biscuits. Glasgow, Scotland, was our destination.
It was a short trip from London, but night had fallen by the time we landed at 7 p.m. Samantha the publicist, as always, had us precisely on schedule — we jumped in a car to the hotel, dropped our luggage in the rooms, and headed to dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. The menu was diverse and delicious, with creamy and spicy sauces, warm naan, lamb, seafood. But once again I was distracted from the meal by the wonderful conversation.
We joined Jack and Gillian, the Scotland regional managers for my UK publisher Headline, and Chris and Sue, owner and book buyer of the independent bookstore Atkinson-Pryce. As we passed the dishes of curry around the table, we talked about everything from digital books to bear sightings, Alaska’s long winters to Scotland’s upcoming referendum for secession. Within no time, we were sharing a meal with friends. We ended the evening with mango and pistachio ice cream.
The next morning, Gillian picked us up at the hotel in her car. We headed to local bookstores so I could sign copies of The Snow Child. At one Waterstones, I was welcomed by an enthusiastic staff who had created a display for the book. One of the booksellers even brought in an illustrated book from her own childhood that included the snow maiden fairy tale.
Quickly, though, it was time to move on. Sam, Samantha, Gillian and I all piled in the car and headed southeast out of Glasgow. As we wended our way through sheep-dotted fields, wind mills, rocky hillsides, and the sudden snow flurry, Gillian told us about the area in her beautiful Scottish accent.
With a population of about 2,000, Biggar is even smaller than my hometown of Palmer, Alaska, but it is clearly a hub of arts, music, and literature. There are museums, art galleries, the Biggar Ukulele Ensemble, and, of course, Atkinson-Pryce bookshop.
But before visiting the bookstore, we attended a literary luncheon at a nearby hotel. The event was organized by Chris and Sue, and many of their favorite customers had purchased tickets to attend.
One of the most delightful surprises of the entire trip came as we entered the banquet room. Biggar landscape painter Amy Marshall was displaying a charcoal piece she had done specifically in honor of The Snow Child — a little girl and a fox peeking through the woods at a little cabin. And throughout the room, Amy’s other winter paintings lent a perfect atmosphere.
My belief that this is an artistic town was confirmed when I met Fiona Gibson, the delightful author of books including The Great Escape, and Suzanne Rigg, another talented local author who had recently published a fascinating nonfiction history book called Men of Spirit and Enterprise.
We visited and ate our meals of roasted vegetable tarts, salmon, beef, fresh peas, and tender potatoes. (Despite warnings from American friends, I found the food in England and Scotland to be dangerously good. I think I may have to go on a diet now that I’m back home.)
After the meal, Fiona and I took our place in the center of the room and we began a conversation about The Snow Child. I could have talked with her for hours about writing and fiction. Then came the questions from the audience, and they were both touching and insightful. As we all visited, a snowstorm swept through the streets of Biggar.
After lunch, the sun came out and we walked through the brisk air down the street to the bookshop itself. The window display took my breath away — snowflakes and branches and magic. Inside, beside a glowing fireplace, I signed copies of The Snow Child. Then I went shopping. I purchased both Fiona and Suzanne’s books,as well as a retelling of the snow maiden fairy tale I hadn’t seen before. Sam found a 1904 edition of The New Testament in Braid Scots, and Chris and Sue gave him a copy of the comical Wee Animal ABC Scots alphabet children’s book, and me books by Kathleen Jamie and Linda Cracknell. Our suitcase would be a lot heavier on the way home.
But Samantha had her eye on the clock, and it was time to head to the next event. This one was in the nearby town of Moffat at the “posh” and beautiful Moffat House Hotel. Built in the 1750s, the hotel has sandstone pillars and an elegant ambiance. Moffat Book Events had organized an intimate but full house of readers and writers. I joined Liz Roberts at the front of the room where we had a conversation about my novel, my life in Alaska, even earthquakes. Later in the evening, I had a chance to visit with everyone and sign books.
All too soon, Samantha was making quiet motions that it was time to go. We had a long drive back to the hotel in Glasgow, and an early morning interview the next day.
In my next letter, I’ll tell you about our final two days in the UK.
Dear continuing reader,
So where did I leave us? Oh yes, on the narrow streets of London, a bit jet-lagged and head spinning with all the excitement. Let’s pick up there.
On Friday morning, a car picked up me and Sam at the hotel, and we returned to the Headline publishing offices to sign more books. Once again, I was struck by the teamwork and enthusiasm of the place. I realized that while I was at home in Alaska, all these people had been working hard to help The Snow Child into the world.
The two of us then set out in a car with the publicist Samantha and Ian, who also works for Headline publishing. As we rode through London, Sam and I asked about this sight or that. Our local friends kept us entertained the entire way. They didn’t always know the answers to our questions, but to keep things lively, they would quickly point out where someone was once hung or note the barbed wire fencing around the palace.
Our final destination — the lovely bookstore Dulwich Books. The owner had delicious homemade eccles cakes and tea. I signed books and visited with the staff and customers. It reminded me so much of Fireside Books, I felt entirely at home. But alas, I couldn’t stay long.
But the next stop was just as delightful: Foyles bookstore on Charing Cross Road. This is a huge, impressive bookstore, with multiple floors. Without my guide, Lisa, I never would have found my way from the medical section, with its skeletons and stethoscopes, to the poetry shelves. I was like a kid in a candy store, and they had to drag me away from all the books.
The four of us — Samantha, Ian, Sam and I — then headed to have lunch with David and Pavla of Goldsboro Books along with my editor Mary-Anne and Brid of Headline publishing. I’m pretty sure the meal was delicious, but I can’t recall the details because I was enthralled with asking questions of David — which software works best for bookstore inventory, how do you tell a forged autograph, which first editions are most prized.
One of the pinnacles of our adventure came next, though. As we all walked to Goldsboro Books, Sam and I craning our necks to take in the beautiful old buildings and red double-decker buses, we learned that the bookshop is located on Diagon Alley. Yes, that Diagon Alley. I may be 39, but I’m just as avid of a Harry Potter fan as the next little wizard. We started snapping photos. And then we were told that the window in Goldsboro Books itself was used in one of my favorite films, Miss Potter, where Beatrix Potter goes to first see her little books in a shop window.
I admit it. I signed the stock as quickly as I could, because I wanted a chance to look around the shop, which specializes in signed first editions, and mostly novels. I was giddy with excitement, and tried to remember the weight limits on luggage as I made my pile at the counter.
One of the sadder moments of the trip came next. In the Tube, the underground transportation in London, I had to bid goodbye to Mary-Anne Harrington, my lovely editor. I had so enjoyed her quiet humor and kindness, and was dismayed to know I wouldn’t see her again on the trip.
No time for sniffles, though — we had a plane to catch. But to give you a sense of just how manic this adventure was, in the London airport as we prepared to go through security, Samantha handed me her phone. It was a research interview with a BBC radio show.
So in my next letter, we’re off to Glasgow, Scotland!
My husband Sam and I just returned from a whirlwind tour of the UK, and I hardly know where to begin my letter. So I suppose I’ll begin at the beginning, just to give you a sense of how incredible, fast-paced, and touching our experience was.
But this day was not over. I signed more than 300 copies of the book in their office, then we were whisked to a dinner with UK press members, including people from We Love This Book, The Sunday Express, Woman and Home, Hearst,and The Bookseller. I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed such wonderful, bookish dinner conversation.
In the late hours of the night, Sam and I returned to our hotel so we could stare at the ceiling for a few hours, because of course back home it was the middle of the day.
Morning came quickly, and for breakfast I joined Samantha and Sandy Mahal of the Reading Agency, a UK charity designed to promote reading. Then we headed to the BBC Television Centre for an interview with the insightful Tim Masters (his next gig was the Oscars.)
But the day was still young — I jumped on a train with my editor Mary-Anne and Barbara from Headline, and we went to have lunch with Sue, the fiction buyer from the book retailer WHSmiths. As I enjoyed a steak pie and mash, the four of us talked about everything from school programs for children to the novels we love to read.
A train ride back into London, and I arrived at the hotel just in time for two telephone interviews — BBC Dumfries and the Irish Examiner.
Sam and I then quickly changed for dinner and jumped in an Addison Lee taxi to be swept off to the Albannach Restaurant near Trafalgar Square. Kim from Headline had organized a delightful and impressive dinner with staff from Waterstones, one of the largest book retailers in the UK. Waterstones had chosen The Snow Child for their prestigious Wasterstones 11, as well as named it their book of the month for February. With news that The Snow Child has landed on the bestseller list, the dinner was a celebration for all of us. There was a traditional Scottish dinner, glasses of champagne and even tiny silver sparklers to light up the night. As I visited with everyone, again and again I had the sense that if they were our neighbors, we would be dear friends. It was a magical evening.
Our journey, though, was only half done. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the rest.
Dear returning reader,
I have so much to tell you, I hardly know how to start this letter.
I want to tell you how wonderful the staff and readers are at Tattered Cover in downtown Denver, where I participated in my first official author reading and book signing. I want to tell you how heart-warming it is to be surrounded by talented authors, kind book lovers, a beautiful bookstore. I even had my uncle at my side as I signed copies of The Snow Child! It is a day I will never forget.
But I also want to tell you how much I’ve appreciated your emails, messages and tweets telling me where you have spotted The Snow Child. Here are just a few places where there have been “Snow Child sightings.”
- Buffalo, New York
- The Costco Connection magazine that goes out to Costco members and featured an interview with me and a review of The Snow Child this month.
- New Mexico
- Barnes & Noble in Baltimore, Maryland
- Kodiak, Alaska
- Olympia, Washington
- Laramie, Wyoming
- Powell’s Bookstore in Oregon
- Pittsburg, Kansas
- South Hadley, Massachusetts at the Odyssey Bookshop
- Lansing, Michigan
- Reno, Nevada
- Oprah Magazine, February issue, Page 111 (I had to see it to believe it.)
- Northwest Book Lovers blog
- Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City
- Rome, Italy
- Flagstaff, Arizona Barnes & Noble
- Boyd Farm in Palmer, Alaska
It’s simply amazing!
But in the end, I want to tell you about my trip back home to Alaska last night. Flying out of Denver and across the United States, I suddenly felt incredibly homesick. I missed my family, my house, my dog, my normal life. But it was something more, something I couldn’t quite identify. I stared out the window, over the endless checkerboard of cities and farmland.
It wasn’t until the airplane crested the Chugach Mountains here in Alaska that I was able to understand a little more of my homesickness.
As I watched out the window, it seemed as if the snowy peaks would scrape the bottom of the airplane, and once we cleared them, Anchorage appeared as a small clump of lights surrounded by swaths of dark wilderness. The plane began to descend and circle out over Cook Inlet, where massive sheets of ice floated on the salt water. The captain reported that it was 2 below zero with a slight wind.
I can’t count how many times I have watched that view come into focus. But it didn’t stop me from taking in a quiet gasp.
This place is exhilarating. And I had missed it.
I’m smitten. After this past week, New Orleans might have just become my favorite city.
Last week I left behind zero degrees and blowing snow to set down in a land of palm trees and jazz music, cafe’ au lait and beignets, gorgeous antique shops and over-the-top costumes.
I spent the first morning walking down Royal and Chartres streets. I discovered lovely Crescent City Books and bought a book of poetry for my mom. Around one corner, I came across a Bohemian young woman with dreadlocks and fishnet stockings, and playing classical cello. In a central square, a brass band ripped out the kind of music that makes you want to dance. It was sunny and warm, but a pleasant breeze blew off the Mississippi River. It was a Thursday morning, but I suspect it always feels like Friday night in New Orleans.
Thursday evening, I met hundreds of booksellers from around the country — Boston and Denver, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C. Some of them I knew through Twitter and Facebook. Some of them had never heard of The Snow Child, so I told them a bit about it and myself. Others had read it and were excited to talk to me about it. A few got tears in their eyes as they described how much it meant to them. It was an incredibly moving experience for me as a writer.
So now I’m back home, and glad to be with my family and breathe the cold Alaska air. But if anyone has need for me to come to New Orleans next winter for a few days, just give a shout.
Dear news-seeking reader,
Just a few quick things I want to share with you today:
- The Snow Child is being shipped out earlier than expected here in the United States. It should arrive at bookstores and other retailers in the next week or so. Those who have ordered online through sites like Amazon have gotten messages saying their copies on their way. I’d love to hear from anyone who spots it in their local bookstore or gets a copy in the mail!
- I’m off to the Winter Institute in New Orleans on Wednesday. Around 500 booksellers from around the country will convene to talk about the industry and learn about new books. I’m among more than 50 authors who are attending, along with Julianna Baggott, Richard Ford, Nathan Englander, John Green and many others.
- The Snow Child received this lovely review in the Book Page today.
- A librarian who attended high school with me here in Palmer, Alaska, recently wrote this sweet blog post about waiting for The Snow Child to arrive at her house.
- And last, but certainly not least, the sun has returned! Just a few days ago, the sun crept through the mountains and lit up our snowy yard for the first time in nearly a month. Beautiful, glorious sunshine!
Dear winter reader,
We are in the midst of the darkest, coldest time of year here in Alaska. And this winter has been a bit extreme. We have so much snow at our house, Sam broke the plow off the front of the truck trying to clear our driveway. On Facebook, friends and neighbors are posting things like “20 below zero for third day in a row” and “wish I had remembered to plug in the truck.” There are also a lot of photos of cool blue mountains and frosty trees, with comments like “Beautiful, but so cold.”
This time of year can be dangerously cold. When Sam heads out by snowmachine on his trapline each week, he brings extra clothes and a fire-starting kit. He and his trapping partner travel more than 50 miles by snowmachine, crisscrossing river and streams and glaciers and enduring temperatures around 35 below zero Fahrenheit. They often break through overflow ice, which is formed when water runs on top of the surface of a frozen river and freezes again. It creates a false layer of ice. When you break through, you aren’t in danger of drowning, but you and your machine get sopping wet. With temperatures so brutally cold, water becomes a hazard all itself.
This is also the darkest time of year. At our house, we have entirely lost direct sunlight. The sun doesn’t rise high enough in the sky to clear the mountains. For about two weeks either side of winter solstice, the sun is just a bluish glow behind the peaks.
I love winter. I really do. I love sledding and skiing, ice skating and building snow forts. During the weeks leading to Christmas, I am positively joyful with the season.
But once Jan. 1 comes and goes, winter loses some of its luster. February is actually my least favorite time of year in Alaska.
This year, though, we are being rescued. I just got news that my UK publisher, Headline, wants to bring me to London for a week in February for the release of The Snow Child. We’ll also get to see a bit of Scotland during our visit.
The editor, publicist and other staff at Headline have been so wonderful to work with these past months, I am thrilled to get to meet them in person at last. And, I have to admit, I won’t mind bidding adieu to February in Alaska, even if it is just for a week.
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,
Dear worldly reader,
I haven’t made crepes in years. Maybe decades. When I was in high school French classes with my brother-in-law Dan, I think we went through a phase of making lots of crepes topped with strawberries and cream. But it’s been a long time.
So it was a strange coincidence that the other night I spontaneously decided to cook crepes for the family. I don’t think our daughters had ever had them. I flipped the hot crepes out of the pan and onto their plates, and they quickly spread them with butter and syrup.
The second coincidence is that my husband and I had decided to get serious about our passports, just in case any travel opportunities arose. We had the applications printed out that evening ,and after we ate crepes we started filling them out.
Why is this all such a coincidence? Because the next morning I got an email from my French editor, Deborah Druba with Fleuve Noir.
“We have just heard that Festival America, a very prestigious and influential festival held every two years in Vincennes near Paris is inviting you for next year’s edition.”
And then I opened the attachments and read the invitation. The Festival America brings writers from North and South America to France for a celebration that in past years has included authors like Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford, Donna Tartt, Tobias Wolff, Barbara Kingsolver, Chang Rae-Lee, Chuck Palahniuk … this is where I started to swoon.
In Vincennes, on the eastern side of Paris, we organize four days of readings and panels, a “café littéraire” and a book fair but also movies, concerts and exhibitions in order to celebrate the wealth and diversity of literature coming from an entire continent. Thousands of people attend this event which gets mass press and media coverage.
So it appears I will be going to France in September. And, when I informed my UK publicist Samantha Eades, we discussed the possibility that I might be able to stop over in London and for the first time meet people with Headline Review, my publisher there. Perhaps in this letter I sound calm and accepting of this turn of events, but in fact I have been dancing around the house for two days straight.
My only worry is my poor French. But my friends with Little, Brown & Co. pointed out that I surely remember the key phrases. “Une biere, s’il vous plait.” And “… des gateaux! Et du fromage! Et du pain au chocolat!” And, of course, “Non, je suis CANADIENNE” or at least “Je suis Alaskan.”
So now my only question — why didn’t I cook crepes before now?