G’day mates! Just arrived for the Melbourne Writers Festival, where on 10 a.m. Friday I’ll be be at The Morning Read, Saturday at 1 p.m. a panel discussion on what it’s like to be a debut novelist, and on Sunday a lovely event called Sofitel Salon.
In other news around the world, my UK publisher is celebrating “Snow Day” with the release of the paperback edition. Thanks to all the UK book bloggers who have joined in the celebration.
I’ll try to drop you a postcard whenever I have the chance.
Dear international reader,
I’m preparing for a month-long, whirlwind book tour that will take me to Australia, New Zealand and Europe. I’m hoping I’ll see some of you along the way. Anyone in Paris, London, Auckland, or Brisbane?
Here’s my schedule so far:
Sept. 13 Auckland, New Zealand. 6-7:30 p.m. I’ll be at Takapuna Library for a book talk and signing.
Sept. 17 London:
- 11 a.m. I’ll be at Waterstones Worchester for a book signing.
- 7 p.m. Waterstones Kensington will host a signing that includes cocktails and live music from Miss Maud’s Folly.
Sept. 20-23 Paris, Festival America. I’m on several panels, including discussing “characters in search of a writer,” and writing from an extreme local. And some of my very favorite authors will be at this international festival.
I’ll post letters and photos whenever I have the chance. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out how I can pack everything I need for this trip into a single carry-on.
P.S. Thank you for your comments on my last letter — I so enjoyed reading your stories about wishing for water, dowsing for water, and sometimes getting too much of it. As I write to you just now, Sam is wiring and plumbing, and professionals are installing the pump in our well. So close I can almost taste that first cold, refreshing glass of water …
Dear steadfast reader,
I hope you are having a fine summer, or winter for those who are on the other end of the world. I haven’t written for a while because I haven’t had much to report. But now I do have a couple things to share.
First, I did an interview with the Lithuanian publication 15min. Here it is in Lithuanian, or if you would like to read a rough translation of it in English, click here. Thank you to the journalist Audrius Ožalas for the wonderful interview (which was done in English. Unfortunately I don’t know a word of Lithuanian.)
And in perhaps one of the biggest events around the Ivey house in some time, we scheduled a well drilling. As many of you know, we haul our water. We limit our baths and showers, collect rain water for the animals and garden, and do laundry either at my mom’s house or the laundromat. It’s not so inconvenient, but we’ve always dreamed of the luxury of a well. It could be especially handy when, say, trying to build an ice rink.
This summer, we crossed our fingers and called Ace Water Wells.
There are no guarantees you’ll find water at 100 feet or even 500 feet. Because of our location, up on a hill in mountainous terrain, we knew there was a good chance we would strike out. And whether we ended up with an artesian aquifer or a very deep dry hole in the ground, we would still have to pay the per-foot fee.
I admit I’m doubtful of the science behind water witching, but we tried to find someone to come out because we thought it couldn’t hurt. Summer is a busy time for Alaskans, though, and none of the dowsers we knew were available. By the time Alaska novelist Don Rearden kindly offered on Facebook that his mom is a dowser, it was too late. We were already committed.
But a few days before that, Sam and I had picked up a couple of copper wires and gave it a try ourselves. While I was in the house, he walked the yard with one bent wire held loosely in each hand. Then before he could tell me his results, I took the wires.
It was an odd experience. At first as I walked through the grass, nothing happened, and that made sense to me. But then gradually the two copper wires began to wobble in my hands and slowly draw together and cross in front of me. I reset them straight in my hands, walked away and then back to the same spot, and it happened again. I went inside and told Sam where the wires had moved, near a tall cow parsnip plant not far from the house.
“Me, too,” he said with a shrug.
So when the drillers arrived with their monstrously huge truck, we had them set up at that spot. Why not, right?
They positioned their truck, raised the tall drilling equipment, and started in. Great clouds of dust rose from the ground.
It wasn’t long before one of the brothers came to our front door looking very serious.
“Not good?” I asked.
“Nope. We hit bedrock at 13 feet.”
Bedrock, as in solid rock. In our area, this often means a dry well or at best a sulfury trickle.
Sam was trying to get home but was stuck in traffic halted by an automobile accident on the highway. I alone faced the decision — do we keep drilling, throwing dollars down this hole? Do we move to someplace else on our property? Or do we toss in the towel, so to speak?
The driller didn’t seem to think it would make much difference if we moved to another location, unless it was off the hill we live on. So we agreed to continue drilling in the same place.
I had a book-related teleconference scheduled that day, so as I talked on the phone over the roar of the drilling machine, I watched nervously out the window. The men wore ear protection against the noise. I tried to read their faces as they worked. They didn’t look particularly optimistic.
After the phone call, I continued to pace and watch and wonder if I had made a very expensive, very bad decision.
After a couple hours, a neighbor drove into our yard with Sam in his truck. Sam had caught a ride, having to leave his truck on the side of the highway because of the unmoving traffic.
The three of us stood outside visiting and watching the well drillers. And then we noticed something — was that water gushing out by the drillers’ feet? One of the brothers gave us a thumbs-up. What did it mean?
It meant water! At 145 feet, they struck a fracture in the rock with a stream of water. Fifteen gallons a minute of beautiful, wonderful water. The drillers seemed as pleasantly surprised as us.
When my novel was first acquired by publishers, I wondered how much it would change things for me and my family. For the most part, our days are the same. We live in the same house, have the same friends and interests and aspirations. But now we could afford to drill a well.
Endless hot baths and clean laundry are still a ways off ; we have to dig a trench from the well to the house and plumb it in. But we have water! Thank you to the readers around the world who helped make this possible.
Dear kind readers,
First and foremost, thank you so much for all the wonderful support in the nomination for the Guardian First Book Award. Ten readers have already posted their thoughtful reviews on the website on the Guardian’s website. And thank you for the clarification from cravingpages: you have to register with the Guardian, which is free, and log in before you can post a review.
Another note of gratitude — we are nearing 1,000 likes on The Snow Child’s Facebook page!
And finally, I received a fun email the other day from a member of a book club on the Currituck Sound in North Carolina that recently read The Snow Child:
It was 90 degrees that day…..but the home was decorated with snowflakes and outside we had a mockup of Faina. Shown in the photo are the 3 hostesses with Faina. It was a great discussion with 26 gals attending! We served “moose meat” sandwiches, potato salad, stuffed eggs, blueberries, carrots, white cake and cranberry cordials.
As I’ve mentioned, I am a member of a book club here in Palmer, Alaska, and it gives me such joy to think of women around the world gathering to share their love of books.
Have you ever hosted a theme book club, either around The Snow Child or another book? What kind of decorations and food did you feature?
Dear writerly reader,
First I want to thank you all for your brilliant/lovely/surprising descriptions of summer nights. Comments appeared both here on my blog and through the website goodreads. Cicadas, fireflies, sparrows, the late-setting sun, noisy traffic, hooting owls — I was transported to London, Florida, Chicago, Australia, Iowa, the Netherlands, Italy. You all are amazing!
I also want to share some exciting news. I learned this morning that The Snow Child is among reader-nominated titles being considered for the long list for The Guardian First Book Award. This is one of UK’s most prestigious book prizes, and I am so thrilled to have my book in the mix.
The long list for the prize consists of 10 books, fiction and nonfiction, published in the UK during the current year. It must be the author’s first book. The Guardian has already selected nine titles for the long list, but the final title will be chosen based on reader response.
According to The Guardian:
“If you have read The Snow Child, add your review to the book page and have a say in the final selection. The 10th title will be announced at the end of July.”
The Guardian will announce the 10th title at the end of July, and it’ll go forward to the longlist, to be judged as by Waterstones books groups around the country, along with a central panel.
I have been so touched by the response from readers around the world. Thank you everyone!
Dear sleepless reader,
As promised, here is a photograph of the view from our house at midnight a few nights ago. Castle Mountain in the distance is still topped with snow.
As we near summer solstice, the sun officially sets just before midnight and rises again at 4 a.m. But during those four hours, it remains light enough to see and the robins and chickadees never stop singing.
Alaska is known as the home of the midnight sun, and as you can see, it is still nearly daylight at that hour. But as for the sun, it has been elusive. This summer so far has been rainy and cool. Of course when it did warm to 65 degrees, my husband and I complained about it being so muggy. My in-laws, visiting from Florida, might have disagreed. I guess “muggy” is a relative term.
What do your summer nights look and sound like? Do you have fireflies and croaking frogs? Streetlights and honking horns?
During the past few days, I’ve had a few messages and comments from friends wondering if everything is OK because I haven’t written in a while. So here I am, sitting at our kitchen table and looking out at a quiet, rainy summer morning here in Alaska and wondering — why do writers sometimes run out of things to say?
Maybe because at times life is too intense, or too dull, too overwhelming, or underwhelming, to know what to make of it. Writing, even if it’s just a letter to friends, requires you to say something that you hope is at least slightly interesting or important. And that isn’t always easy.
As I mentioned in my last letter, part of my distraction is seasonal. This time of year, I find such joy working in the greenhouse or garden or taking a walk at 9 p.m. around our property with my husband as we talk over dreams of a log-cabin sauna here and an apple orchard there. Writing is a reflective act that requires us to live in our heads, to reprocess the past and imagine other times and places. Sometimes it feels good to live here and now. It feels good to get my hands dirty and think of nothing but how many shovelfuls it’s going to take to fill this wheelbarrow.
In truth, part of my distraction comes from the sort of challenges we all face at one time or another in our lives — the unexpected heartbreaks and wonders that knock us off our feet and make us question what is important and how we can best spend our time.
And part of it might be a bit of social networking overload. Without any prompting from editor or agent or colleague, I jumped with both feet into Facebook, Twitter, and blogging more than a year ago, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time each day doing it. Maybe I’m trying to find a balance now between this new life as a published author and my old life of seclusion.
I am still doing other kinds of writing. As we gear up for the paperback release of The Snow Child in the US and the UK this fall, I’ve been writing essays and articles and short stories. I have an article about the art of picking blueberries that will come out in the next issue of Alaska Magazine, and I’m working on a short story for a UK publication that I’m really excited about.
It feels good to write these kind of pieces, reworking the structure and themes and sentences to make something new. So I guess I am writing, just not as many letters or tweets.
Even sitting here, though, I have thought of a few letters I’ve been meaning to send to you. (Thanks to my book club Betties for some of these ideas.) Maybe a photo of our backyard in broad daylight at midnight. Or thoughts on some amazing and frustrating books I’ve recently read. Or maybe a recipe for rhubarb jam.
Dear resuming reader,
I have been remiss in writing to you this past week. But I have an excuse — we have officially entered the manic summer season in Alaska when we try to squeeze as much work/fun/family into every daylight hour.
I say “summer season” but really this is only applicable in terms of the increasing length of each day: currently sunrise is at 5 a.m. and sunset at nearly 11 p.m. In terms of summer weather, not so much. A hail storm yesterday afternoon turned into a snow squall. But we have not let the chill deter us.
We spent the first weekend of May in our riverboat. This is the earliest we’ve been out on the rivers; the ice broke up nearly a week before it usually does.
Beaver and muskrats swam along the shore; Arctic terns dipped and dove in aerobatics over the water as they fished for salmon smolt in the early morning; sandhill cranes, scaup ducks, mergansers, mallards, and buffleheads flew along the river and landed in the back sloughs; frogs uttered their first croaks of the season. At night, we sat beside a campfire and ate s’mores.
Also in true Alaska summer tradition, visitors have begun to arrive. My grandparents from Buffalo, NY, came for about a week, and then my uncle.
Soon, my husband’s family arrives, just in time to go fishing for king salmon. One of the downsides of living in Alaska is having extended family so far away. But these weeks have been the perfect antidote.
I have also been pursuing my new career as a published author. During the past weeks, I’ve visited libraries, schools, and book clubs to talk about The Snow Child, and a few days ago I had a signing event at the Flying Squirrel, a bakery cafe in Talkeetna, Alaska, where I ate the most scrumptious cauliflower macaroni & cheese and had a delightful conversation about books with the group of readers who attended.
And then, as if we haven’t tried to cram enough into our days, we have also been tackling lots of projects around our house. This weekend Sam and I built a small greenhouse so we can grow tomatoes, cucumbers and basil this summer. We hauled, split and stacked wood to try to replenish our wood shed. And I’m in the middle extending our garden and putting up new fencing around it. Hopefully by the end of the month, the snow squalls will have halted entirely, and we’ll be able to plant our garden with carrots, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and lettuce.
So if another week goes by without a letter from me, know that I am only knee-deep in summer. But I am thinking of you.
What are your plans for the coming season?
Dear hopeful reader,
The past two weeks have been sunny and warm, at least by our standards — in the mid-50s during the heat of the day. The snow has nearly disappeared. The pussy willows are blooming. The rhubarb is poking its way out of the wet ground. And the wild swans have returned to Fish Lake.
It seems spring truly has arrived in Alaska.
My youngest daughter and I have planted our garden starts — squash and kale, broccoli and sweet peas — and now our living room windows are full of tiny, tender, green plants.
In another sign of spring, our friend and neighbor Donna gave us baby chicks. Chickens produce the most eggs during the first year or two, so each spring we add some new hens to the flock to keep up our egg production. Although, as you can see from our refrigerator, we are not suffering from a shortage of eggs. Luckily we have friends and relatives to share them with.
In another week or two the cottonwood and birch leaves will fully emerge, and in about a month we can plant our garden.
Of course yesterday afternoon as I was driving home, the sky began to spit snow at my windshield. But none of it stuck to the ground, so I’m just going to pretend that didn’t happen.
Are the seasons changing for you as well?
Dear longtime reader,
When I worked as a newspaper reporter, we would print breaking stories and then months later realize that we never let our readers know the outcome of the story. I’m afraid I’m guilty of this as a blogger. So today, I want to follow up on a few items I have mentioned in my letters to you:
- The Ice Rink: A Bust I’m afraid our backyard ice rink was doomed from the beginning of this very snowy winter. Even if we had figured out how to haul enough water to fill in the frame, it snowed so much this winter it would have been a full-time job just trying to keep it dug out. I had nearly forgotten about it until this last week when the snow began to melt. There it is — the remains of our ice skating dreams. But maybe there is hope for next winter because …
- A well. Sam and I are in the midst of scheduling the drilling of our well this summer. It’ s an exciting but somewhat daunting prospect. Some of our neighbors have 100-foot, clear running wells, while others had to blast through bedrock and go down more than 300 feet. And there’s no guarantee you’ll ever hit water. But we’re going to cross our fingers and hope for the best. I’ll keep you posted … I promise.
- Have you seen the snow child? Some time ago I mentioned wanting people to submit photos and images of the snow child — snow sculptures, maybe drawings or artwork that called the fairy tale to mind. Many readers have been posting fabulous images on The Snow Child Facebook page. It has been wonderful to see all the different interpretations, images of fox and ice princesses and much more. If you would like to share an image, please post it on the Facebook page.
- Faina travels the world. This week I got news that The Snow Child will be published in China by OmniBook in Taipei. In addition, the English language version distributed by my UK publisher Headline has made its way to India. That brings us up to more than 20 languages and around 30 countries, that I know of. Last week a reader posted an image of the Lithuanian cover on The Snow Child Facebook page. What an amazing journey Faina has taken us on!
So now that I’ve caught up on a few things, I was wondering — is there anything else I’ve forgotten? Do you have any questions for me?