Thursday, October 10, 2019

Going back to the place you can't go back to.

I get a visceral tug from this photo. Always.

It was taken in Nenana Alaska in the late 1950s or early 1960s, on a winter day with the sun already sinking, probably about three-thirty or four in the afternoon.

There's something about it that always sort of punches me.

Obviously, today I'm an adult, author of 12+ books living in western Oregon. But on that day, I was probably in grade six or seven, and most likely in that house behind the church when the picture was taken.

I can see myself there, feel myself in those rooms. They smell like supper coming on, probably coffee perking, my dad's cigarette. They sound like Dad's typewriter clatter, my brothers grexing, my sister making baby noises, my mom with the radio on or listening to Broadway music on the tweedy Webcore phonograph.

Who took it? I don't know. I found it on the Alaska Digital Archives site, which I highly recommend.

I've written eight books that take place in or near Nenana and I spend a lot of mental time back there. Homesickness? I don't think so. More like this song snippet from Cheryl Wheeler.

Simply, I know this town.

  • Well, I know these streets and these backyards
  • This barn that's fallin' down
  • We come to where they're building now
  • And ride our bikes around.
  • You think I'm just a little kid
  • Some trouble on the way
  • Well I knew that place before you did
  • Is all I've got to say.
  • (Chorus)
  • I'm only walkin' through these streets and all around
  • I'm only walkin' I know this town

Cheryl Wheeler

Thursday, September 12, 2019

I grew up in Nenana Alaska

I grew up in Nenana Alaska. Scenes like this one, of the namesake river steamer "Nenana," live on in my mind. 

I write two novel series, The Father Hardy Alaska Mystery series (adults) and the Cheechako series (middle-grades and up) that take place in versions of this town, and—in my mind at least—among these people.

Nenana in the 1950s was like other towns in the US in the 1920s or '30s. There was no police force, no firefighters. My father, all his life had a scar on his shin where he turned out to fight a Nenana fire and a hose broke loose, drenching him at twenty below, and ripping open his leg. He stumbled to the nearest house, freezing, and of course they took him in.

Why write so much about Nenana? It was rough and raw in its way, but absolutely real. And everybody I still know who lived there, quite a few of them reading this, knows they have that old and genuine Alaska spirit in them. They read the books and tell me, "I'd forgotten that," or "you nailed it," or ... "Yeah, it really was that cold."

I love to go back to those dusty streets in my memory, and the river, to recreate the mood and the tone of a place that is vastly changed, and take readers along for the ride.

Thanks to you all for coming along and telling me how much you enjoy the ride.

Sunday, May 5, 2019


I'm between books now.

Frankly, it feels weird. This is the first time in about six years I haven't been getting up early, five or six days a week, to "get in my pages." 

No, I haven't run out of ideas. On the contrary, even when I stop writing, the episodes keep playing in my mind. I know there are writers who anguish over their pages and the occasional dry spell. I guess I fall into the storyteller category, if there is such a thing. My characters talk to me and to each other whether I'm writing or not. I know enough to pay attention. 

The big question, when I do get back on the path, is what to write? I have no shortage of

Probably the top contender for next book is a fourth Cheeckako book... yes, I do read my mail. I realize I'm overdo with that one as readers and teachers have pointed our. Here's what I know about it. It will be back in Southeast Alaska, near Sitka, with the cast of characters that we last saw in "Float Monkeys." So plenty of boat and airplane action... and a treasure ship!

Due out... soon!

I am just about to publish... yes, quite a bit delayed, the fifth book in the Father Hardy Alaska Mystery Series. It's called "Without a Prayer." 

Billie, my editor, says the next book out will be a standalone book for middle-grades (like my Cheechako series) that takes place in the Pacific Northwest, instead of Alaska. It's called "Raft." Below is a rough comp of the cover. 

"Raft" is about a boy who can't read, but manages to fake his way through school with the help of his good friend Ozzie ... who dies suddenly. So in one stroke he's lost his best friend and his only way of coping with the world. What to do? Well, that's what the book is about. 

I'm already blocking out Hardy six. No firm title. Episodes are already playing in my brain. Will they finally get married in this one? Maybe. I know but I'm not telling.

Pick up books for summer reading!

Whether for yourself or for kids and grandkids, there's nothing like a book while you're waiting for the ferry, or the airplane, or just sitting in the sun or sand and want to escape. I would be delighted if you'd take one of my mysteries or adventure stories along, and even more delighted to receive a review/rating on the Amazon site when you finish. If you like it, I'd love to hear. If you didn't like it, I want to hear that, too. 

In the meantime, thanks for buying and reading my books, those of you that write to me, I love hearing from you. Keep it up. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Make sure gift-giving for young children includes a book!

Granddaughter, Ava, reading with DIL, Rachel. 

A child is never too young to benefit from books and being read to. They love the exclusive time to sit with you, to have all of your attention. And even beyond the story or rhyme you're reading, they love other things you make up, like counting objects on the page, or "finding the bunny." 

"... reading with your children gives them critical skills for when they start to read themselves."

1. It is important that children learn to follow words across the page from left to right.
2.  Learn to  turn pages, which are pre-reading skills that benefit children and help them to become better readers later on. 
3. Children who enjoy reading not only do better in language and literacy subjects, but in all of the different subjects as well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

I wanted to write a Southeast Alaska Christmas story.

More than gifts and glitter

I wanted to write a Christmas story that had little or nothing to do with Christmas trees and glitter. And I was hoping to write a story that the reader could follow along, with eyes open, and be surprised. And as long as I was hoping, yes, I wanted it to be just a bit spooky. 

Was I successful? See for yourself. It's a one-sitting read, truly a short story. So you don't have to be a dedicated reader to make it to the other side.

I did some of my growing up near Sitka, in Southeast Alaska. It's not cold there, or snowy, as in more northern Alaska. There are no dogsleds. It's a maritime climate, salt water and rain, and lots of little islands that feel pretty desolate in winter. So yes, that's where I set my story.

Mom didn't care for the sex stuff

I love reviews. It makes a dialogue of what I do, rather than a monologue... just me talking. A writer takes chances with stories, and doesn't really know if those chances work, if they pay off, until the reviews start. 

I already know my stories are "Nice." My mom is a reader. Except for the 4th Father Hardy. Mom liked all of it but the "sex stuff." Oh well. 

You're safe from "sex stuff" in "The Christmas Skiff." Yes, Mom, I resisted. And I'd love to hear anything you thought about the tale. Complaints welcome.

Check this recent review... 

"I bought "The Christmas Skiff" about 9 months ago, after Christmas. I remembered how much joy it had given me when I first read it, and so I decided to read it again, and I wasn't disappointed at all. It's a sort-of coming of age story, with Gabrielle learning that things are not always as they seem, and that life is about love, hope, and even magic, at times.

Jonathan has a way of writing that makes you feel as if you're a part of the story - not just reading about it. This should be on the Christmas gift list for all young people."

And thank you, Karen D.

"The Christmas Skiff" on Amazon

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Would you write just one sentence for a book you liked?

I need your review!

In the writer world, reviews have real weight. Commercial reviewers, the big dogs, along with magazines and radio, won't even consider reviewing a book if a whole bunch of you haven't already done so.

So if you've read one of my books—I have seven published—I would love for you to go online and post your review on Amazon. It can be as simple as just one sentence about why you liked—or maybe didn't like—the book. And then you also chose a number of stars to rate it. 

Some people don't like to post a review if they can't award the book all five stars. It doesn't matter. If you only liked it three star's worth, I'm okay with that, especially if you can tell me what didn't work for you. Every book is it's own set of lessons for me to learn, and I'm happy to.

My goal is to be the best writer I can be and I appreciate your help.