ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Yolanda Renee - Alaska as setting, with photos. Writing what you know...

Hello friends!

I've seen questions raised on facebook and in the blogosphere about guest posts, book tours, book launches, cover reveals. I understand, but with limited opportunity, how do authors let us know a new book has been launched? So I'm happy to do my bit, promoting authors who have written a book that has appealed to me. I try to make it interesting for my blog readers.

Many of you know and love Yolanda Renée. She has been recently published by Curiosity Quills Press. I've read her first book, Murder, Madness and Love and am sailing through her second, Memories of Murder. These stories are chilling and thrilling, set in exotic (to me) places such as Idaho, Seattle and Alaska. 

I've asked Yolanda to give me a first-person eyewitness account of her Alaskan experiences. You know what they say--write about what you know, so Yolanda decided to research an Alaskan setting the hard way...and the results? In her own words...read on...


Alaska - Love at First Sight - and One More Mountain to Climb

 
Yolanda in 1976, about to embark on her Alaskan adventure.

A two-week vacation in Alaska turned into a four year adventure. I arrived in the land of the last frontier – I fell in love, immediately, yes, love at first sight! I originally thought an Alaskan setting would be unique, and when I first started writing Murder, Madness & Love, it was. Imagine -- there was no reality television, no Ice Road Truckers, no Sarah Palin, and no Selling Alaska. In fact, when I started writing my book I think most people still saw Alaska as nothing more than an iceberg!

Atigun Pass
I loved the endless hours of bright sunshine. Was dumbstruck by the views of some of the tallest mountains I'd ever seen. Being from the east coast of the United States, what folks referred to as mountains are really rolling hills in comparison. Millions of evergreens, tall birch trees, and wildlife everywhere you turned greeted me. There is such a sense of adventure in this place.

The spirit of the people I met was the most amazing, as no one was a stranger. I saw most of us like the misfit toys in the Rudolf Christmas tale, on our own private iceberg that no one wanted to be rescued from. I even felt safe hitchhiking, although it wasn't something I did alone. I was part of the University crowd – a clique of intellectuals (but only because I dated one) and in a safe environment. I was on my very first adventure, and felt truly independent. I was in charge of my destiny.
 
Brooks Range
During my first week, I went on a wilderness hike. I carried a 35-pound pack, sported a pair of barely worn hiking boots, and all with no wilderness experience. The group my boyfriend introduced me to - two other couples - let me know that being a novice had not gained me any points. I sensed hostility, and was surprised, but these folks had a plan, and only four days to accomplish it. They were on a quest into the Alaska Range to take pictures of grizzlies in their natural habitat, and they weren't interested in a sightseer.
       
My boyfriend took pity on me and made sure my load was much lighter than what the others carried. Some of them hauled 45 to 50 pound packs. To say I struggled would be an understatement. The temperatures, in the seventies, were still a bit cool for my thin blood, but I quickly worked up a sweat walking across the Alaskan tundra.
 
The tundra in the Alaskan Range
Imagine clumps of earth dotting a bog, and your goal it to make sure you stepped on the clump, and not down into the blog. It took skill, a steady eye, a massive stride, and great balance, something difficult to achieve if you've never worn a pack on your back or heavy hiking boots on your feet. So yes, I struggled; I was 110 pounds, five foot five, and wore size six shoes.

It was no picnic. Thousands of swarming mosquitoes attacked us, like flies to a decaying body. Even though I wore a hat with a net over my entire head to keep them out of my eyes, mouth and nose, there were literally millions of the bastards, especially near the stream we wanted to follow up and into the mountains. The constant buzz and swatting of the black swarms soon got to the pros; most of them did not sport the netting I had chosen to wear.

A change of direction was required. We headed away from the stream to higher and cooler territory. We headed straight up a 1000-foot rise. It was a rocky slope that I literally had to crawl up on hands and knees, while the others simply walked to the top. I was slowing down the rest of the group. My boyfriend stayed with me, encouraged me, but I felt his disappointment. You know that inexperienced weakling in all the movies, that was me, although I wasn't a whiner. I stayed tough, well, stoic, at least.

 After two days, the two other couples abandoned me; they got up one morning and left me behind. I felt bad because my boyfriend stayed behind too; this was his adventure as much as it was mine. But while mortified that I was so inadequate, I was glad for the break. They were headed into an area with bears, and I was happy not to have to face a grizzly on top of everything else.

The hikers returned that evening, highly disappointed that they'd not seen one bear, and felt their extended hike had been a waste of time. While my boyfriend and I fished, slept in, well, mostly slept, and explored the general area, they spent the day trekking rocky slopes and not seeing a thing. Honestly, I was grimly pleased. They were a bit like bullies to someone who had never, ever hiked a mountain path, let alone a wilderness where no path existed.

Although, prior to this adventure, I was a walker, and walked over a mile to and from work every day, my walking was done on a sidewalk in tennis shoes; I was nowhere close to being ready for such a huge endeavor. These guys moved with purpose and speed, so when they didn't achieve their objective, and it wasn't my fault, I couldn't help but feel vindicated.

By the end of the adventure, they were a bit kinder, even sympathetic, I think because my boyfriend was constantly apologizing on my behalf, which only made me feel worse. The most surprising thing about the trip was that a two-day hike in, took half a day to hike out. I never did understand that, but I kept up with them and we enjoyed breakfast together at a diner on the road back to Fairbanks.

It was an amazing experience and while at times humiliating, it only made me more determined to conquer Alaska, because while difficult, it was also the most amazing thing I'd ever done! I wish I could show you pictures of that time -- my boyfriend took hundreds, but when we broke up, he kept them.

Everywhere you turn in Alaska there is an amazing view, whether the extensive mountain ranges, the Inland Passage, the Arctic Ocean, or the mighty Yukon River. From the rain forests of the southern panhandle to the mountainous interior, to the frozen almost desert like north – Alaska is an amazing experience. 

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        In book 3 of the Murder trilogy, Obsession to Murder, I plan to go deeper into the beauty that is Alaska. Detective Steven Quaid's new quest will take him deep into the Brooks Range, and all the way to the Aleutian Islands.



        Murder, Madness & Love and Memories of Murder the first two books in the Murder trilogy are now available on Amazon Kindle, Kobo, and B & N and in paperback.
       
       

Thank you Denise, for allowing me the opportunity to discuss how my own adventure in Alaska, helped to inspire my choice of an Alaskan setting. But I am curious, do your readers enjoy the setting of a story as much as the characters, or do they find it fluff that takes away from the action? 
         
You can find Yolanda Renée here:



  •   Please answer Yolanda's question -- do you enjoy the setting of the story as much as the characters -- or do you skip over setting as so much 'fluff'? (Most of you know my opinion -- setting is character to me.
  • Don't forget to add your name to the list for the HAUNTING blogfest next week. Yolanda is there!



52 comments:

  1. I like the setting. It depends on where it's at, although Alaska would be a great place.
    Yolanda, that would've worn anyone out, even if they had experience. At least you didn't hike an extra day for nothing!

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    1. Thanks Alex, I agree, I've always enjoyed a story with a detailed setting. It's what helped me escape into the book, into the experience. It was exhilarating and at times humiliating, but an awesome journey!

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  2. That was a fascinating interview - sincerely fascinating! I've always had a thing for "the north" and I love reading about it. Not just Alaska, but all points north. (I live in Cold Lake, Alberta, which isn't anywhere near as "north" as Alaska, but it's close!!!)

    I think setting is extremely important – that doesn't mean pages and pages of nothing but description, of course. Done well, setting is like another character. A main character, but a quiet one. (The strong silent type.)

    I do NOT envy you those bugs - good for you for wearing a bug hat. Mozzies and black flies are the WORST. Can't wait to read your book.

    Loved this post, Denise!

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    1. Thank you Cathy, I love books of the north too, for example, James A. Michener's Alaska, but his descriptive tome was a bit too much, and yet I loved it. I agree, the strong silent type is best when it comes to setting. One person, a waitress in a favorite restaurant we frequent – shouted at me across the room, "I liked your book, although, what's with all that description – I hated that, I just want the action – get to the story. Oh, and by the way I knew who did it a few chapters in." I wanted to strangle her on the spot – mainly because I was sure she was going to blurt out the ending too. But I managed to hold off my murderous tendency, with the help of my husband's firm hand, and – she'd shut up! LOL I do hope you enjoy the book!

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  3. I love reading about places that I've never been to, so I truly enjoyed this post! I felt like I was in Alaska, taking that hike with you, Yolanda. lol

    Thank you, Denise, for asking Yolanda about her Alaskan adventures. And thank you, Yolanda, for sharing such an experience with us.

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    1. Thanks Chrys, when I wrote home about the adventure, family said the same thing. They felt they were there. It was the experience of a lifetime with more to come!

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  4. Setting is really important to me. I'd much rather read an adventure set in the wilderness than a city. I think you were very brave to take on that hike without experience.

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    1. Hello Susan. Thanks for visiting. I'm so into setting if it's done well. I LOVE James A Michener's Alaska too Yolanda. And a big fan of Northern Exposure re runs on the telly. Yummo!

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    2. Me too Denise. I lived in Washington State when they were shooting the show, Northern Exposure. We went to the small town of Roslyn where the exterior shots were filmed. I was so anxious to get out of the car and take pictures I urged hubby to 'park it' we ended up getting a $75 ticket for crossing a double yellow line to park the car. Hubby was pissed, and the cop unsympathetic even when I confessed it was my fault. It was a major rip off of the sightseeing public, a regular occurrence according to the cop. As most folks were excited about seeing all the places they shot and didn't pay attention to the lines down the middle of the road. Left a bad taste in our mouths. My husband took the ticket and we left - no pictures nothing. We figured they'd gotten all the tourist dollars from us they were going to get. LOL

      Thank you so much for hosting me! You made my post look , and read - awesome!

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    3. Thank you Susan, even if I'd have known what I was in for - I'd have still done it! It was great! I eventually earned my hiking legs and took many a newcomer for hikes in the Brooks Range, all men - and a few who couldn't keep up!

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  5. Settings depend, as far as I am concerned, on the author, sometimes they become more important than the characters and that doesn't usually work. However, I think it essential that stories do take place in believable settings.

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    1. You're right Jo, it has to be done right, and believable is key!

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  6. Wow Yolanda! Go you! I know just what you mean. When Hubby and I visited Alaska 4 years ago I fell in love. We still talk about moving up there. It's just so breathtaking. I've never seen any place quite as majestic. Being from FLA it'd take some serious getting used to the winters tho. That's the only thing holding me back.
    My latest book is set in AK too, tho the adventure takes place elsewhere.
    Love that yours are set in that beautiful state. I can't wait to go back there. That must've been some adventure you had!

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    1. Pk - Glad to meet someone else who felt the love immediately - when you're ready to get back let me know - hubby and I talk about it too. Anchorage isn't as bad for the cold, well not as bad as Fairbanks, but it does take some getting used to. Especially the darkness - you have to love winter sports or else have a winter retreat - in Florida or Hawaii!

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  7. You've got great experience for building an authentic setting. I'm with Denise - setting is character, and can be intrinsic to creating just the right atmosphere for a book. That said, it's something I admire in others, but still working on using well myself!

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    1. Thanks Nick! I love it too and still struggle - there's a lot of work to get it all right in a novel.

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  8. Wow. I would never had made it that far!

    And Denise, I love the new header, nice personal touch.

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    1. Thanks Charmaine, I almost didn't.

      I agree the header is lovely! I need a change too - any suggestions?

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  9. Ha, reminds me of one of my own hiking trips. I'd love to visit Alaska one day.

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    1. Hiking isn't for that faint at heart - not in those mountains! Thanks Lynda!

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  10. I feel setting is a character in a well written novel. I love descriptions of places I've never seen - or even of somewhere I've been but seen through another's eyes. The descriptions in MML are well done. Those are awesome pictures. Brave of you to keep up with the rest, and how cool your boyfriend stayed with you.

    ......dhole

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    1. Hey Donna, Thanks, appreciate the kind words - he did fine that day, but we didn't last the summer. First time I ever broke a heart. Not a good feeling.

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  11. Great interview - and I love using settings - and enjoy reading books in which the setting becomes a character in itself. Great to come across someone who also connects to place.

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    1. Hey JO, Thanks - Setting has always been important to me!

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  12. I think that setting can become a character, at least in a sense. I certainly don't think it's fluff or that it takes away from a story. If it's done properly, it should enhance all of the other aspects of the story. I love the idea of being swept away to some place else when I'm reading, so good setting in a story is definitely okay with me!

    Yolanda, your adventure in Alaska sounds like a great experience. I am not particularly athletic or coordinated, so I know the pain of being the one lagging behind and embarrassing or irritating everyone else with my inability to keep up. I'd love to give something like hiking around Alaska a shot though, at my own pace of course! Would you go back there and do it again if you could?

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    1. Bonnee, hi, I agree, but I have heard others call it fluff. - I would go back in a heartbeat, and yes especially to hike - my one asset my strong legs - I honed in Alaska and have kept strong!

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  13. I love interesting settings. And I've always been so intrigued by Alaska. It's one of the few places we can experience what life might have been here before we so populated our country. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Natalie, it still is an exciting experience, but I wonder for how much longer.

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  14. I loved reading this. Alaska has always been on my bucket list. I almost felt I was there by reading this :)

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    1. I hope you get the opportunity to go! It's amazing!

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  15. Hey Denise! Wow, Yolanda, what an adventure! I've watched documentaries that show animals dropping dead from blood loss due to the mosquitoes. For that reason alone, I'm likely never to go to Alaska. I'm highly allergic to the little buggers. Otherwise, it sounds beautiful. And I'd be grimly pleased, too :)

    I do like setting, as long as it's not fru-fru. It adds atmosphere, helps me make scenes real in my head, and exposes me to places I haven't been.

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    1. I had never seen anything so horrid as those swarms, but the higher we climbed and the cooler it got the fewer and fewer they were. Bug-off is the perfume of Alaskan hikers, but even with that it was an amazing experience and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

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  16. Since my husband defines my size as "elfin," I'm sure I would've struggled just as much on that hike. But the memories of what you saw and felt are priceless.

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    1. Hey Diane, you're right, for a small person it'd be even more of a struggle - but you could do it. Yes, priceless!

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  17. Hi, Denise & Yolanda,
    Though beautiful, Alaska also sounds like fierce territory to cross. Must be fascinating to be in a place with that much snow. Glad your hiker group turned into friends at the end and that boyfriend was a good guy.

    I enjoy a setting that I can visualize and feel a part of. Setting the scenery adds depth to a novel. For me, the setting is another character.

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    1. J. L. - thank you, the women especially changed their tune - they weren't happy with an almost forced march with no results, and envied me the break and chance to enjoy the trip. It felt really good then!

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  18. I love to read about Yolanda's Alaskan adventures and this was no exception. Oh my gosh, that hike would have killed me for sure. I don't think I ever would have made it.
    Great photos!

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    1. Thanks Julie,
      It's surprising what you can do when your the odd man out and everyone is expecting you to fail - I love a challenge and they had no idea. But yeah, they didn't think I'd get through the first day! I think that was the most humiliating - being judged so harshly so quickly. But, I did it and most likely because of that! LOL

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  19. Fantastic post. I really want to travel to Alaska one day. It's so beautiful. I think setting can have great character and add a lot to a story. It helps with the atmosphere and mood.

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  20. Gorgeous pics (and covers), Yolanda! I was already itching to get to Alaska, and this post made it worse. :)

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    1. Then you have to E J - you'll never regret it!

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  21. I think setting is extremely important! The Spenser novels could be nowhere else but Boston, for instance...
    I like knowing where people are, I like hearing about places I've never been, and I like picturing people in the places I HAVE been.
    I know so much more about the world just from reading books.
    :)

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    1. I agree Grace - I wouldn't either, and books are what gave me the wanderlust!

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  22. I've not been to Alaska, but will have to check it out some time. I fell with love with the PNW. Winter here is long enough, don't know if I could deal with longer. Congrats to Yolanda!

    Happy Wednesday, Denise.

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    1. Thanks Mary,

      I love the PNW too, we lived in WA state for 17 years. Can't wait to go back!

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  23. Hi Denise and Yolanda!

    I love settings as much as the story. It feels as if I've been to that place while reading if the settings is really vivid and the atmospheric details are eloquently described.

    Loved this post and photos!

    Nas

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    1. Hi E at W!
      Thanks, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

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  24. Hi Denise and hi Yolanda,

    Denise, I thought your introduction was a very thoughtful angle. Although I did see mention of 'Farcebook' :)

    Such marvellous photos, Yolanda. Such recollections and the location, conducive to what you could achieve. Indeed, what you will achieve from that past adventure leading into your next adventure.

    I always wanted to go visit that place full of magical folks. Yes, Gnome, Alaska. Sorry, Nome. Brilliant and thanks for this.

    Be well, the both of you.

    Kind regards,

    Gary :)

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    1. Thanks Gary:

      Appreciate the time you took today to post answers to the comments on my blog - all about you and Halloween. And then to pop over here and comment too - awesome! Gnome/Nome Alaska is a great place - I'm sure Penny would love to visit around race time! Take care Gary!

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  25. I found the setting as important as the characters in many ways and remember feeling chilled much of the time I read Murder, Madness & Love. The book wouldn't have worked in, say, Utah.

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    1. Hey Nancy!
      Thanks for stopping by to visit and comment. No, not in Utah, mainly because I'm partial to the cold, love the cold!

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