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Writing Career

When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been fascinated with literature since I can remember. I’ve dabbled a little most of my adult life. Mostly bad poetry and a few short stories. But a friend
was impressed with the memorial I wrote for my mom and encouraged me to continue to write. That was enough of a push for me to start taking it more seriously.
What was the first serious thing you wrote?
My first attempts were short film scripts. The same friend who encouraged me to keep writing was interested in making films and he needed a script.
Ironically, the script he chose had no dialog, perfect for an insecure writer. We went on to make the film and it was accepted into the Anchorage International Film Festival where it was warmly received in its category.
Aside from Atlin Where Everyone Knows Your Dog’s Name have you written anything else?

I have completed a novel, it’s a mystery aimed at tweens and older. Murphy and the Mystery of the Black Skull is set in modern-day Douglas, Alaska. Murphy’s a twelve-year-old boy, who with his dog Hogan, embarks on a perilous quest to solve a mystery that involves pirates and hidden gold. I’m actively pursuing publishers at this time and see it as a possible series.
I also have a feature length horror film script completed, called King Salmon set-in modern-day Alaska, involving experiments gone wrong, a mad scientist and the hideous monsters he unleashes on the world.
I’m continuously working on short stories that may turn into something larger or may eventually end up in a collection of some sort.

Your mother was a published author; did that influence you in any way?
Yes, in the sense that it is a personal achievement and that you’re leaving something of yourself behind so that at the very least the ones closest to you will better understand you and remember you. My mom also impressed upon me the importance of documenting.

Dogs in my Life

What was it like growing up with so many dogs?
There were times, let’s say up until I was five or six years old, I thought I was one of the pack. I played with all of them, every day. I had at least three or four with me at all times, no matter where I was going. I considered many of the dogs my best friends or on a certain level my siblings. We played together and got in trouble together. I was an only child after all and my friends all had siblings.
Was there a down side living with so many dogs?
I was a human pin ball before I got big enough to fight back. I was constantly bounced about and knocked down in the melee of excited hounds. Getting
out of our two-door car was always a dangerous event. The dogs were very excited to go anywhere and twice as excited to get out once we arrived. It was a chaotic balancing act to quickly exit before the hoard crushed me from behind.
I think the hair bothered me the most, especially as I got older and it was important to look good for the girls. It was impossible to completely rid oneself of the hair.
Did you continue as your mother did to have dogs during your adult life?
When I moved from Atlin, the dogs stayed with my mom and that was a good thing. At that time, I could barely take care of myself. Shortly after I moved to Alaska, I got a husky mix from the pound. She was a great dog and was with me many years, but heartbreakingly she was run over in a freak accident. I was distraught and soon after we moved to an apartment so we didn’t get a dog again for many years. I currently live with a variety pack of mutts.

Growing up in Atlin

What was the single greatest thing about growing up the way you did in Atlin?
I learned to be confident and self-assured from early childhood and that has served me well. I learned to respect and revere my elders, but on the other hand I was encouraged to be a free thinker and to consider myself on equal footing with all of my fellow citizens.
How were you directly influenced by the old timers as you call them?
Osmosis mostly. Observing them in public settings and seeing how they conducted themselves in the community. I was constantly in awe of their stories. If you were lucky enough to be there while they recounted a story, you were better for it and it was a story you never forgot. They set unassuming examples of how to conduct oneself in everyday life.
You were surrounded by very capable women growing up. How that did influence your adult life?

Mostly raised by a single mother, an extremely capable single mother at that, influenced me in numerous ways, some tangible and some subconscious. First, I have to say I have never had the thought that any woman was not at least equal to a man in everything they do and many times are better. I never had an issue taking direction from a woman and have had a number of women bosses over the years. I basically have little male ego and I attribute that to being raised by an unassuming but over-accomplishing woman.

You didn’t grow up with a lot of money, some would consider you poor. How did that effect your upbringing?

Short answer is, it didn’t. Of course, there were detriments, but we were all in the same proverbial boat. We all had holes in our socks and our big toe stuck out. I didn’t know I was technically poor. I had a carefree life as a youth as long as I pulled my own weight. I realized early on it wasn’t the same for my mom. She tried hard to keep it from me, and she did her best to keep us afloat and she succeeded, although it was close at times. It was a struggle that took its toll physically and mentally. I had a real dread growing up that my actions could add to her burden. I worked hard at not causing problems.

Your dad was gone for a portion of your childhood. What kind of a relationship did you have with him?
From approximately ten years old, I only saw him for a week around Christmas and a couple of weeks in the summer when I would fly to Inuvik to see him. He completely disappeared when I was sixteen. I expected to work another summer for him, but his phone and company phone were out of order when I called, and I got word he went bankrupt and moved away. I didn’t see him again until I was twenty-eight. I did end up working for him for a number of years in my thirties and we became friendly if not quite father and son status.

Education

I understand you did not graduate high school and didn’t receive your GED until you were in your early forties. Where did you receive your education?
Reading. I mention in the book that my mom read to me in the womb and continued to read to me throughout my childhood. Children’s books were plentiful but quick reads. There wasn’t much for the tweens aside from The Hardy Boys, so she read to me what she was interested in. Without TV and radio and before video games, reading was our social media. We all shared our books with each other. I have some large holes in my education that reading didn’t fill but through the writing process I am continuing to learn.
You talk about your school. What was it like having up to three grades in one room?

It was often loud, smelly and disruptive. I mention the difficulty of concentrating on your work while the loud drone of another lesson is taught within inches of your desk. We didn’t have lockers, so things like gym clothes were often shoved under desks or tossed onto the large shelf that ran across the back of the class. Under that shelf was the heater, so you can imagine what it smelled like. The spring leaks in the roof were always fun to deal with. Often our classroom resembled a trailer park after a tornado. The boot room as we called it was usually a massive jumble of boots, mukluks, snow pants and parkas. We joked that you tried to leave with something better than what you brought.

It sounds like your schooling was a community effort. Can you give an example?
In many ways it was. For example, my mom taught an art class to the grades eight, nine and ten, all in the same room gang, which I was part of. It was quite disconcerting to have my mom witness my usual buffoonery in person. She did take the entire class to the lake shore so we could sketch the mountain, that was fun. We took a knitting class at a woman’s home and learned to weld at the local machine shop. An amateur photographer showed us how to develop film in his bathroom darkroom at his home. And weavers, painters, and sculptors all gave classes at the school.
Your gym was the town Rec Center and your track and field venue a field you refer to as the Campground. Can you talk more about that?
The streets were not paved and there were no sidewalks, so the journey alone could be an ordeal. Often there were massive puddles at the intersection, mud, slush and ice, dog fights and speeding snow machines, cows, horses and dog teams to contend with. The Rec Center was approximately a half court gym with ten-foot ceilings. The track and field venue was often flooded or strewn with fresh horse dung or steaming cow pies.
Your book covers your early childhood. Why didn’t you write about your teens or later?
I think the magic was the early years. Teen years are the same everywhere it seems. I did my share of cliché stupid teen stuff but it wasn’t unique.
Did you ever go back to Inuvik or Tuktoyuktuk?
Yes, when I was fourteen and fifteen, I spent the summer working for my dad. I lived in his construction camp in Tuktoyuktuk. For two and a half months both summers, I worked seven days a week, twelve-hours a day for five dollars an hour. Before that I visited him in Inuvik for a couple weeks in the summer and a week around Christmas every year.
After you moved to Canada, did your family become Canadian Citizens?
No, we were Landed Immigrant status. That status allowed us the many protections and benefits of being a citizen without actually being one. My dad and I did not become citizens as we both moved to the states. My mother did eventually become a Canadian Citizen.

Current Writing

You mentioned your other book is a mystery. Can you expand on it at all?

It’s a modern-day mystery steeped in Klondike gold rush history and turn of the century ship wrecks in and around Douglas and Juneau, Alaska. It’s aimed at the youth audience. It’s called Murphy and the Mystery of the Black Skull. The protagonist is a twelve-year-old boy named Murphy who lives with his family. With his dog Hogan, he witnesses a pirate ship in the channel in front of his house. In his pursuit to prove what he saw was real, Murphy and Hogan embark on a perilous quest, pitting themselves against a ruthless gang of thieves.

You mentioned a possible series with the Murphy character. Are you currently writing another story?
Recently my attention has been on the memoir. I intend to return to work on the Murphy mystery in the immediate future. That said I have a basic lay out for the next Murphy book and I have notes on individual scenes.
This seems like a complete departure from a memoir, what got you interested in a mystery aimed at a youth audience?

It started when I met the son of a new friend in Juneau in the mid 2000s. Of course, his name is Murphy and yes, he had a dog named Hogan, a tan and white boxer with a stubby tail. When I first met Murphy, he was ten. He was wearing cowboy boots, no socks, a pair of blue shorts, a red tank top with a cowhide vest and a snorkeling mask, no tube. It was explained to me that on Saturday Murphy got to wear anything he wanted and he picked his wardrobe for that day. The description of that ensemble should give you a clue as to what kind of kid Murphy was. I first started writing about him because he was such a character. I was intending a short story to give to the family. Life has a way of interrupting our best plans but over the years I continued to shape and expand the story until it became a book. I refer to Murphy and Hogan in past tense because in Murphy’s case, he is no longer a child.

What authors influenced you as a child?

Mark Twain definitely, I loved the adventure and the living off the land aspect, especially in Huck Finn. Understanding the deep sarcasm and social commentary didn’t come until the second reading. James Fenimore Cooper, for sure. His depictions of early America and its brave people spoke to me. Robert Louis Stevenson, because who doesn’t like pirates. Farley Mowat, I loved Lost in the Barrens and Gray Seas Under. At one point I had read all of Agatha Christie’s mysteries and all of Zane Gray’s westerns. I read everything I could get my hands on, but those authors were among my favorites.

What is your future vision for your writing career?
First off, that sounds pretty good. Having a writing career that is. I have many grand plans for future projects including continuing the Murphy series, an illustrated children’s book featuring my mother’s work and my version of the great American novel, my life’s epic achievement that has existed for many years but mostly resides in my mind, for now. Ultimately, I plan on plugging along as time allows until I retire, then I’m hoping to augment that with income from my writing. One can dream.

What are you doing now?

You don’t currently live in Atlin, when was the last time you did?

I moved to Whitehorse to go to high school when I was sixteen in 1981. I came home on weekends when I could find a ride and sometimes hitch hiked when the weather was good. I only lived in Atlin fourteen years but it shaped me forever.

Would you ever consider living in Atlin again?
I could see a month or two at a time but never full time. I’m not a city guy but I need my Costco and Home Depot.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy photography and I’m fortunate to be around inspiring subject matter. I collect certain books and ephemera mostly relating to history in North America and dog mushing. My wife and I look forward to exploring more of Canada and Europe in the near future. And I would love to be still long enough to try some gardening.

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