The Ultimate Road Trip.
For anyone who travels in a motor home, or dreams of doing so, the Alaska Highway is an ultimate trip--well over 2,000 miles of adventure into the far northern United States and Canada. The highway, now asphalt-surfaced from one end to the other, is no longer the ordeal it was when it was built by the military in a record eight months and 12 days just after the start of WWII.
Still, to me, as to most Alaskans, the highway was usually just one way of going from point A (Alaska) to point B (the Lower Forty-Eight). So, when I decided to write Dead North, which was to take place along this route, I immediately acquired a motor home of my own and hit the road to do weeks of research, traveling in both directions. It was a luxury to have the time to wander along, taking three weeks each way, and discover much of what the Alaska Highway and its side-trips had to offer.
I took hundreds of photos and pages of notes, and many of the places, people, and events of those trips found their way into the pages of Dead North. An ominous stranger joined the tourists and locals strolling along the main street of Jasper. The Kiskatinaw River Bridge (the only original timber bridge still in use) was the perfect site for a murder. The Sign Forest of Watson Lake (where I located the original sign nailed up by a soldier from Illinois during the construction of the highway and added to by thousands since 1942) provided confusion for a chase. A mud slide at Summit Lake delayed me for hours, then did the same for my characters and allowed a killer to catch up. The incredible peaks and glaciers of the Icefields Parkway of Alberta even made the cover, lifted from one of my photos. Travel and creative tensions melted away at Liard Hot Springs and again at Dawson Peaks Resort, just outside of Teslin, where I pulled in to visit friends, Dave Hett and Carolyn Allen, and breakfast on prize-winning rhubarb pie. But how could I not include them both as settings that were perfect contrasts to dastardly deeds?
On the last trip north, as I sat beside a campfire and watched a rising full moon paint a path of glittering gold across the waters of Kluane Lake, I was reminded that the spirit of the Klondike Gold Rush still lingers in that part of the country, which includes Dawson City, Whitehorse, and Skagway. Though anxious to finish the trip and return to my computer, I honestly couldn't decide which was more appealing: traveling to do research for Dead North, or writing it and providing actual and armchair travelers with a sample of what the Alaska Highway has in store.
Thankfully, I didn't have to make a choice.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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