Monday, April 16, 2012

Midnight Sun Arctic Moon: Lizbeth Meredith interviews Mary Albanese

In her memoir Midnight Sun, Arctic Moon, former Alaskan Mary Albanese recalls her journey as a transplant from upstate New York to Fairbanks, Alaska in the late 70’s. Then, just in her twenties and fresh out of college, Albanese responded to her internal longing to move to Alaska. While teaching appeared to be the most viable option to support herself, she was overlooked for every teaching position she applied for. Guided by her personal ethic that ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try something that’s harder,’ Albanese enrolled as a graduate geology student at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, beginning an adventure that would span ten years and take her to the edge of the map. Mary Albanese will be signing copies of her books at the UAA bookstore on April 23 at 5:00 pm, and will give a 49 Writers Memoir Craft Talk on April 24 at 7:00 pm at Great Harvest Bread Company.

Which came first, your desire to be a writer or your desire to be an Alaskan?

My desire to be an Alaskan hit me when I was about 20 and working on my undergraduate degrees in New York. It was such a strong calling that I couldn't ignore it, and moved to Alaska a few months after I graduated. I think some part of me always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a child. I started writing fairy tales to entertain myself at a very young age. As a young teen I wrote Star Trek stories (again, just for myself, which usually ended up with Spock and Sulu fighting over me) but it didn't occur to me that I might actually become a writer for quite some time. It wasn't until after I left Alaska (after ten years as a geologist) that I pursued writing as a serious profession.

When did you know you would write this book?

I started to write about my Alaska experiences shortly after leaving the state in 1987, but I have to say, that first attempt was absolute drivel. It was so awful that I assumed a book about Alaska just wasn't in me, and I put it aside. It was almost 20 years later that I picked up a pen on an overnight flight and started to write about my Alaska days. Once it started, it came out in a mad rush and I couldn't stop writing -- sitting on my bags at the airport, on the bus, and everywhere else. I finished that first draft in about 3 months, although it took another 4 years before I got a publisher and refined it with successive drafts. I didn't understand at first why I suddenly had such a need to write it, but realized later that my story tumbled onto paper exactly 25 years after the birth of my daughter. Apparently, some kind of internal timer in me just went off. This is what I love about the writing process. I never know what kind of story I'll be writing next, or where the writing muse will take me.

Which was your favorite chapter to write, and why?

With an autobiography, you get to re-live experiences. My wedding was a particularly happy time, so writing that chapter was very gentle on my mind. Buying and restoring our disastrous "Kozy Cabin" on Chena Ridge was one of the lighter memories, and I think came out to be the funniest chapter, so that chapter is probably my favorite. Leaving Alaska was probably the hardest thing I ever did, so that last chapter was not particularly easy to write, although I am pleased with how it came out. 

Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?

I have a pretty standard daily writing routine. I wake up early and go for a 45 minute walk-jog with a tape recorder. Once I empty my mind (non-writing thoughts not allowed), the writing thoughts come to me and I dictate as I go. Then I come home, go upstairs to my "writing tower" to get on my computer, and spend the next 5 or 6 hours typing up what's on my tape recorder, editing as I go. This means that my first draft on paper has already been through one self-editing process. More editing will come later, but at least, it is already on its way.  

What books have influenced your writing?

I was really inspired by Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness, by Robert Specht and Anne Purdy. I read it just before I moved to Alaska and it solidified my drive to go north. Years later, I met Anne Purdy while I was working on the gold district out in Chicken, Alaska. Like a lot of Alaskans, she was an amazing person with a heart as big as the state.

I bawled my eyes out reading Out Of Africa by Karen Blixen. I really understood her pain to have to leave a place she loved so much, and I so appreciated her candid account. I have tried to approach writing Midnight Sun, Arctic Moon with the same candid spirit, to give people who have never been to Alaska a taste of what I felt and loved about it. 

I like your book trailer that's linked to your website. What other ways are you promoting your book?

I have a five-week book tour coming up in April through early May starting in San Francisco, Seattle, and then up to Alaska (including Ketchikan, Juneau, Haines, Anchorage, Talkeetna, Fairbanks). One of my speaking engagements is hosted by 49Writers in Anchorage (April 24, 7 - 9 pm, at the Great Harvest Bread Co.). My book tour schedule is posted on my website at: www.MidnightSunArcticMoon.com  I am so glad the bulk of the tour will be in Alaska, where my book belongs. They say you can't go home again, but I have a feeling that this book tour will be a really wonderful homecoming experience for me, and one that will prove that saying wrong.

I also have a second video trailer that will be released on April 1st, the day the book officially becomes available. I am really looking forward to releasing that.

What's your next project?

Seven Horses and a Cow is the fictional story of a band of runaway girls in the early 1900s that can't get into Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, so they become cowgirls anyway and form their own travelling rodeo show. I am thoroughly enjoying writing about this band of lively characters with their antics and tribulations as they take their show throughout the little towns of the old west.

3 comments:

Susan Sommer said...

Thanks for this interview, Liz! I'm planning to attend her craft talk on the 24th and now I have a little more insight into her writing life.

Anonymous said...

I thank Mary Albanese for what is now my favorite new quote:

"If at first you don’t succeed, try something that’s harder."
TH

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

I enjoyed this interview. Thank you Lizbeth, and congrats to Mary Albanese!