Last week I visited story-teller Lela Markham in her home in Alaska, and today she’s returning the favour. We’ll be exchanging more visits in the future, but first, I have some questions to ask her.
Lela Markham on Moose Creek, off the Steese Highway, in Alaska. The pipe behind her is part of the Davidson Ditch, an aquaduct system built to provide water to the gold dredges near Fairbanks Alaska.
Lela – thank you so much for having me last week, and letting me ramble on. Now it’s my turn! I only know you through your writings. Would you care to provide a more complete picture of yourself – your home, family, what you do for a living?
Lela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan writer and blogger, born and raised in and around Fairbanks, but her family has lived in various parts of Alaska since the 1930s and witnessed the hard times before Statehood, the Good Friday Earthquake, the Fairbanks Flood of 1964, the construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline and the multiple serial killers of the area.
She and her husband, an electrician, live in Fairbanks and are building a cabin in sight of the Davidson Ditch to get away from what her husband calls the hustle and bustle of modern life. They have two children – their daughter Ivyl is a traveling bluegrass musician and artist and their son Kyle is a high school student who loves robotics and swimming.
Lela started out to be a journalist, but the need to pay bills intervened, so she fell into office work. She’s currently for the State of Alaska. As an ardent Alaska citizen she passionately desires her home state to deliver on the opportunities offered by its vast resources and the independent spirit of its people.
Raised by voracious readers where winters encourage indoor activities, she always told stories. She wrote her first short story when she was 12 and has had a book of one sort or another in the works ever since.
Lela – you discuss a great variety of topics on your blog, Christianity / atheism / global warming / politics, and everything in between; and you say exactly what you think. What is the topic occupying your mind at this moment?
My Christian faith is the center of my thoughts right now. It always is there behind every post I write, even if it’s on global warming or political philosophy, but right now I feel moved to write about faith itself. Next week the topic could change, but the gospel is always behind what I write.
l’ve just read one of your recent blogs on the subject – you write with such clarity and sensitivity!
Something you have said in the past makes me think you enjoy the wilderness and travelling. Care to describe a place you’ve visited, and what it meant to you? (And please send me a picture or two?)
We do enjoy traveling, but Alaska is a long way from almost everywhere else, so there’s no greater or more convenient adventure than the Alaskan wilderness that is just outside of Fairbanks. We have all kinds of favorite places. There’s a small shelf – just big enough for a tent and a small camp above a boulder on the Copper River just outside of Chitina where we use landing nets on 8-foot-long aluminum poles to catch Copper River red salmon.
There’s Rainbow Ridge in Isabel Pass along the Richardson Highway where we climb up scree slopes into the clouds. There’s Angel Rocks tors off Chena Hot Springs Road just outside of Fairbanks.
There’s Chena Hot Springs Resort nearby where we can soak in the hot springs pools after hiking or outside at 40 below zero.
Right now, our most frequented favorite is Moose Creek off the Steese Highway, where we staked 18 acres for a remote cabin site. It’s not as pretty or dramatic as some of the other places we hike, but it’s ours with acres of blueberries, an active creek at the bottom of the property, a ephemeral stream that runs from the top property line to the creek Adjacent to the property is the Davidson Ditch, a system of aquaduct and piping that supplied the Fox gold fields with water for the dredges from the 1920s to 1967. We intend to build a cabin. A forest fire passed through about eight years ago, so there’s a jumble of trees fallen on the ground in a giant pickup sticks arrangement and a bunch of trees just standing dead, so I call it the Charcoal Forest. Fire is a natural process in Alaska’s boreal forest, so trees are coming back and the ephemeral saved a stand of trees near the top of the property. September is absolutely gorgeous when the cranberries leaves are turning scarlet.
We both joined the Authonomy peer-review website in 2011, and you have been such a good supporter of my book, Breath of Africa. How has the site affected the progress of your books – which I strongly relate to – and what keeps you going back to Authonomy?
I joined Authonomy because I wanted feedback from someone who didn’t love me – my alpha readers were all family and friends. It was a good choice. I ended up breaking up a book that was much too large into a series and introducing the back story to increase the action while not changing the main story of the redemption of two people through the faith of individuals.
My heart warms whenever I see that wonderful avatar of yours. I’ve been mad about horses all my life, but I also love dogs. Have you always had dogs, and what roles have animals played in your life?
Alaskans are dog-mad! I’ve heard there are more dogs in Alaska than there are people, but that’s an unconfirmed statistic. There are lots of dog mushers who have huge teams, but that’s a lot of work and you can’t have neighbors because the howling will drive them to murder. I’m personally a cat person, but cats are absolutely useless in the wilderness. Dogs can pull a travois, carry backpacks, smell a bear long before they get to you, and lend their body heat to warm up the tent at night.
Our family dog when I was a child was a cocker-Samoyed mix whose job it was to lead us out of the woods after my mother would get us lost berry picking. Mom grew up on the plains of North Dakota where you can literally see three-days walk in all directions, so she had absolutely no sense of direction when she was in trees … but she insisted upon going into the woods and taking us with her. We’d say “find the car” and the dog would head for the highway. Good times!
Our black Labrador, Cana, was our first baby. My husband and I hand raised her from a month-old orphan. She grew to be 90 pounds. She hunted, fished and hiked with us and once kept my husband from being sucked downstream when he fell in the Copper River. Most people do not come out of the Copper River once they fall in. She was very smart and sensitive to our moods because we were the only “pack” she knew.
Our Labsky (lab-husky mix) is an alpha who thinks she should be in charge of our pack. A frustrating dog! Black Dog once refused to take a Parks Service marked trail across a glacier. A moulin (a glacier melt tube) had formed under the trail, but was still covered with a layer of ice. We might have fallen to our deaths if she hadn’t refused the path across the death trap. On the other hand, she cannot leave porcupines alone, so she’s made us experts at pulling quills. We vacillate between proclaiming her a hero and wanting to leave her on an ice floe.
The yellow Labrador (Sunrise, my avatar) is a very happy mush-head. She’s always up for an adventure. She’ll ford any river, climb any mountain, and absolutely proves that dogs are descended from wolves who were domesticated by the belly rub.
We’ve also had five cats with five different personalities.
Naturally, these animals have influenced my writing and resulted in the inclusion of sentient animals in the Daermad Cycle.
What are your plans for the future of your books?
I am on my final edit of The Willow Branch, which is the first book in the Daermad Cycle, a Christian fantasy series about a land called Rune, populated by Celtic humans and Runic elves who hold ancient animosity against one another, but who are threatened by a much greater enemy, which will require them to work together. The first book is done (except I can’t leave it alone) and the other books are partially complete. I’m starting to submit to agents and publishers and learning how much fun that isn’t. I’m intending to self-publish this winter. If I go that route, I expect for the second book in the series (Forest of Darkness) to come out in 2016.
What books have most influenced your life, or your writing?
The Bible has definitely most influenced my life and, to a large degree, my writing. Not only do you find the words of life within its covers, there are so many stories that depict human nature at its most raw that it’s a marvelous resource.
I grew up in a family of readers in a state where the winters encourage you to read, so I’ve read a lot of books. The poetry of Robert Service and Jack London’s stories were family favorites when I was little. Lewis and Tolkien were influences. Katharine Kerr’s Deverry series, Stephen Lawhead’s Arthurian cycle, Rosemary Sutcliff and Morgan Llewellyn were all strong influences for the Daermad Cycle, but I also love mysteries, thrillers and action adventurers.
Music plays a huge unheard role in my writing. Clannad/Enya, Gaelic Storm, Flogging Molly, and the Chieftains help me write Celtic fantasy, for example.
I find that television and movies also provide a great source of scenery for my books. I love to take a scene from a movie and describe its atmosphere reimagined in my world. Scenes
What would your perfect day be like?
Wow … a perfect day? I can think of a lot of “perfect” days. To choose one ….
I used to think there was nothing more perfect than a morning cup of coffee on a beach in Maui watching the sun rise. (I’ve been there too, Lela – it’s an awesome place!)
Pretty much, though, I would consider it a perfect day to wake up to nature just outside the windows, able to walk out onto the porch without seeing a neighbor, maybe take some photos of wildlife, take some notes about my surroundings and listen to birds talking to one another. The people around me would have a sense of humor and be comfortable with seeing what’s on the other side of the nearest hill and not be concerned with their smart phones or the time on the clock. We’d eat meals when we were hungry and be satisfied with water from the stream. We’d curl up by the woodstove in the evening with good books or writing and sleep that night on a feature bed covered with a patchwork quilt.
Some elements would change if I were in Maui or Europe or Africa, but the basic lines of rustic comfort and no pressure of time or modern technology would be part of it.
The Willow Branch – Book 1 of the Daermad Cycle (sample chapters)
A healer must mend a fractured kingdom and bring two enemy races together before a greater enemy destroys them both.
Fate took Prince Maryn by surprise, leaving Celdrya to tear itself apart. A century later an army amasses against the warring remains of the kingdom as prophesy sends a half-elven healer on a journey to find the nameless True King. Padraig lacks the power to put the True King on the throne, yet compelled by forces greater than himself, Padraig contends with dark mages, Celtic goddesses, human factions and the ancient animosities of two peoples while seeking a myth. With all that distraction, a man might meet the True King and not recognize him.
A Well in Emmaus – Book 1 of the End of the World as We Know It series, is a work in progress. What happens when the world as we knew it spins out of control? The people of Emmaus, Kansas will find out. When a small town in the American Midwest faces deprivation following a terrorist attack on national infrastructure, the people must decide what is truly important to them. Does liberty mean so much when food is a precious commodity? Are our neighbors really beloved when our children are dying? We learn who we really are in times of crisis!