What inspired you to write THE IVORY CARIBOU?
In 2005, I had shoulder replacement surgery. It was almost like having a stroke in that I lost the use of my right arm for a number of months until it healed and I regained my strength. I couldn’t do most of my usual activities, but I could use my left hand to put my right hand on a keyboard. My fingers worked just fine. I’d done a lot of writing over the years, but I’d never written any fiction. I decided to try it. When I did, Anne’s story was right there, waiting to be told.
Your main character, Anne, is 60. What is the purpose of her being this age?
I’m a woman “of a certain age.” I was born in 1941. I like to read, but I got tired of reading about 25-year-old women. It was as if life, romance, and love just stop at age 30 or 35. But I know many women my age who are doing interesting things, including falling in love. An older heroine seemed like a natural.
When and why did you become interested in Inuit culture?
I have a master’s degree in cultural anthropology. I’ve always been interested in other cultures, especially those of people who live in marginal environments. My favorite book is Never in Anger by Jean L. Briggs, which I found in the library when I was in high school. Briggs lived with the Inuit for a year and wrote about a man somewhat like Jack. I spent years thinking about what it would be like for someone caught between two cultures, as he is, not really fitting well in either.
What element of the culture was most surprising to you?
There were many things. I never thought about the importance of keeping clothes dry and the fact that everyone gets wet in the spring when the snow houses start to melt. The importance of eating enough fat to survive was another surprise. I could do a much longer list, but the most interesting to me is the idea of having to maintain an even temper—never showing impatience or anger—and the impact of this on a society.
Have you traveled to the Arctic? How did you research the setting for THE IVORY CARIBOU?
I’ve been as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska (in the summer), but never to the Arctic. I’d love to go to Nunavut, the Inuit territory in Canada, some time. I’ve read many books about the north and did a lot of on-line research. The most fun was that my late husband and I sorted through stacks of old National Geographics in secondhand stores looking for articles about the north. I have an enormous scrapbook filled with clipped articles and photos.
As the author, what did you have in mind as René’s role in the book?
I had a lot of trouble figuring out who René was. I have a friend who strongly dislikes him and thinks he’s a predator. I don’t think so. Yes, he really does seduce Anne, a vulnerable widow, but he never lies to her. Anne was ready to move on from Robby, but she didn’t know it. In a way, you could almost think of Robby as a predator. He loved her and he married her, but she was a trophy wife. He kept her isolated from the world. He hired Carola and Ernesto, and he asked Anne to quit her job. He prevented her from maturing in the way a woman dealing with life usually does. Rene provided her with a safe place to learn about the world as she started “growing up.” In a sense, he was the catalyst who allowed Anne to fall in love with Jack.
THE IVORY CARIBOU is a multi-layered love story. What do you intend the reader take from the story about love?
I guess the first lesson is that love isn’t easy. Anne realizes fairly early how she feels about Jack, but in spite of that, she misses all his signals, as he misses hers. There were a number of potential turning points—at Fujiyama, at the flower market, at the tattoo booth, in Jack’s apartment. But they missed them. Carola’s words ring true—Anne (and maybe us) is too old to play by the rules we had as teenagers. Life demands courage.
Often an author’s main character in some way reflects their life experience. How much of Anne is derived from you?
Anne is really the person I wish I were. She finds her courage and she grows, and surprisingly, I think I’ve grown a little bit with her. Since my husband passed away in 2012, I find that I often say to myself, “Anne wouldn’t be afraid of that.” I’ve made my mantra “Say yes to life.” One part of the book came from my late husband’s life. His father died in 1923 when my husband was a year old. Robbie and Brendan’s story is theirs, although we never found out what his father was doing in those nine missing years.
You have written book reviews, a memoir, a cookbook, trivia books, and several novels. What drives you to write?
When I’m doing it, I’m having fun. When I’m not doing, I thinking about it. Maybe obsession, maybe addiction—whatever, I like it.
What is the best piece of advice you have received as a writer?
Start writing. Everyone can develop as a writer, but not until you have something on paper that you can improve. All writers will tell you that the hardest part of writing is getting your behind in the chair in front of the keyboard.
THE IVORY CARIBOU is the first book in the Anne O’Malley Arctic Adventures. What is next for Anne and Jack?
As part of their extended honeymoon, they’re hired to do an archaeological survey of part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the north slope of Alaska. Their employer, an oil company, wants Jack to write a report saying that there is nothing of archaeological importance in the area that would interfere with drilling for oil. The previous archaeologist disappeared without explanation. When Anne and Jack make a startling discovery, they may disappear too. This book introduces the character Hal, a man who “handles problems” like Jack and Anne. He will be important in the rest of the series (of five books so far) as Anne learns more about life and love than she ever anticipated.