What inspired you to write QUEST FOR THE IVORY CARIBOU?
In 2005, I had shoulder replacement surgery. I lost the use of my right arm for a number of months and 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 that 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. And, bonus, she could tell younger women that life doesn’t stop at 40 or 50.
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 anthropology book is Never in Anger by Jean L. Briggs. 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 QUEST 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 online research. The most fun was that my 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.
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 Bill 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 Bill’s father was doing in those nine missing years.
You’ve 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.
QUEST FOR THE IVORY CARIBOU is the first book in the Anne O’Malley Adventures. What is next for Anne and Jack?
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.