Erma Odrach is the author of Alaska or Bust, a collection of short stories about one of the world’s last frontiers–Alaska and the Yukon. I admit I went through an Alaska phase after reading Erma’s book and binged on Alaska reality shows till it was past my bedtime. Living off the grid always appealed to me, but it takes a certain type of person to thrive in Alaska and the Yukon. Erma used to live there herself and I wanted to know all about it. She was kind enough to tell us more about her fascinating life and work. Read on!
1. When did you first get the idea to put together Alaska or Bust?
I lived in the Yukon/Alaska region in the 1980’s, and though I’ve traveled many places since, the North has always held a special place in my heart. I often found myself thinking back on the people, the land, the history – it all had a great impact on me.
2. Why did you move to the Yukon? You feature several cities, towns. In which did you live? How long did you live there?
I was lured by the remoteness, the isolation of the far North. Alaska and the Yukon is a shared region both historically and geographically. The distances between the towns is vast; for example, to drive from Whitehorse to Fairbanks is 590 miles, and to drive from Fairbanks to Anchorage is 430 miles. And in between there’s nothing but wilderness. I lived outside of Whitehorse for about 3 years.
3. Which story did you write first? What inspired you to write it?
The story I wrote first was ‘Luke’s Libido’; he was a real guy that I became intrigued with after hearing much gossip surrounding his libido. He worked in the men’s section of a shop in Fairbanks and his sales were through the roof. It was said it was because of his libido. Though I met him and never picked up on anything ‘extraordinary’, the gossip was enough to prompt me to write a story about him. I had fun with it.
4. What are some of the challenges of living in that part of the world?
It’s a world of extremes – up to 80 degrees in the summer, – 40 degrees in the winter; 24 hours of sunlight in summertime, in wintertime, dark much of the time. It’s off the beaten path and it’s easy to lose one’s mind, not to mention drink too much beer.
5. What are the rewards?
The pristine rivers and lakes, the mountains, the untouched forests, the wildlife, the overall ruggedness and beauty of it all.
6. There are many colorful characters in your stories who are based on real people. Do these people know you’ve written about them? How do/would they feel about it?
No, none of them know, except for Marcel, who appears in some of the stories. In one of them, however, he made me change his name (something about the piece made him nervous). Marcel still lives in Whitehorse, but spends much time “outside”, as they call it. I don’t think any of the other characters would mind if they knew – it’s all in a rather positive light.
7. What is your family background? How does it inform your writing?
My father was from Pinsk, Belarus and my mother from Gdansk, Poland – they immigrated to Canada. My father was a writer who wrote in Ukrainian. His style is unadorned and deceptively simple; it had a great influence on me.
8. You’ve translated your father’s work. What is his book about?
My father, Theodore Odrach, focuses mostly on stories from WWII, about events and people he encountered. He wrote both novels and short stories. Wave of Terror (Chicago Review Press, 2008) is his first novel to appear in English. It is about life under Stalinist occupation of then Eastern Poland at the start of WWII.
Publishers Weekly, 2008, “Odrach’s delightfully sardonic novel about Stalinist occupation … is rich with history, horror and comedy.”
Times Literary Supplement, 2008, Sam Munson, “Theodore Odrach is that rare thing, a political novelist who is also an artist of the first rank.”
9. What is the biggest challenge you face marketing your book on the internet?
Everything is a challenge for me! That’s why I came to you, Christa! There are so many ineffective/scam sites offering promo, one can go crazy. I heard your name here and there through some reputable blogs (one of them being JeriWB) and decided to contact you. My sales are on the up and it’s much easier to pick up on momentum than start from scratch. You’ve been a great help! No illusions – it’s tough out there and the market, including Amazon, is overwhelmed.
10. What are you working on right now? When can we expect a new book from you?
I’m working on a novel, which focuses on a street called Bank Street, and it’s all about the people that live there. Everyone on Bank Street is up to something, and they all exist(ed), though mostly in a vague, abstract sort of way. They do a lot of oddball things – they drink way too much, hoard cats, bootleg, even kill. The book, though serious, also has considerable humor. It’s due out next year sometime.
Thanks for the interview, Christa!
Thanks so much to Erma Odrach for satisfying my curiosity.
Find Erma Odrach
Read Alaska or Bust
Alaska or Bust and Other Stories takes the reader on a sub-arctic journey, where the landscape is not only larger-than-life but where people live life on the edge – Giorgio, an Italian tourist cycling up the Alaska Highway, gets mauled by a bear; Chuck, a street-wise city dog, becomes lost in the wilds of Alaska; a vaudeville performer in Dawson City amuses her audiences with her unbelievably big nose. Some of the stories are real, some of them are only partly real. With a wide spectrum of humorous and serious themes, Alaska or Bust puts you in the heart of a vast unspoiled, wilderness; it puts you in the heart of the Last Frontier. Buy on Amazon.
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