Twenty-some years I started researching and writing the Anna Bortel Teacher stories. In 2011, ‘A’ is for Alaska: Teacher to the Territory was released. A month ago, January 2013, ‘A’ is for Anaktuvuk: Teacher to the Nunamiut Eskimos arrived on my doorstep.
Over the course of these writing years, I returned to the Alaska settings: To Tanana, Alaska a handful of times and Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska once. I worked alongside Anna on countless occasions, both in Denver, CO and in Newberg, OR.
The books had starts and stops, fits, re-boots, and sudden-death.
I did not write with lightening speed of a creative muse. I plodded.
My desire was that the history of the moment be recorded and not lost, while at the same time, the reader turned the pages as if they were fiction.
Most books don’t just-happen.
Most books don’t happen over-night.
Most books don’t happen with a stroke of genius and “I couldn’t put down my pen.”
Most books are like slow and steady crock-pots.
I recently read these non-fiction narrative books:
Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb.
Issac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in Historyby Erik Larson.
The Last Season by Eric Blehm.
These authors weren’t trying to giddily set a record for the fastest-book-written. No. They soberly met the challenge of doing a technical climb up a “Mt. Everest” of research. They spent years of tedious and careful research gathering, sorting and sifting facts, minutia, observations, speculations, and conversations. Not only was their research done in archives, libraries, and offices with print, photos, and interviews, but at the physical locations of their stories – where they could feel, walk, smell what it was like for their characters.
As if the stories aren’t captivating enough, in the back of each book is a lengthy documentation of phrases, interviews, interaction, and tidbits that were painstakingly woven together in a sequence that makes their non-fiction read like fiction.
For the grand finale of their print and bound accomplishment , the authors don’t pound their chests and strut in pride; they offer up acknowledgement for the people who assisted them in their research and writing marathon; not only with materials, permissions, and editing; but most likely with cups of coffee, help with daily housekeeping tasks, neck rubs, and some atta-boys. Most likely they used any strutting energy to crawl to the finish line.
These authors are my role models and mentors. They are the ones whose feet I’d like to sit and learn.