Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Joanne Sundell on How I’m trying to find my Young Adult audience and get them reading!

My latest release, Arctic Storm, Book One, Watch Eyes Trilogy (Five Star Publishing, 2014), is the tale of 13-year-old Anya and her quest to save her pack of Siberian huskies against great danger in the spirit world. Set in 1908 Alaska, Anya battles dark forces in a landscape almost as dangerous as her enemies. A young Chukchi shaman, Anya is a medium, able to pass between the spirit world and the human world. Joining forces with a 16-year-old seafarer, Rune, Anya embarks on a deadly journey, determined to do anything to save her dogs from the dark forces threatening their existence. 

While this is a work of fiction, it is based in fact … historical fact.

I found my young adult, coming of age story when I looked back in history to unearth the origins of the Siberian husky.  In years past, I’ve written historical romance with my heroines seventeen or older.  Today some of my novels might be considered young adult crossover, but I never thought about my fiction audience before, in terms of age, per se.  I did my research.  Found my story in that research.  Then, let the characters develop as fact and fiction unfolded.   

That is precisely what happened when I began to undertake the writing of Watch Eyes Trilogy.  No one was more surprised than me when I found that my heroine was thirteen and my hero, sixteen—the human ones, that is.  The dogs are key to this story but then so are their young human guardians, Anya and Rune.  I didn’t find my young characters, but they sure found me in the mist and magic of times long forgotten.   My characters also “found me” in the books and films I’ve enjoyed, including Harry Potter, the Twilight series, and the Hunger Games.

The mist and magic in these stories sparked my imagination and opened up any possible “port-keys” in this grandma’s thinking, to allow me to enjoy the literary ride through page after page, reel after reel.  When I began writing Arctic Storm, the spirit of these captivating stories for young people stayed fixed in my heart and mind.  It was this pulse I wanted to strike … this reach-out to young adult readers … this note in history where the lines between fantasy and fiction become blurred … just enough to hook you on history and believe the impossible is, in fact, possible.

Call of the Wild meets Brother Bear in this epic tale of adventure, endurance and young love - a heroic journey tested against America’s last frontier. 


Here is what PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY had to say about Arctic Storm:  “Sundell’s novel evokes the atmosphere of the early 20th century frontier, reminiscent at times of Jack London’s work.  Blending historical and fantasy fiction is no easy feat, but Sundell captures her reader’s interest with appropriate period details and a new take on common fantasy tropes.  This is a refreshing story that neatly fits within the genre while also exploring new ground.”

HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY said the following:  “The plot revolves around the first race, in 1908, which pitted stocky Eskimo ‘malamutes’ against the smaller Siberian huskies, brought into Alaska, in the 19th century, by Russian traders.  In 1908 and 1909 the 408 mile race from Nome to Candle and back was won by malamute teams, but in 1910 the ‘Sibiriskiy haskis’ triumphed, and this historical tidbit has the makings of a fascinating sequel to this delightful book.”


There is a well-drawn, respected line between credibility and the supernatural; not easily crossed.  But … the lines of possibility that exist in between surely can.  Books are a powerful and safe place to explore this possibility.  This is my purpose in Watch Eyes Trilogy, not only to share the human struggle for life and love in such a rugged land, but also to explore the spirit world that might exist in mist and magic, beyond ours.  Any telling of the factual, heroic journey of the Siberian husky to survive is impossible to tell, without this accompanying mystical exploration.  Young or old, books provide an opportunity to see outside ourselves and break through barriers that might keep us from learning and finding our own truth.

Anything is possible . . . when you open a book.

There is a dark side to the history of the Siberian husky and when I discovered the details of the horror visited upon the Chukchi people and their dogs in the wake of Communist collectivization and industrialization, essentially erasing thousands of years of careful breeding and wiping out the Siberian husky in Russia for the next eighty years, I couldn’t find my PC fast enough to begin the telling!  The young breeders of the Chukchi dog and the young pioneers on the Alaska frontier in the early 20th century are heroes in history who struggled valiantly to save this unique breed.  I would love young people today to learn of their forbearers. 


Titles that might relate to Watch Eyes Trilogy and interest students are:

Gold Rush Dogs by Claire Rudolf Murphy and Jane G. Haigh

Call of the Wild by Jack London

White Fang by Jack London

All Alaska Sweepstakes: History of the Great Dog Race by Helen Hegener

The most famous Chukchi writer is Yuri Rytkheu.  His works are primarily in Russian and include:

The Chukchi Bible

A Dream in Polar Fog


QUESTIONS to consider for students, after the reading of Arctic Storm

Where did the Siberian husky originate?

How old is the breed?

What makes the Siberian husky different from other husky breeds?

Who are the Chukchi people?

Why was it so important for the Chukchi dog, the Siberian husky, to escape Russia?

What is a shaman?

What is a medium?

What do you know about Viking mythology?

What was life like in Nome during Gold Rush days?

How did people survive the severe climate, the lawlessness, and the isolation of the Arctic West—America’s last frontier?

How hard was it for young people, growing up in Siberia and Alaska during this time?  What were their struggles?  How did they survive such a violent, often hostile, and always isolated frontier?

Could young people from two completely different cultures, come together to find happiness and love during such a difficult and unhappy time?

What do the history books tell us?

Though my career began as a nurse, I turned to the world of writing due to my love for literature, especially Jane Eyre and “all things Jane Austen.”  Trying my own hand at writing historical romance, I’ve had six published novels in the genre, to date.  After the death of my last Siberian husky, Xander, I researched the breed and uncovered a dark history no one seems to talk about.  This secret became the inspiration for Watch Eyes Trilogy.

I thank everyone at MAD ABOUT MIDDLE GRADE HISTORY for allowing me this opportunity to guest blog!

Husky Hugs, 

If you wish, you may find me and my books here:

No comments:

Post a Comment