Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Writing a book you love

Having published a dozen books, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t love them all equally.

Don’t get me wrong. I worked hard on each of my books, and I’m not ashamed of any of them. But some are real labors of love, including a book I’m touring this week—a book I’m not yet finished writing.

I know it’s odd to tour a book that’s not finished. After all, the point of a book tour is to sell books, and you can’t sell a half-finished book. (Or can you? Dickens did.) But when the National Park Service asked me to do a program on Kate Carmack, the subject of my forthcoming book Wealth Woman, I scheduled the program into a final research trip, lining up presentations at several museums along the way.

I’ll get a few comped travel expenses. I’ll sell a few copies of titles that are already in print. But mostly, the reward for this particular journey—and for this book—is setting Kate’s story straight. It’s been a long time coming.

Kate Carmack, first called Shaaw Tláa, was once known as the richest Indian woman in America. She claimed to have made the discovery of a lifetime, Klondike gold. But when she’s mentioned at all in writing about the Klondike, it’s as a difficult woman, a drunkard who gave her husband nothing but trouble. “After reading about her, who could blame a man for shedding her!” wrote an editor to George Carmack’s biographer.

As it turns out, nothing could be further than the truth. Though cheated out of her wealth, Kate defied convention and proved that defeat need not follow loss. The more I learned of her, the more passionate I became about her story, and the more I knew it had to be told.

The more I learned, the more I also realized the overwhelming extent to which the prevailing Klondike narratives glorify individualism and colonialism. As it turns out, Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Last Great Race for Gold will be the first authentic rendering of the gold rush from the perspective of those who were there first, the Natives of Alaska and the First Nations of Canada. 

My passion for Kate’s story comes from thirty-four years of living and traveling in Alaska and the Yukon, including villages where I was the outsider. I want silenced voices to be heard. I want fresh perspectives on familiar history. Though not yet fully birthed as a book, Kate’s is already a story I love.

You can read a chapter from Wealth Woman in draft here.