The Power of a Dream with Trisha Sugarek
By MJ Moores
Writing is as much a part of Trisha’s being as drawing breath is to the average person. Her many accolades and achievements not only bring her a greater perspective on the craft, but inspire her to share this passion with others as a freelance writer, blogger, and videographer.
IM: It is my pleasure to chat with Trisha today about the launch of her new release Song of the Yukon. Welcome.
TS: Thanks for the opportunity, MJ.
IM: In your last Indyfest Interview, you briefly touched on how the lives of the many women in your life influence your writing. How does this muse manifest itself in your new saga Song of the Yukon?
TS: Yes, the muse for this story was my auntie LaVerne, who did indeed run away to Alaska and homestead. Alaska was her muse. She wanted to follow in poet Robert Service’s steps as she wrote her music. As I mention later, I grew up being told as many stories about my mother and her siblings as I did fairy tales. There was no TV (hard to believe, isn’t it?) so there was a lot of storytelling in our house.
IM: Wow, I couldn’t imagine doing something like that even today! Would you, personally, ever want to live off the grid—and in Alaska?
TS: Ha! If I was even twenty years younger, I would be gone! I think solar power would power up my computer and wi-fi. lol
IM: You mentioned Song of the Yukon is based off your aunt’s experiences. How much of the book is actually true? What’s been embellished?
TS: If I were to guess, at least 85 percent is true. She ran away to Alaska, met and married Milo Robbins, and lived there for around 25 years. I remember the first time I ever met my aunt. I must have been ten or twelve when they came to Seattle for a visit. She was raw-boned, no frills, no makeup, thin as a rail. Dressed almost like a man, very homespun. But pretty, and kind to this shy teenager. Milo was there too and he was (as in the book) bigger than life; six foot five and about 275 pounds. I remember distinctly seeing a 45-speed vinyl record with a title, North to Alaska, with my aunt’s name printed there as the composer.
The adventures and way of life in Alaska are 100 percent true. The friendship with Charlie was embellished. The indigenous people who “arrived” in my story are all fictitious. When LaVerne travels to Tanana (a real village in the outback) from Fairbanks, looking for her homestead, Black-eyed Joe just appears in the village store. I was as surprised as LaVerne. The folklore and Athabascan language are all true. This book was heavily researched. How to train dogs for a sled dog team, how to build a sled out of wood, how to build a cabin… all accurate.
IM: Astounding. To be able to connect with history like this really pushes the boundaries of fiction. Could you explain a little about your process for getting inside the minds of your characters, especially real ones, like your Aunt LaVerne?
TS: My six loyal handmaidens: What, Why, When, How, Where, Who. These are the questions I ask. Frequently, new characters will just show up (many authors that I’ve interviewed have said the same thing) and they always fit and they always enhance my tale. Black-eyed Joe, Elk-Tail, Edna, the Swensons, Ma Powers, I could go on and on. Getting inside my Aunt LaVerne’s head was easy. You see, I grew up with my mother telling me all these tales about herself and her sisters. Here’s a sample.
Excerpt from SONG of the YUKON:
It took a moment for Ivah to take in the fact that LaVerne was dressed and carrying a bag and her beloved guitar.
“What the h-e-double toothpicks is going on? You’ve got a coat on˗˗what’s in the duffle? What are you talking about?”
“I’m leaving˗˗for the Yukon. Tonight.”
“Yukon? You mean in Alaska!? Are you nuts? Go back to bed. You’re sleep walking…or I am.”
Suddenly LaVerne pinched Ivah’s arm.
“Oww! What’d you do that for?”
“To prove to you that you’re awake. I’m not sleep walking and neither are you. I just wanted to say goodbye.”
“Goodb…?” Ivah turned to her other sister and shook her shoulder. “Vi, wake up this instant! LaVerne thinks she’s running away. Wake up!
Violet rolled over and glared up at her two very noisy sisters.
“What the devil is going on? LaVerne, why do you have your coat on?”
“She’s leaving, you slug. Wake up, I need your help.”
“Vernie, take your coat off and go back to bed. You’re not going anywhere. You’re the baby, remember?”
“Shut up, Vi, and listen.” Ivah ordered.
“Who are you telling to shut up? You’re not the boss of me.”
“Please…” LaVerne whispered. “You’re going to wake up Mama. Maybe I better just go.”
“No, no!” Ivah yelled in a sotto whisper. She poked Violet with her elbow again.
“Oww˗˗stop poking me!”
“Vi, it’s obvious LaVerne has a problem. Let’s be good sisters and hear her out. What’s going on squirt?” Ivah patted the bed next to her. “Sit down, honey, and tell us all about it.”
“Yeah, spill it so we can go back to sleep.” Violet sighed. “It can’t be that bad, Vernie.”
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I’ve read gobs on Alaska and that’s the place for me. You can chase your dreams there, be whoever you want to be˗˗no one telling you what to do and what not to do…”
IM: Can you tell me about the most difficult scene for you to write and how you were able to bring it to life on the page?
TS: It was painful to write about Charlie’s unrequited love. I liked her; she was a good friend, and I didn’t enjoy her pain. At first, I didn’t know whether my heroine would choose Charlie or Milo. I let LaVerne choose.
Excerpt from SONG of the YUKON:
When Milo had come outside he hadn’t noticed Charlie had been towing a second sled behind hers. It was not unusual for a musher to have two sleds behind the dog team, especially for larger jobs like hauling firewood or the meat from big game.
Milo stopped at the bottom of the stairs. The second sled looked new and was festooned with ribbons and shells. LaVerne stared at the sled, then at Charlie, then glanced back at Milo.
“Well, say something!” Charlie chortled. “Do you like it? I made it for you˗˗and Milo˗˗for your future dog team. It’s made of hickory, mostly, and should last you for years.”
Milo silently turned and, walking back up the steps to the porch, returned to the cabin.
LaVerne’s eyes filled with tears at the pain she was about to inflict on her friend. “Oh, Charlie, I don’t know what to say…”
“You don’t have to thank me. It was such fun building it for you.”
“And I love it but˗˗it just that˗˗well˗˗Milo˗˗he…”
“Milo what?” Charlie asked nonplussed.
“He built me a sled as a wedding present; it’s in the barn.”
Charlie’s face suffused with an embarrassed blush, “I see.” She fled back to her own sled and lifted the anchor that kept her dogs in place. She regarded Vernie with a deep agony in her eyes, “How could I have been so stupid? Of course we would think of the same gift, something you would love and can use. I’m sorry. Of course you can’t accept mine. I’ll see you later.” And with that she released the brake and yelled at her team, “Hike! Hike! For Chrissakes, go!” She screamed at her team.
IM: That is heartbreaking. The inner turmoil in a moment like that is something many readers can empathize with. In contrast, do you have a favourite moment that makes your soul sing or your heart laugh?
TS: Always, it’s about the animals for me. So I have to say, it was, Howler, Tukoni, Moon, and the puppies that made me laugh and my soul glow. At first, I was going to have the Grizzly take one of the dogs, but I couldn’t stand the thought. (I’m so sappy.) Then, I thought, “Oh wait! I’ve got goats; the bear can kill one of them.”
Excerpt from SONG of the YUKON:
LaVerne bundled up in her coat and boots sat on the porch letting the wolf become accustomed to seeing her and having her around.
This morning there was a major breakthrough. LaVerne had gone into the chicken enclosure with grain to feed the chickens and to collect the eggs. When she stepped out of the coop the wolf was standing in the clearing about four feet from the tree line. Ears pitched forward she stood waiting.
“Well, hello, girl,” LaVerne spoke in the quiet soothing voice she always used when around the animal. “Are you hungry for breakfast?”
Turning her back on the wolf, she walked to the cabin. Leaving the door open she collected a portion of meat and went back outside. The wolf had not moved.
“We need to give you a name, girl,” she said. “How do you like Tukoni? It’s the Athabascan word for wolf. What do you think of it?” As she spoke, she walked slowly half way across the clearing and emptied the bowl of meat chunks into the snow.
The wolf watched but did not run away. “Come on, Tukoni, you have to come and get it if you want to eat,” LaVerne told her, then turned away and walked to the cabin. This time, she sat on the steps and silently watched the wolf.
Howie ran out of the trees and approached his mate. With a snarl, Tukoni ran to the food and began to wolf it down. Howie, good natured as always, ran past her and up the stairs to LaVerne’s side. Sitting at her side, tail thumping the boards, he seemed to be telling LaVerne how proud he was of his mate.
“Yes, I know, Howie. She is doing very well.” LaVerne draped her arm across her dog and rubbed his neck. “If you two talk, you must tell her that she and her pups are safe here, will you?”
Howie licked her face.
IM: What a heartwarming moment. Thank you for sharing! Have you written anything else about the Guyer family?
TS: Yes. I wrote Wild Violets, about my mother in the 1920s in San Francisco. She was a flapper, which meant she worked all day and danced all night. She was on a semi-professional women’s basketball team, owned her own speakeasy (later to be a legit bar and restaurant) and played poker and drank whiskey with a Catholic Bishop. All true!
The first thing I wrote about my mother and her sisters was a full length play, The Guyer Girls. The fiction spun off from that.
IM: Wow! You must be so proud to be inspired to write their stories. I can’t thank you enough for joining me today to talk about Song of the Yukon and the amazing women in your family. I wish you the best as you move forward with this, and many other projects.
TS: Thank you, MJ, and IndyFest, for supporting my work.
You can buy Song of the Yukon, in paperback or E-book at www.amazon.com. Find out more about Trisha Sugarek (and other like-minded writers) on her website www.writeratplay.com, and be sure to check out her Motivational Moments…for Writers! series on YouTube for a little inspiration when you need it most www.youtube.com/channel/UCHsSJDY1TQiR2ubf9u9ItOQ.