The Ice Master Q & A

Why this story and how did you become interested in it?

Because I had recently graduated from the American Film Institute, my mind was in movies. I was searching for ideas for a screenplay and I was glancing through the TV schedule and read about a documentary described as "Deadly Arctic Expedition." Immediately, I was intrigued. I love that kind of story — filled with drama, adventure, edge-of-your-seat action! So I taped the show, promptly forgot about it, and stumbled across the tape again a month or two later. I watched it and immediately fell in love with the idea.

Then I did as I always do with stories or topics I am interested in — I tried to find out everything I could about the subject. I read an account by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, in which he mentioned the ship Karluk only as a footnote to his discovery of the three last uncharted islands of Canada. But what about that ship? I wondered. What happened to those men he left behind? And the woman? And her two little girls?

And so I began to research, and I couldn't believe it when I discovered that there were only two accounts written about the expedition — both first-person narratives, and both then out of print. Someone must write this story, which was all I could think at the time. But how to write it? As a screenplay or as a book? I'd never written a book before, but somehow the story seemed to demand it.

 

Am I to understand from the Epilogue that you ended up with the relics from the eBay auction? Where had they been for 75 years? Have you been back to Scotland to return the remains?

Yes, I did acquire a jawbone that is believed to belong to Sandy Anderson from the expedition. The people from whom I purchased it tried to discover where it has been for the last 75 years, but no one seems to know. The most we could discover is that the jawbone and the other relics were housed in a museum in Chicago years ago. In November 2000, I met with Sandy's great-nephew in Scotland to return the jawbone, but he told me to keep it until I finished my publicity tour. When I do return it (which I plan to do in person), the Anderson family plans to inter the jawbone in the family crypt.

 

I can imagine that after all of the reading and research that you did that, over what I can only imagine was several years, you became very attached to the crew of the Karluk. Can you tell me anything about your feelings? Did you feel a loss when you were finished or just relief?

After reading so much about the men aboard the Karluk and especially after poring over their journals for several months, I definitely began to feel a strong emotional attachment. The pages of their journals conveyed so much information about each man. From researching their childhoods and backgrounds, and interviewing their descendants, I felt an even stronger sense of their personalities and where each man came from. I think the most difficult part about this attachment was knowing what the fate of these young boys would be.

While I did feel a sense of relief after those exhausting months of writing, I was mostly overcome by a feeling of loss. Those men had become a sort of family as they surrounded me at my desk day after day. I remember my instinctive desire to rescue my book off the shelves of the first bookstore I saw it in, because I had become so protective of those men. I even went through a period of withdrawal once the book was complete. My mother compares this experience to that of having a child: you carry this baby with you for several months, and then when it is time to send it out into the world, you have no power to stop it. It is no longer yours to keep. Even now as I work on my next book, I often miss those men.

 

You are now researching another book on the Arctic. Do you have a fondness for cold weather? How do you decide on a topic to write about and how do you begin your research? I would imagine it would be difficult to figure out where to start.

I definitely do not have a particular fondness for cold weather (I'm writing this as snow is falling outside my window) after all I lived in L.A. for ten years! It has been purely coincidental that both of my first two books take place in the Arctic. It is truly the characters and the story that grab my attention, not the climate. With that said, it has been interesting to learn about that particular part of the world!

I have found that choosing a topic to write about most often means falling into something that amazes you. I definitely believe in writing about something you are passionate about, something that you almost can't help writing about! With The Ice Master, I just happened upon the story, and I knew that it was mine. I could not have expected that this would lead me to my next project.

In terms of knowing where to begin the research, that is different for every project. Since the Karluk expedition sailed under Canada, I knew I should check the Canadian Government Archives first. From there, everything else fit like a puzzle, and one discovery led me to the next.