Sometimes to get better, a writer needs to give up.
That worked for Elwood Reid, the author of two novels and a collection of short stories. His newest novel, a mystery set in the Alaska Bush, was just published by Doubleday. Reid will be in Juneau this weekend, signing copies of "Midnight Sun" at a reception from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Hearthside Books downtown.
The signing, part of the Gallery Walk festivities, also will include Juneau essayist and photographer Nick Jans with his new book, "Tracks of the Unseen," and photographer Mark Kelley.
"Midnight Sun" tells of two tough, 30-something itinerant carpenters who get swept into a bizarre rescue mission: to canoe up the Yukon River into a remote camp of fanatical survivalists, kidnap a woman and return her to her father in Fairbanks. Brown bears, the twisted, charismatic cult leader and a fortune in gold unexpectedly complicate the mission.
Reid lived in Fairbanks from 1989 to 1991 and studied writing at the University of Alaska. He dropped out to become a carpenter and to improve his writing.
"Quitting was the best thing to do," Reid said. "I wasn't ready to write then I needed to live more. I wanted to write, but I needed more life experience, I needed more material to write about."
Susan Hickey of Hearthside Books said Reid has an uncanny gift for the dialogue of working class Alaska men, the rough-and-tumble, macho characters that in lesser hands could become caricatures.
"I try not to judge my characters," Reid said. "I think a lot of caricature
is simply lazy judgment and stereo-
type not treating them like real people."
Burke and Jack, his protagonists in "Midnight Sun," are similar to characters he met in his carpentry days in the Interior.
"I'd be working next to some guy all summer, and I knew nothing about his past, and casually hear stories he was in prison, he killed someone in a bar fight or was AWOL. I didn't care, but you heard," he said.
Jack, the younger of the two characters, is modeled a bit upon Reid.
"I had the idea of a character of a kid, a little like me, who was a little bit lost," he said.
Jack, like Reid and many people who come to Alaska, is searching for something profound, personal and often intangible.
"People there are looking for something, something in their lives they lack, and Alaska represents something," he said.
"You see that especially in the Interior. People come up thinking they're going to find something and Alaska is the last frontier in that sense."
Reid grew up in Ohio and has lived all over the country. He
left Alaska in the early 1990s,
lived in the Pacific Northwest and most recently in New York City. He said the city life is driving him crazy and he's moving to Michigan for the winter, hoping to head farther west next year. His cur-rent tour of Alaska will also take him to Anchorage and back to Fairbanks.
Most of his short stories also are set in Alaska, and all of his stories contain the blue-collar, working-class element. He's working on a new novel set in the Pacific Northwest. His other books are the novel "If I Don't Six" and the short story collection "What Salmon Know."