When I tell people about Secondhand Summer and they discover that it is a novel based on my experiences growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, they want to hear how it all came about. The second question I usually hear is, how long did it take you to write this book?
My response starts something like this: Well, I was born at a very young age. . . .
On June 4, 1958, Chet and Briar Walker loaded six kids and all their belongings in a Ford sedan and a two-ton truck, and left Sugar Tree Ridge, Ohio for Alaska. So began the journey that made me who I am today for I was only five years old and therefore destined to grow up a Alaskan homesteader on the frontier rather than an Ohio farm boy. We homesteaded a piece of land in Happy Valley a few miles south of Ninilchik on the Kenai Peninsula. Here I lived the for six perfect years of an ideal childhood. Then my father died and we moved to Anchorage, a broke and broken family. That first summer living in Anchorage far from all I held dear was both challenging and terrifying, but I survived. Years later, when I was forty, I spent summer mornings writing a novel that told that story. Many of the details and events were changed — my dad was not a fisher, for example — but the flow of experience and many of the foolish adventures actually took place. The water balloons and the rides in the that Corvette Stingray, as well as many more adventures actually occurred during that Secondhand Summer in 1965. For literary and personal reasons, names and many details are changed. So don't look for yourself in this story.
The manuscript, then named My Last Summer, sat on the shelf for several years before I pulled it out in 2012 as my urge to write was revived. In 2014, the opening chapters were won the fiction prize in the ADN/ UAA Creative Writing Contest, and I was encouraged to market the whole manuscript. In April 2015 on my birthday, I got word that Alaska Northwest Books wanted to publish. This started months of revisions sailing back and forth between me and Michelle McCann, my agent and a real friend to this novel. Secondhand Summer is a better book thanks to her. Here we are over a year later and the book is a concrete reality. So, how long does it take to write a book? A lifetime or one rich summer depending on how you look at it.
While the book listed as story for middle schoolers, I have tried to make it a story that adults can enjoy too. Give it a try and tell me what you think.