Debut Author Snapshot: Eowyn Ivey

February, 2012
Eowyn Ivey Settlers of the Alaskan frontier in the early 20th century were made of tougher stuff than most, hand clearing countless acres to stake their claims and enduring subzero temperatures. Born and raised on those northern lands, Eowyn Ivey understands the sometimes brutal nature of the region, and also the fierce pride Alaskans have for their state. Ivey's debut novel, The Snow Child, captures this duality in the narrative of a lonely married couple, Jack and Mabel, who are struggling to survive on their homestead in 1920s Alaska. Mourning the stillborn death of their first baby, they build a child out of snow. The next morning they find footsteps in the icy whiteness, and a young girl named Faina comes to their door, appearing as if by magic. The author, also a bookseller at the independent Fireside Books in Palmer, Alaska, shared with Goodreads some images of her home that provide for her tale's untamed setting.

The mountain view near near the home of Eowyn Ivey.
Goodreads: Can you give a brief description of what life would have been like for homesteaders in the 1920s? What similar challenges do you face in Alaska today?

Eowyn Ivey: I imagine it must have been an isolating, physically grueling way to earn a living. With very basic tools, they would have been trying to carve a home and farm out of the wilderness. Their livelihood depended entirely on their own hands.

Some aspects of Jack and Mabel's lives are directly informed by my own experiences in Alaska. We hunt moose and caribou for our meals, grow vegetables, gather wild berries, haul water, and raise chickens for eggs and meat. So when I wrote the scene in which Jack and Mabel are plucking chickens, I didn't need to do any research—my husband and I have done it ourselves. The difference, though, is that whenever necessary we have many other options: grocery stores, credit cards, paved highways, gas stations, entire cities of people just down the road. Those who came to Alaska in the early 1900s to homestead had fewer safety nets. If they didn't shoot a moose, it wasn't a simple drive to Safeway. If they ran out of wood for the stove, they would be in real danger of freezing to death. It was at that thin line of survival that I knew I could really test my characters and discover what they were made of.

Snegurochka, oil painting by Viktor Vasnetsov

A moose near the home of Eowyn Ivey.
GR: The novel is inspired by Snegurochka, a character from Russian lore also known as the Snow Maiden. How did you make the story your own?

EI: I was at work labeling and shelving books when I came across a children's illustrated version of the Russian fairy tale. I read it standing right there, and it was such a revelation—a magical story set in a northern landscape that could be my own backyard! I had never heard of Snegurochka. I spent the next months researching the many different versions of it told over hundreds of years. I wanted to explore it through my own characters and the specific setting of an Alaska homestead, and I hoped to give it the emotional depth of a modern story.

GR: Have you always wanted to write a novel? What was the most surprising part of the writing process?

EI: Since I was very young, I've loved reading and writing stories. It took me nearly a decade working as a newspaper reporter before I realized that I needed to restructure my life to make writing fiction possible. I left journalism and went to work at Fireside Books, and in the mornings and evenings I began writing fiction. I had invested five years in a completely different project when I discovered the myth of Snegurochka. For a while I tried to force myself to finish that first attempt, but ultimately the story of the snow child became too seductive. Even as I wrote the first draft over the course of a year, with the many versions of the fairy tale swirling in my imagination as I finished chapter after chapter, I didn't know how it was going to conclude until I arrived there. In fact, a part of me wanted it to end so differently. But what surprised me is the way in which the story and characters and themes began to dictate the book's trajectory, so that in a way I was helpless to force it any direction except where it was destined to go.

GR: What's next?

EI: I am working on another novel, one that shares some similarities with The Snow Child—historical Alaska setting, fantastical elements. But I imagine it to be more epic and adventurous. Last summer I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Rasmuson grant to research this new novel, and my husband and I spent a week floating by raft down the Copper River here in Alaska. It was incredible to get to see firsthand the rugged, beautiful setting I could only imagine as I was writing. I'm having a lot of fun!


Comments Showing 1-29 of 29 (29 new)

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message 1: by Joyce (new)

Joyce McDonald Both the book and the author sound fascinating. I must buy it for a friend who has just published a book "Promises To Keep" about a couple in Alaska. It sounds like you would have a lot in common.


message 2: by Anita (new)

Anita This sounds like the sort of book that will hold readers enthralled for many hours. I shall try to find a copy for myself.


message 3: by Linda (new)

Linda Martin I just checked this book out to read and think I will really like it. Alaska is such a different place from Tennessee(my home)and am looking forward to the setting of this book being there. Your scenery there is wonderful---I love mountains and snow!


message 4: by Taylor (new)

Taylor I checked this out of the library yesterday - cannot wait to read it!


message 5: by Misti (new)

Misti I read this book yesterday... could not put it down! I'm going to have my bookclub read it for my choice! I loved it! Hurry and write the next one! You are amazing!


message 6: by Terry (new)

Terry Mark It's a book i was drawn to in one of my local bookshops, and seems just the kind of book i really enjoy so I've added it to my wish list as magical realism is my favourite genre. It remided me of Ali Shaw's books which are also very magical.


message 7: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne I had the good fortune
to read this book over
the course of three days
last week. Loved, loved,
loved it. One of those types
you do.not.want to end!


message 8: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Berto Hi, readers. For anyone interested, I’ve interviewed Eowyn on my blog. Find out why “The Snow Child” is one of the top picks for 2012 and why everyone’s talking about it (including Oprah!): http://rebeccaberto.wordpress.com/201...


message 9: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Berto Hi, readers. For anyone interested, I’ve interviewed Eowyn on my blog. Find out why “The Snow Child” is one of the top picks for 2012 and why everyone’s talking about it (including Oprah!): http://rebeccaberto.wordpress.com/201...


message 10: by L.K. (new)

L.K. Mitchell I read this book and it's just wonderful. The setting is a character in itself. I recommend it to everyone.


message 11: by Tammie (new)

Tammie sounds wonderful, thank you for sharing about this book and the interview too!


message 12: by Amie (new)

Amie Maresca This book sounds very interesting. I will put it on my must read list.


message 13: by Joyce (new)

Joyce McDonald Wow!! Just finished the book. It's fantastic! Congratulations!


message 14: by Dora (last edited Feb 22, 2012 08:42AM) (new)

Dora Patrick Joyce wrote: "Wow!! Just finished the book. It's fantastic! Congratulations!"

I would love to read this


message 15: by Angie (new)

Angie Your novel was inspired by a fairy tale, but you have given it a grounded, vivid backdrop that leaves a Southerner wishing to see more than one or two kinds of snow during winter and a place to skate outside.


St Clare's Library We've just bought this book after great recommendations from book sellers in Australia.Looking forward to reading and recommending it to students.


message 17: by M.p (new)

M.p If i could get my hands on it, i won't drop it till i finish it! Seems too fascinating to be left alone without reading it! Even though i don't know much about Eowyn Ivey, seeing the satisfied customers, I'd rather give it a try too!


message 18: by M.p (new)

M.p Misti wrote: "I read this book yesterday... could not put it down! I'm going to have my bookclub read it for my choice! I loved it! Hurry and write the next one! You are amazing!"

I really think i agree with you! Good compliment/comment!


message 19: by M.p (new)

M.p Rebecca wrote: "Hi, readers. For anyone interested, I’ve interviewed Eowyn on my blog. Find out why “The Snow Child” is one of the top picks for 2012 and why everyone’s talking about it (including Oprah!): http://..."

I would love to know what kind of question & answers were asked/answered during that interview of yours!


message 20: by Ange (new)

Ange Blossom Loved this book.


message 21: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl I have this book on my 'to read' stack. :-)


message 22: by Maggie (new)

Maggie Bryan I am currently reading this book and even before finishing it, I recommended it to a friend. THanks for such a good read.


message 23: by M.p (last edited Mar 04, 2012 02:30AM) (new)

M.p could anyone take the time to write an appreciation of the poem so that others can get motivated to read it?
i shall certainly get inspired! :)


message 24: by M.p (new)

M.p Cheryl wrote: "I have this book on my 'to read' stack. :-)"

I shall too, if anyone can tell me more about this book. It seems to be on my mind whenever i read something but i can't read without first knowing about it; it's my policy. :-)


message 25: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl I finished this book months ago and it's one of my favorite books. It's earned a permanent place on my bookshelf.


message 26: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl M.p wrote: "Cheryl wrote: "I have this book on my 'to read' stack. :-)"

I shall too, if anyone can tell me more about this book. It seems to be on my mind whenever i read something but i can't read without fi..."


Nothing like replying months later....:\.

Some of my thoughts here: http://whythewritingworks.com/2013/05...

The novel weaves together the harsh realities of the Alaskan frontier and fairytale elements.


message 27: by Cglaw2013 (new)

Cglaw2013 nice one


message 28: by Spade (new)

Spade Spade Your novel was inspired by a fairy tale, but you have given it a grounded, vivid backdrop that leaves a Southerner wishing to see more than one or two kinds of snow during winter and a place to skate outside.


message 29: by Feline (new)

Feline herb Fabulous...!!


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