Local authors like Michael McBride, Miranda Weiss and Nancy Lord aren’t the only ones to write books about Homer. Three recent books published by Lower 48 writers involve Homer and Alaska, either as setting or about people from here. All were written by people with Homer connections, too.
Two novels, “Compass North” by Stephanie Joyce Cole, and “Wisdom Spring,” by Andrew Cunningham, are set partially or completely in Homer. A nonfiction memoir, “Gravity’s Embrace: A True, Unsolved Mystery Involving an Alaskan Pilot,” by Cynthia Young Fackrell, deals with the mystery surrounding her brother Tim Young’s disappearance on a flight from North Pole to Homer, and the eventually discovery of his crashed plane.
“Compass North,” by Stephanie Joyce Cole
Seattle writer Stephanie Joyce Cole has a solid connection to Homer: She owns land in Kachemak City that she and her husband some day hope to build a vacation home on. The former director of the Alaska Court System, Cole lived in Anchorage for 34 years, where she got her master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. When she came up with the idea of a Florida woman running away from a failed marriage, where else should the woman run to but the end of the road?
“Compass North” starts off with a bang — literally, when a plane loaded with dynamite crashes into a tour bus in Fairbanks. Meredith, the novel’s heroine, had just stepped off the bus to use the bathroom. Stunned, Meredith realizes no one knows she got off the bus and assumes she’s dead. She can reinvent her life. When a well-meaning couple asks her where’s her home, she says, “Home … er?” Misunderstanding, they get her a ride with a Homer-bound couple, and Meredith falls into a life where she can fly under the radar with no one knowing about her past.
Cole describes her novel as a “women’s fiction novel with mystery and thriller aspects.”
While “Compass North” is set in Homer, it’s slightly fictionalized, Cole said. Meredith’s first view of Homer from the Baycrest Hill turnout is spot on, though.
“In front of her, a long isthmus of land spun far out into the sea, and glimmers of light dotted the far end. Behind the water, mountains climbed, first black and rolling, but beyond that, impossibly tall and jagged. Their snowy peaks gleamed stark white in the early morning sun and framed the view like an enormous fantasy backdrop, from east to west as far as she could see,” Cole writes.
Cole said she had never had time to write a novel before, but had the idea for “Compass North” rattling around in her head. When she moved to Seattle in 2009, she saw that the University of Washington offered classes for people who wanted to write novels. She signed up.
“I said, ‘The universe is telling me something.’ It was great. It got me writing,” Cole said. “You couldn’t give up. After a year, I got the skeleton of the book.”
At a writing conference, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, she pitched her novel in an event she called “speed dating with editors and agents,” where writers have five minutes to sell their ideas. An editor with Champagne Press, a Calgary, Alberta, publisher, agreed to look at it. Like print publishers, Champagne provides editing and cover art and pays royalties, but is primarily an e-book publisher.
“Sometimes it’s hard to convince people that model is a legitimate model,” Cole said. “I think the difference is that there are so many e-books that are self-published or vanity press.”
“Wisdom Spring,” by Andrew Cunningham
A mystery thriller, “Wisdom Spring” by Andrew Cunningham starts in Texas, but winds up in Homer. It’s a road story about a couple, Jon and Jess, on the run searching for answers. A mysterious ghost-like voice in Jess’ head leads them to Alaska. That voice tells Jess to go to a fictional Alaska ghost town called “Wisdom Spring.”
“Everything’s leading to this ghost town,” Cunningham said. “The clues in Homer are the ones that lead them to Wisdom Spring.”
Now living in Mashpee, Mass., on Cape Cod, Cunningham’s connection to Homer comes through his late brother, Scott Cunningham, a Smokey Bay Air pilot and Homer Volunteer Fire Department paramedic who died in an accident in 2003. Andrew Cunningham had visited Scott several times here. His brother inspired setting the end of the novel in Homer, Cunningham said, as well as a character, also named Scott.
“That character seemed perfect for the book,” Cunningham said. “In my mind everything was going to lead to Alaska.”
The Scott character in “Wisdom Spring” is based on the real Scott, Cunningham said.
“All of the things I had him doing in the book were him. That was his personality,” he said.
“Wisdom Spring” is Cunningham’s second novel. His first, “Eden Rising,” was an Amazon hit, he said. Cunningham published his books through his company, Arc Novels, using Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing platform. Cunningham has worked as a deaf interpreter and a bookstore manager, and is a copyeditor for Gale Publishing, a Detroit reference publisher. Having managed bookstores, Cunningham said he’s aware of the challenges authors face in getting their work known and has been successful selling books on his own.
“Unless Simon and Schuster calls me up and say they want to publish it, I’m happy to do it this way,” he said.
“Gravity’s Embrace,” by Cynthia Young Fackrell
In 1992, Cynthia Young Fackrell lived in Fairbanks, where her husband was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base. On Oct. 9 she said good-bye to her brother, Homer fisherman and fish spotter Tim Young, as he flew back to Homer in his Aeronca Champ plane after a visit. She would never see him again. Young’s plane disappeared between Fairbanks and Homer. The family put out flyers, authorities searched for him, and Tim’s brother Tom, also a pilot and still living in Homer, flew hours trying to find their brother. Tim Young went missing for 10 months until two hikers in the Chugach Mountains near Chugiak found his crashed and burned plane.
“Gravity’s Embrace” tells the story of the family’s intense search for their brother and son, as well as the story of Tim Young himself. It’s also the story of a sister dealing with her grief.
Fackrell, now living in Meridian, Idaho, said she had tried to write Tim’s story, but kept getting stuck.
“It was so emotional that I never got very far,” she said.
Finally, in February 2011 she said she just sat down and started to write it.
“When I started writing it, I was going to write it as a story,” Fackrell said. “It turned into a more healing process through the story telling.”
“Gravity’s Embrace” uses photographs, newspaper articles, Fackrell’s journal and Tim Young’s own journal entries to tell the story. She also examines the mystery of why Young’s plane crashed. Did the plane burn when it crashed, or did it catch on fire in the air? The tail piece or rear stabilizer was initialing missing from the crash site and later found far away.
“We think it caught on fire in the air because the tail piece was missing and it was completely burned,” Fackrell said.
Fackrell said she thinks her book will appeal to people curious about the mystery of the plane’s crash as well as those dealing with loss and grief.
“Having lived through it, I want people to understand these things happen in life,” she said. “You can’t give up.”
Perhaps her book can help people whose family has gone missing cope.
“That’s something you don’t understand unless you live through it,” Fackrell said. “That’s why you don’t give up. You don’t know what the true circumstances are.”
In searching for her brother and the answers about his death, Fackrell said she came up with a motto: “Sometimes goodbyes just lead to new hellos.”
“Which it does,” she said. “You meet new people. I think we’re all here to help one another.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.