Atz Kilcher gets personal, introspective in new memoir

Atz Kilcher has been a storyteller for decades. Whether through his music, art or other projects, his preferred method of communicating is through anecdotes, and that didn’t change when he set out to write his first book: “Son of a Midnight Land.”

Released last week by Blackstone Publishing, “Son of a Midnight Land” isn’t a literary masterpiece or a book that even necessarily follows the rules, but that’s how Kilcher says he wanted it. In his words, it’s “just a normal story about what a lot of people go through,” and what he did in his life to deal with it. At times, this included addiction and poor decisions, he said.

As noted on the cover, the reflective collection of memories is a “memoir in stories.” Kilcher said this is due to standing his ground on the way he structured the book, rather than following a traditional memoir pattern.

“Writing this book, for me, was that journey of looking at some of the things that made me who I am, how I tried to work through those things,” he said.

The book chronicles Kilcher’s life growing up on the family’s homestead near McNeil Canyon on Kachemak Bay, his young adult experiences and mild obsession with the life of a cowboy, and his later years of navigating parenting himself.

A major focus of the memoir is Kilcher’s relationship with his father, Yule, and how Kilcher dealt with the fallout of it in later years. Kilcher didn’t set out to write a book about his dad — a major contributor to the Alaska homesteading community who was somewhat known for his volatility — but said that as he sifted through childhood memories and photos, that relationship rose to the surface.

“I set out to write kind of funny humor stories,” he said.

Kilcher does not shy away from the negative aspects of that relationship, beginning the memoir with a passage detailing how he became a skilled liar in order to avoid his father’s anger. He said he wanted to write the book, in part, to explore how that part of his life translated into his becoming an entertainer.

“This isn’t about badmouthing my dad,” he said. “I’m not running him down, I’m not saying, ‘poor me.’”

Thus, the book actually became a personal healing project for Kilcher, as well as a way to apologize to his own adult children on paper for some of the abusive behavior he says was passed down from his father. The actual writing and exploration of his experiences, editing them and reading them over again during a book-on-tape session were all a kind of therapy, Kilcher said.

Two of Kilcher’s children, Jewel and Atz Lee, wrote endorsements which appear on the back of the book, and his other children reached out with feedback, he said. This was the most rewarding part of the experience, he said.

“The fact that my kids thanked me for the work I did, for the work I’m doing,” he said. “For being able to ask for forgiveness, to be able to apologize, to be able to look at that past self and say, ‘whoa, you did some crazy stuff… Yep, that happened, and you have to move on.’”

Members of the Kilcher clan have not led a very private life for many years, with Jewel and Kilcher touring and playing their music, and with some members of the family now in their seventh season of the reality TV show “Alaska: The Last Frontier.” Yet, the healing reflection Kilcher’s memoir became is deeply personal.

A big reason Kilcher said he was OK with something so personal being out for the world to read is that he knows there’s a big difference between “saying sorry in the quiet of my room” and saying it in a real, permanent way.

He also said that he’s been greatly influenced by very personal books and films over the years, and hopes his personal story can inspire someone else one day.

“If people read my book and see that, ‘If he can, so can I,’ it’s never too late to change no matter how hopeless things look,” Kilcher said. “Keep trying.”

Kilcher said he loved the writing process, and has plenty of ideas for more writing in the future. The editing process was the most challenging thing about the book, he said.

“I think the editors … did not include (only) one chapter I wrote, which was about the outhouse. I think that was the most interesting chapter of the whole book,” Kilcher joked.

If nothing else, Kilcher said the experience reaffirmed his belief in the healing power of writing and journaling. He encouraged anyone doing self reflection to give it a try.

“Write the hard stuff,” he said.

Kilcher will bring his guitar and read from his book at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, at the Homer Public Library. Sponsored by the Friends of the Homer Public Library and the Homer Bookstore, books will be available for purchase and signing.

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