Joshua Keil currently lives in Spain, but a big part of his heart is forever bound to Alaska. That’s why his latest self published novel, “In the Land of the Salmon” revolves around protecting wild salmon. That’s also why local bookstores like Fireside Books in Palmer were the first on his list to start selling the fruits of his latest literary pilgrimage.
Below is a question and answer interview with Keil, discussing the book and the craft of writing.
Q: So what’s the book about?
“It’s a love story that takes place between a conservative young man named Jim and a progressive young woman named Shannon… It all takes place in 1969 on a commercial fishing boat in Bristol Bay, but some of the book takes place in the present.”
Q: How did you come up with the idea for the story?
“It’s usually hard to pin down what motivates me, but this one I can pin down to a specific instance. It was quite a long time ago, like 14 years ago, I read Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook.” It’s not exactly considered a piece of high literature with a lot of symbolism or allegory, or anything like that, but it really captured me. I just fell in love with it, that this simple love story could move me, and obviously 50 million other people… I remember thinking, ‘I wonder if I could write a story like this.’”
Q: How did that come out in this book?
“This whole idea of reflecting how polarized our society has become just grew and grew in my head. That’s part of the reason why I set that part of the story in 1969, because that was obviously a very tumultuous time in America that is somewhat analogous to our own time… I feel the answers to some of our most pressing problems more often lie in the middle than people think. That’s the spirit of what I’m trying to capture in these two people.”
Q: How long have you been a writer?
“I’ve been writing off and on since I was pretty young. When my family moved to Alaska when I was 13 year old, I remember trying to write to imitate Jack London while I was in the camper, driving the Alcan Highway. I got all these romantic notions about writing… But for some reason, I never thought, ‘okay I’m just gonna be a writer.’ I always just felt that wasn’t quite genuine, that I needed to go out and have a different career and write on the side. So basically, I’ve been writing on the side while maintaining my career.”
Q: So you’ve been writing on the side, what’s your day job?
“I’ve been a military officer for almost 20 years, working in healthcare… Then I went back to school and became an optometrist, and now I’m an optometrist in the Navy… I purposely chose a career that would present me with interesting experiences in life. My hope is that’s more fodder for short stories or novels in the future.”
Q: Did you grow up in the Valley then?
“I graduated from Palmer High School… I routinely go back to Alaska. That’s where I worked on the commercial fishing boat… I’m glad my parents made that bold decision... This book is my way of giving back to Alaska.”
Q: What was your writing process like?
“A bit of a mess really,” he said with a laugh. “The book just grew and grew and grew in my mind.”
Q: You published this yourself?
“Yes, and time will tell how successful that is…” he said with a laugh.
Q: Are you happy with the final product?“I am very happy with how the book turned out, both the content and the production of how it came out.”
Q: What have you learned from writing this book?
“Writing is what I do for fun. Writing is about having fun and if you can share it with other people, share it with them. I think there’s a lot of people who are writers… they just need to take the plunge.”
Q: What’s your advice for upcoming writers?
“If you love to write, you just gotta write… It’s just art you gotta share it. You have to be your own self promoter no matter who’s publishing it. Put it in the hands of strangers. Share your art with the world, because that’s what art is supposed to do.”
Q: What’s your take on Alaskan storytelling?
“Alaska is inherently thrilling... a place where it’s still wild. People need things like that in their imagination.”
“In the Land of the Salmon” is currently available as an ebook online and will soon be available for online shipping. Keil encourages Alaskans to pick up his book at local bookstores like Fireside Books Palmer or Title Wave Books in Anchorage.
For more information, visit joshuakeil.com.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org