Books by Melissa Bowersock

Monday, September 17, 2018

Author Interview: Carla Williams

Today I’m sitting down with newly published author Carla Williams to talk about her book, Wildcat Women: Narratives of Women Breaking Ground in Alaska’s Oil and Gas Industry. That’s quite a mouthful and very intriguing. Let’s find out more about it.

MJB: Can you give us a brief overview of the book?

CW: Thank you, Melissa, for interviewing me about my book. It’s an honor. The book includes narratives of fourteen women who worked on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and satellite oilfields in Alaska in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and even in recent years. My own recollections are also discussed. It is the first book written about oilfield women in Alaska.

MJB: It sounds fascinating. What prompted you to write about such an obscure and unknown part of our history? What was the inspiration behind it? And do you have any connection to any of these women?

CW: Yes, it was super fascinating to interview the women and hear their stories. I also worked on Alaska’s North Slope oil fields, and even though my camp durations were shorter than the fourteen women, I could relate to what they said. Male authors who have books about Alaska’s oil and gas industry did not understand what women went through day-to-day, so, of course, the female experience was represented differently in their books. I wanted to add more detail to what these male authors wrote about.

I worked with five of the women, but the others I knew only slightly or had never met.

MJB: What kind of research did you have to do?

CW: I gathered information from the University of Alaska library in Fairbanks where I rummaged through boxes of archived materials that had not been cataloged yet. I had some of my own reference materials, but I also found information on the internet, even though a lot of that information never made it into the book. I would read something, then try to figure out if the material was relevant to my book and if it was interesting enough. I went down a lot of rabbit holes, but I enjoyed the research. I didn’t want to bore people before they got to the book’s interview section, yet I thought it was important for people to understand the background of Alaska’s oil development, so I researched the accuracy of those sections as thoroughly as possible.

Photo by Mary Katzke, Affinity Films

MJB:  I think that's very often the case with research: we may do more than we need, but even if it's not used directly in the writing, it still informs the writing. 

With the #MeToo movement that’s currently going on, did you find any parallels with these women fighting for a place in a “man’s world”? Were there instances of discrimination, bullying, abuse?

CW: Yes, there are parallels, but there are also differences. For example, women working through the unions earned the same wages as the men, so many women working on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline received equal pay for equal work. Discrimination occurred by withholding promotions and stereotyping physical abilities. Bullying and abuse were not tolerated. Managers had hard deadlines and to meet those deadlines everyone had to work as efficiently as possible and that meant working together. Managers in that environment were often union guys that made people toe-the-line with just their presence. The oilfield land back then was private property and still is today, so managers could send a person on the first plane out and ban them from setting foot on the property again. People respected that authority. People didn’t want to lose their lucrative paying jobs.

MJB:  Aside from the gender issue, what kind of dangers and challenges did these woman face just in the normal course of their work?

CW: Most dangers were no different from what the men faced. There was the extremely cold weather and the entire area was under constant construction, so workers looked after each other. Since people worked so many weeks together in close quarters, they became more like a family, so they treated each other like family. However, some women who arrived early in the 70s faced remarkable challenges. When one woman asked where she could go to the bathroom, her foreman handed her a bucket with a lid and it was no joke. She carried the bucket back to camp on the bus to empty. It was obviously humiliating, but if she wanted to continue working, that’s what she had to do. Women improvised and just muscled their way through the obstacles.

MJB:  I recently vacationed in Alaska and the landscape is monumental. What extra challenges did these women have to deal with in this remote location?

CW: Loneliness was a challenge for some women, especially supervisors and managers who couldn’t fraternize with the crews. In the book, it’s mentioned a couple time where women did not feel comfortable going to the dining room to eat. If they walked into the dining room, 300 to 400 men would turn their heads in unison to stare. The first time it happened to me, I felt uncomfortable, but I kept going to the dining room and they eventually got used to me showing up. So, some women ate in their rooms and thus missed the camaraderie at meals. Privacy was another challenge. Having different roommates was disorienting. Some were respectful of space and some were tolerable. Camp bathrooms didn’t provide much privacy. Construction camp rooms were sometimes extremely hot or cold and so sleeping was a challenge. Ice and wind-blown snow blocked the small windows most of the year, but it really didn’t matter, because the North Slope is dark for six months a year, which is rough on the spirit. For many years, women’s Arctic clothing was nonexistent, so we wore boy sizes or just walked around in oversized clothing that we duct-taped to fit.

MJB:  I think of myself as being fairly adventurous, yet I don’t think I could ever have taken on a career like this. What might prompt a woman to do this sort of work? 

CW: I think once the book is read in its entirety, a person understands the motivation for women. Yes, money was a huge motivator, but there were other reasons.

MJB:  Do you have a favorite story out of all of those in your book?

CW: One of the reasons why I finished the book (it took eighteen years) and didn’t just remain sitting in my closet forever was because the stories are all interesting. I know how difficult it was for the women to talk about their experiences. It’s so personal and sharing with the world is not easy. Each interview has a different personality. I’ve read them many times, and I still love to read them. They make me laugh and make me proud. Of course, I edited ad nauseum for redundancy, but the final versions I think are fresh and unique.

I always laugh when I read Katie Cotten’s interview. Her written voice sparkles and vivid images pop out of her words. And, I am always amazed at Irene Bartee and how she manipulated the most powerful men in Alaska…she chewed them up and had them for dinner. For a short time, I worked with Irene on the North Slope Contractor’s Association, and I thought she was one of the most interesting people I had met in my life, so confident and intelligent. Her smoky voice was mesmerizing, like hypnotism. The final interview of Samantha George, which occurred in 2015, is interesting because of the dichotomy of her not really having many obstacles, but at the same time, she had met only one female electrician on the North Slope working in her field. How could that be…in 2015? Debora Strutz’s interview pulls at the heartstrings. Readers feel her emotion and the way she intertwines Alaska Native Inupiat culture into her piece is fascinating. I could say something unique about each of the interviews.

MJB:  What kind of inspiration are these stories to you? Did writing this book, and getting intimately involved in the stories, change your own perspective or world view?

CW: When I interviewed the women, many over 18 years ago, I immediately recognized the interviewees were special. I knew I had a solid book, even back then. However, as time passed, the inspiration grew even stronger. Many women I interviewed felt their story was not worth telling at the time and asked me why I wanted to interview them for a book. Most started the interview saying they really didn’t have much to talk about…they just worked on the North Slope and that was it. In the book, I quote Velma Wallis, an Athabascan author, who says in her book, Raising Ourselves, “How can you write about the storm if you are still in it?” Maybe the women felt they were still recovering from the storm and needed more years to reflect. My goal was to get their stories on tape before they passed away or forgot over time. Two of the women passed away just a few years after my interview, Irene Bartee and Norma Smith, so I was happy I got their recollections.   

Nobody back in the early days thought they were breaking norms or were special. We were all trying to survive and make money. In Alaska, at that time, a person could be a bank president if they wanted. Old money in Alaska really didn’t exist like it did in the Lower 48. There were a couple of old families around, but opportunities seemed limitless. It was very inspiring to people who maybe didn’t have a college education or grew up in poverty. They saw the opportunities and grabbed them. It wasn’t that hard, so it seemed normal.

Today, with the #MeToo movement, I think both women and men have different perspectives on pioneering women, whether it’s in the movie business or the oil and gas industry. Spoken words from women are important to a civil society and the words we use to describe experiences can spark not only our own inspiration, but others as well. The ordinary woman has had centuries of having her voice shut down or belittled. I wanted to celebrate the woman’s voice. I wanted to tell about how women worked in 50 below zero weather and about how they thought of themselves and what made them laugh inside. I wanted young women to understand that equal pay for equal work could be the norm today and it’s worth fighting for.

MJB: If readers want to find out more about you, how can they do that?

CW: There are two pages about me in the “About the Author” section of the book.

MJB: And if readers want to contact you, how do they do that?

CW: People can contact me through my publisher, the University of Alaska Press.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

New Release - Revenge Walk

I'm very pleased to announce the release of the latest Sam and Lacey book, Revenge Walk. This is Book 13 of the paranormal mystery series, and continues the adventures of the two investigators as they work to solve crimes and free tortured souls from their earthly prisons. Here's the description of Revenge Walk:

Paranormal investigators Sam Firecloud and Lacey Fitzpatrick are preparing for a new venture—launching Sam’s ceramic art studio with an open house. Their plans are suddenly derailed when someone targets Sam with deadly intent. The LAPD are on it, but leads are slim, and meanwhile they have a new haunting to research, one that is threatening small children. Neither investigation gives up clues easily, but Sam and Lacey have to keep working both before someone ends up dead.

To celebrate the new book, it's now priced at only 99 cents through September 16, 2018. If you've been keeping up with Sam and Lacey, you'll want to add this to your collection. If you're not familiar, you can get introduced to them through the first book in the series, Ghost Walk, which is always priced at only 99 cents. 

Meanwhile, the reviews keep coming: 

If you like paranormal elements in your mysteries, you really need to check this series out.

A great mix of paranormal and sleuthing.

Highly Recommend!!!

This Unlikely Team is Fantastic.

I loved this book.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Author Interview – William Munns

Today I’m sitting down with William “Bill” Munns to talk about his latest release, The Life of One with Three Names. This is a special book in several different ways. For one thing, it addresses the enduring mystery behind the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. For another, Munns not only wrote the book but illustrated it as well with a rendering software that creates unbelievably lush and detailed scenes. The story and the images combine to create a complete visual experience for the reader. So let’s find out more about it.

MJB: Can you tell us briefly the history behind the Hanging Gardens, the mystery that inspired this book?

WM: The Hanging Gardens were one of seven magnificent constructions of human endeavor listed by the Greek historians Herodotus (484-425 BC) and Callimachus of Cyrene (305-240 BC). Of the seven, two were tombs for kings, three were tributes to Gods, one was a utilitarian lighthouse, and only one, the Gardens, was inspired by a mortal woman loved by the king who built it. Many of the cultures which possessed these wonders were proud of their accomplishment, but the Babylonians were curiously (or mysteriously) unwilling to even acknowledge that the famous Gardens of Babylon even existed. Virtually nothing of the extensive cuneiform documents (surviving today) from the 5 decade reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II documents, describes or acknowledges that this splendid royal garden ever existed in Babylon. This total denial of Babylon’s most famous feature is the mystery historical scholars today have struggled to explain. My book offers a unique and somewhat unorthodox explanation, but one which actually explains the matter more logically than any prior scholarly effort.

MJB: What came first, the desire to tell the story, or the need to show it in the stunning images you create? Did you find the story to inspire the images, or vice-versa? Or did it all evolve as a whole?

WM: The origin of the story actually was derived from the artwork effort. I was commissioned by a 3D graphics software company to create the Seven Ancient Wonders in their software for an advertising campaign, showing the software’s remarkable capacity to visualize wondrous 3D worlds. And in the course of my research on all seven, the mysteries of the Hanging Gardens were revealed. After I finished my graphics contract, I continued to research the Gardens and look for solutions to the mystery of why the Babylonians deny their empire’s most legendary accomplishment. Finally, an idea struck me, one that explained perfectly why the Babylonians would deny the existence of the Garden and also deny the existence of the woman who inspired them, and that idea became the genesis of the book.

MJB: Obviously you’ve done a ton of research on the Gardens? Is your depiction of them accurate in terms of what we know about them?

WM: There are many vague and conflicting descriptions of the Gardens, some suggesting a ziggurat (a sort of stepped pyramid, essentially) covered with terraced planters, trees, vines and flowers; others suggesting a garden area enclosed by high walls. I personally felt that the ziggurat design was incorrect because the view from any terrace was mostly the city around it, and then, what was the point? So I chose a garden area surrounded by fabricated mountains and lush garden plants, so the view in any direction was that of a splendid garden set amid mountain scenery. If one searches for imagery associated with the gardens, you will find many fanciful depictions, which verifies the vague and inconclusive documentation as to their design and appearance.

MJB: I’m curious; have you ever talked with any experts about your theory of the Gardens? Historians, archaeologists? And if so, what kind of response did you get?

WM: I did accumulate all the published scholarly works on the Seven Wonders and the Gardens specifically, and found one of the most popular scholarly theories was that the gardens weren’t in Babylon, but rather were the royal Gardens of Nineveh in Assyria, built by the Assyrian King Sennacherib. I found it hard to believe that the historians who wrote about the gardens could name the wrong city, the wrong king who built them, and name the wrong woman to inspire them. So while I understood the scholarly approach, that the gardens of Nineveh were in fact documented by the Assyrians, while no Babylonian Garden was similarly documented by the Babylonians of Nebuchadnezzar’s time, I still found it too big a leap of faith to assume the historians could get every fact wrong, and that no one would make an effort to correct them. But once my story crystallized, I realized any scholarly opinion would simply label the idea “pure speculation” and wouldn’t likely embrace it with any enthusiasm.

MJB: You’ve categorized this book as a Young Adult novel, but also say it can appeal to all ages. What would YA readers be drawn to? What would mature adults enjoy about the book?

WM: The central character is a young woman, born of common heritage, but married to a King when she is 15, and becomes the Queen of Babylon. In a way, it’s the Cinderella fantasy, an eternal young adult theme, especially for girls. Because the story is her first person account of her life; her thoughts, dreams, opinions and decisions might have particular meaning for young girls growing up and trying to make sense of the world around them. But equally she thinks about issues and ideas of human culture that are eternal and ageless, and more mature readers may still ponder these matters as they sort out their lives. So in that sense, it should appeal to all ages.

MJB: What do you think readers will take away from the book? What conclusions might they draw from the story?

WM: I would hope that the foremost take-away readers might appreciate is the discussion of what constitutes greatness in a person, because our world today seems to be lacking in people of true greatness and is the poorer for that void. Our literature and media today is awash with “flawed heroes”, people who fall far short of any altruistic ideal, but I think we long for an occasional heroic person who is simply and unequivocally great, magnificent, and inspirational without reservation. I chose to offer my idea of one such truly great person. I’d like to believe such people can exist.

MJB: A wish I think most of us share.
Did any parts of the story surprise you? Did any of the characters? I find my characters often take on a life of their own and surprise me by doing or saying things I never planned. Did you find that also?

WM: Once I found the story concept, things unfolded in a fairly predictable way. What surprised me was that when I was writing the first person passages of my heroine, I lost all sense I was writing, and it felt like she was actually alive, dictating, and I was merely transcribing what she said. I still feel that way when I read the text. I don’t pat myself on the back for my writing. I feel she told the story and I merely transcribed it. I don’t recall such a powerful feeling with any of my other books or characters.

MJB: I’ve had very similar experiences with some of my characters. That’s when we know that we’re really “in the zone,” and the magic is happening. Great stuff.
Why is this book different than other historical fiction? Why is this book special to you?

WM: This book differs from most historical fiction in the level of speculation, but that was necessitated by the very nature of the mystery and my premise of a solution. I offer the opinion that the Babylonians deliberately erased or destroyed all records of the Garden and the woman who inspired them. And if I am correct, then only speculation can restore the idea.

The book is special to me because of the incredible investment in time, effort, artistry, and contemplation to bring it to reality. The artwork was a true labor of love, for 6 years. The artwork shown in this edition is actually a mere fraction of the total effort, but the remainder of artworks weren’t sufficiently finished to be included. I finally chose to release the book with the finished artwork examples, rather than risk passing away with it unpublished. But the book is also special because the idea has been continually expanding and I see many more volumes expanding the story and the philosophy the story embraces.

MJB: I’m sure readers will be anxious to see the future stories.
You’ve done image recreations of other Wonders of the World as well; where can readers see those?

WM: I included in the book a portfolio of the Seven Wonders artwork I did, from a printing in Computer Graphics World magazine, April 2000 edition. My online website with my digital art is in flux right now, needing to be revised and restored to online access, but it’s on a very long “To Do” list.

MJB: If readers want to read more of your work, how can they do that?

WM: now has four of my books listed. The others are: When Roger Met Patty (a scientific study of the famous Patterson-Gimlin “Bigfoot” film of 1967), Hopeless (a novel about a quirky racehorse who does runs on his terms only), and The Therapeutic Zoo (a novel about a foster home which adopts some exotic animals and discovers the power of animal therapy to heal humans damaged by the trials of life).

MJB: See all his books on his Amazon Author Page.
And if readers want to contact you, how do they do that?

WM: I always welcome contact from interested people. Email is best, as I am not active in social media.