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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Q&A Session with Terry Lynn Johnson, author of Ice Dogs

I'm thrilled to have author Terry Lynn Johnson here at The Hiding Spot today to answer questions about her new middle grade survival story Ice Dogs. I loved this book (check out my review here) and was so fortunate to have the opportunity to ask Terry some questions about her book, dogsledding, and more! Enjoy.

Terry Lynn Johnson writes outdoor adventures. She is represented by Caryn Wiseman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Her books Ice Dogs, a Junior Library Guild selection, and Dogsled Dreams are available now. Terry's writing is inspired by her own team of eighteen Alaskan Huskies. Her passion for adventure has provided her with a rich background to write from. She's a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada and The Dog Writers Association of America - recently winning the Maxwell Medallion of Excellence.When she's not writing, Terry enjoys hiking, snowshoeing, kayak expeditioning, and she occasionally tortures herself in a canoe race. Terry lives in Whitefish Falls, Ontario.

I found the details about dog sledding and the relationship between Victoria and her team incredibly compelling. Are all of these elements of the novel true to life or are some slightly changed for artistic reasons/to further the story?

Thanks for asking that. It was extremely important to me to keep the dogsledding elements accurate. It’s the reason I wrote the story. I wanted to show the relationship a musher has with their dogs, and how special that partnership is. There are enough inaccuracies out there. As a musher myself, I was glad for this chance to provide some clarity. Any of the other elements of the story were okay to change for story sake, but I was firm about the dogsledding.

I was specifically curious about scene in which the team takes off after a moose and Victoria is unable to call them back. Chris asks: “Don’t they come when they’re called?” And Victoria responds: “The dogs don’t know ‘stop.’ They only know ‘go.’” Is this situation true to life? Have you ever experienced it (or something similar) yourself?

Unfortunately, I have experienced many of the situations in the novel, including losing my team. Most mushers have stories of losing their teams eventually. You try very hard not to let it happen, but when it does, you just hope the dogs aren’t injured. It’s very dangerous for the dogs. The leaders rely on the musher to control the brake and not have the dogs behind come up on them. Not all dogs can lead because it takes a certain confidence to run with all those dogs behind you. If there’s no musher, the leaders have to try and keep the dogs strung out, or the back dogs will come up and the team gets tangled - one of the reasons it would be very hard for the dogs to stop, or even turn around to come get you. (I have heard stories of leaders making large loops out on an open lake to come back for their musher. Smart dogs!) It’s not a good situation. Some mushers in long distance races strap themselves to the sled.

Victoria is a strong-willed, quick on feet, and incredibly capable. I have no doubt that all readers will find her inspiring, but I’m hopeful that it will be young girls that are especially drawn to her story. While ICE DOGS definitely appeals to boys and girls, I like that it’s a survival story that gives female readers someone to relate to, a character like Gary Paulsen’s Brian, who has been inspiring readers for years. I was obsessed with books by Paulsen and Jean Craighead George growing up and I would have loved a strong female character like Victoria. 

Was it a conscious decision to create a strong female lead for ICE DOGS or was Victoria just a natural fit? Assuming you agree with my assessment, how do you feel about the need for strong female characters in books (and roles) that traditionally feature males?

Whoa. This is a heavy question. But it’s so cool that we read the same books as kids. I loved those authors too. I wrote Victoria as a female because I can more easily get inside a female character’s head. I didn’t actually stop to think about how many female characters there were in books like this. In my own life, I’ve always worked in male dominated environments. I’m one of only nine female Conservation Officers in Ontario, I worked as a park ranger using a chainsaw before that, I’m used to imagining role reversals but it’s not something I aspired to, it’s just life for me.

Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Alternately, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?
There was a troublesome scene – that’s the bathroom scene at the end. I rewrote that about five times during revision rounds with my editor. Thankfully, I eventually listened to my editor to help make that scene the way it turned out. (tough scene to talk about without giving details since it’s at the end!). The character that was easy was Bean. I used my old lead dog as a model for him and he jumped off the pages for me.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?

Oooh, I can tell you work in the industry. These are very great questions. My husband gave me the title very early on in the process of writing Ice Dogs. When it sold, my editor thought we should change the title and we spent many months going back and forth with a list of alternate titles. Soon we were running out of time, and I was quite panicked. I really didn’t like the other choices. I wanted DOG in the title, the project had been with me for three years with that title, and it was almost impossible for me to think of it as something else. At the final hour, we decided to keep it. Whew!

Many people dream of their ideal jobs while working somewhere less desirable to make ends meet, never realizing what great experience those jobs of necessity are for their future. What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?

I’ve been a trail guide, a musher, an outdoor survival instructor, an aqua fitness instructor, a dog groomer (speaking of less desirable gigs) a park ranger, a forestry technician, a literacy instructor, and a Conservation Officer. I’ve been fortunate! Of all those, being a park ranger for twelve years definitely shaped who I am, what I write about, how I see things. I slept out in the park in a tent, and there’s something about spending that much time in nature that gets into your soul.

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?
Cacophony. I just like the sound of it. Very strange answer to a delightfully strange question! 
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?

I seriously love kayak expeditions. I’m usually gone on two or three of them every season. And in the winter, there’s nothing better than snowshoeing on a quiet morning to watch the sun break over the mountain and glisten on the frosty branches.

Learn more about Terry and her books here.


  1. It's awesome learning about authors, and Ali sounds like a really great one! Definitely going to have to pick up one of her books! Thanks for sharing Sara, and, as always, awesome interview! :D

  2. Thank you for this Q&A, it really inspire me, a 21 years old college student who will, someday, write a book

  3. I completely agree with you - Ali is an inspiration! Though I also feel a bit lame - at 24, I haven't done anything impressive like writing a whole book!! ;)

  4. This one is a really quick read, Zoe! I recommend picking it up between other, heavier themed books or when you're looking for something fun with a romantic plot line! :D


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