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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Interview with Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, author of The Smell of Other People's Houses

 There are certain books that you connect with on a deeper level. That you love in a way that you struggle to put into words. For me, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's debut, The Smell of Other People's Houses, was one of those books. When I was asked to give a blurb, I wasn't able to... I tried - I really did - but every time I started to write, my words didn't seem to do it justice. So it's unlikely you'll see a review of this book from me, but please do seek it out.

In the meantime, I'm happy to be able to share this interview with Bonnie-Sue.

Can you briefly share a bit about your inspiration for the four main characters in your book and the Alaskan setting? 
I wish I could say I woke in the night with this epiphany about my story, but I simply just wrote from my own experience of growing up in this place, with these sorts of people. Until recently I didn’t know another place well enough to be able to set a novel anywhere else, so I just stuck with the old adage, “write what you know.” The characters are all an amalgamation of either people I know, or people I met as a reporter for Alaska Public Radio. They are all fiction, but I did borrow my favorite quirkiest details about actual people. 
Tell me a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning? The middle? The end? 
Sadly, I don’t do any of those things. Although sometimes I outline at the end, to see what I’ve missed. But in order for the story to have heart, I start with a detail. A very small detail and then I work out from there. This book literally started with a red ribbon. (originally it was a rubber band) A friend had let me borrow a red rubber band—hair tie—in Anchorage and for some reason, I kept it on my wrist. At one point I realized that it had been on my wrist for two years. I had walked across England with it and been in New Zealand and then Colorado. It was this odd connection to that friend. It was so tiny, but it gave me the idea to use it as an endowed object, a symbol for the way we are connected to other people. After that, all the stories came together (although sadly, not in a linear order) but that was the jumping off point. 
What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing or provided inspiration? 
I think everything shapes a person’s writing. I’ve had so many jobs and if I dissected every sentence I write, I could probably trace the details back to one job or another. I drove a tour bus right out of high school. I worked in a climbing store in Anchorage as well (best, quirkiest characters in the world there) I worked as a summer camp counselor on the Kenai Peninsula, as a barista in a coffee shop, commercial fishing with my family and then finally, I was a reporter for Alaska Public Radio for many years and that probably shaped my writing the most, both in terms of writing every single day (even if it was just news stories) but also in terms of tapping into details that shape a story and are the most salient. A good radio story is like good dialogue, it should sound like a conversation—not forced or stilted— and that was something I went back to again and again for this book as well. 
If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 
You caught me at a moment where I’ve been watching old Sesame Street videos (I know, right?) and there was one they filmed in an Alaska village, I believe in the 1980’s. The kids sing this catchy song about “ookyook,” which is the Inupiaq word for winter. I can’t get it out of my head. I love the word “Ookyook,” and I really love winter, too. 
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Name a notable book that provided you with a hiding spot. 
This might seem kind of boring, but the book that I turn to again and again, and re-read every Christmas is Anna Karenina. There’s a long, boring story that is too personal to share about that book, but it’s my hiding spot. I believe this year will be my 30th Christmas of reading it. 
What can readers look forward to next? 
I wish I knew! I’m so private about my writing and I think that’s not because I’m secretive, but because I’m not someone that has an idea and then sits down and writes until it’s finished. If another seemingly insignificant detail—like that rubber band—suddenly appears, I might abandon an almost finished project and do something totally different. So, I guess we’ll all just be surprised.

About the Book
Four vivid voices, native and white, tell their intertwining stories of hardship, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation in 1970s Alaska. Ruth misses her father, killed long ago in a plane crash; now, at 16, she has a secret that she can't hide forever. Dora's luck changes dramatically when she escapes her own parents to move in with her best friend's family. Alyce loves working with her Dad on his fishing boat. He needs her help, but she also longs to be a dancer, and this summer brings a hard choice. Hank and his brothers have stowed away on a ferry to escape their mom's boyfriend, a trip that will put one of them in terrible danger.
About the Author
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock was born and raised in Alaska. She worked many years fishing commercially with her family and as a reporter for Alaska Public Radio stations around the state. She was also the host and producer of “Independent Native News,” a daily newscast produced in Fairbanks, focusing on Alaska Natives, American Indians, and Canada’s First Nations. Her writing is inspired by her family’s four generations in Alaska.
Blog Tour

2/16 The Young Folks
2/17 Reading with Cupcakes
2/18 Jessabella Reads
2/19 Across the Words
2/20 The Hiding Spot
2/21 Pretty Good Gatsby
2/22 Once Upon a Twilight
2/23 The Reading Nook Reviews
2/24 The Social Potato
2/25 The Cover Contessa
2/26 Irish Banana
2/27 Waste Paper Prose
2/28 Page Turners Blog
2/29 Collected Works
3/1 Live to Read
3/2 Supernatural Snark


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