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Even more from the 'Ice Cube'

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Even more from the 'Ice Cube' (Photo by Hanna Alerud)

A Q & A with author Blair Braverman

Last week, I reviewed Blair Braverman's exceptional memoir 'Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube.' Her journey to the northernmost reaches of the world a tiny village in rural Norway; an Alaskan glacier; even the campus of Maine's own Colby College provides some of the most compelling reading of the year thus far.

Her paired passions of writing and dogsledding might seem like strange bedfellows at first glance, but both disciplines require loads of hard work, desire and empathy qualities that Braverman undeniably possesses.

Braverman's current base of operations is in Wisconsin, where she's training with the ultimate goal of competing in the Iditarod. Despite the whirlwind of book- and dog-related obligations, she was kind enough to answer some questions for The Maine Edge via e-mail.

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The Maine Edge: When did you decide you were going to write this book?


Blair Braverman: I decided I was going to writeabook long before I knew I was writingthisbook. I pitched an arctic adventure book to publishers during my second year of graduate school and sold it to Ecco in the spring. It wasn't until I started writing, and discovered - the hard way - that adventure and story are two very different things, that the manuscript started to look like 'Ice Cube.'

TME: What was the process of writing this book like? How long did it take? Was it difficult to put forth such a personal story? What has been the reaction of those featured more prominently in the book?

BB: The book took me about four years total; I spent the summers in Norway, wrote in the fall and spring and trained dogs in the winter. Putting the more personal elements on paper was terrifying, so I tried to convince myself that I was writing something private that nobody else would read, and that let me quiet my fears long enough to write and shape the story.

The people whose reactions I was most concerned with were my parents and Arild, the arctic shopkeeper I lived with. Although they all knew about the book, I put off sharing it with them until this past spring. My parents loved it and have been a huge source of support. Arild lent his copy to friends before reading it himself, so I actually didn't know his response until yesterday. He said it was funny and powerful and he was impressed with the accuracy of detail, but he'd skipped the parts about Alaska because they were boring.

TME: How did you wind up at Colby? Was that where you started to hone your writing craft?

BB: I knew I was interested in Colby, but it wasn't until I heard someone refer to it as "the northernmost high-quality learning institution in the country," or something dramatic like that, that I was sold. I'm a sucker for anything northernmost.

I majored in environmental policy, and took almost every class in the department. I loved it so much. But during my sophomore year I also started studying writing very intensely. I'd be waiting at the library doors when they opened at7 a.m., and would try to understand the mechanics of all the stories, fiction and nonfiction, that appealed to me. In the evenings I'd practice writing - usually in the GIS lab, because it was quiet and had big computer screens. I was lucky to find mentors in both subject areas who really encouraged me: Philip Nyhus and Gail Carlson in the environmental studies program and Bess Stokes, Adrian Blevins and Jenny Boylan in English. I actually wrote a collection of essays for my environmental honors thesis and was sort of amazed that they let me do that.

TME: In what ways do you find Norway and your current Wisconsin base of operations to be similar?

BB: They're both cold and rural - Mortenhals has a population of around 40, and my town in Wisconsin has a population of around 800 - and they both have cultures of self-sufficiency. It's easier for me to say what'snotsimilar. The rhythms of conversation are different, which is a subtle thing but I find it much more intuitive to talk with folks from Mortenhals. I've had to re-learn the rules of conversation here in Wisconsin, and now, after three years, it's finally coming to me more easily.

TME: Do you have a plan to go back to Norway anytime soon?

BB: Yes. I'll be back in Mortenhals for a visit this fall. I expect that I'll always keep going back.

TME: Would you consider yourself a writer who works with sled dogs or a musher who happens to be a writer?

BB: A writer who works with sled dogs. Which doesn't mean that I don't work with sled dogs seriously: right now, I'm shaping my life around training for the Iditarod. But I see the world as a writer, not a musher. I'd still be me if I didn't have dogs, even though I'd miss them. But I don't even know how I'd think if I weren't shaping stories.

(Blair Braverman's 'Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube' is published by Ecco Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. It is available at harpercollins.com, amazon.com and wherever books are sold.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:41

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