The Making of Wintercamp

When I began to write the sequel to Toughboy and Sister, I naturally wanted to set it in the winter, since T and S had been in the summer. It wasn’t so long ago that families often spent part of the winter at their trapline, miles away from the villages. I wanted kids to know what it was like to do that.

Our family had a trapline on the Sulatna River about 50 miles from our home, and that was the setting for Winter Camp.

It also happened that I’d been teaching arctic survival to my class in school, having been appalled by the number of freezing and accidents in our area. By the time I finished the book it read like a manual for survival and so I had to toss all of that out, or almost all. I did leave in the part about the snow cave.

Our old friend Clarence and his wife Bertha were the models for the story of the old prospector kicked by a moose.

It happened just that way to Clarence when he was in his 80s, only it was his little wife Bertha who clapped her hands at the moose and said shoo. He was perfectly humiliated by that, being saved by a woman! They were way to hell and gone at his mining camp far from our village and Clarence was too badly hurt to walk the 5 miles or so to reach his truck which he’d parked by the road. He suffered a broken leg and internal injuries so that he couldn’t pee. But he’d been in isolated mining camps all his life and had seen a lot of jerry-rigged medical solutions so he knew just what to do. He fixed up a length of snow machine tubing as a catheter for himself. And drained his kidneys that way.

Absolute truth.

Winter Camp was translated into German, and it won the Berlin Senat Commissioner for Foreigners’ Affairs Award for Children’s Literature. They paid my way to Berlin to accept the award, and not being exactly a world traveler I was over the moon. I met my adorable translator, Susanne Koppe, who had also done Toughboy and Sister in German, my charming publishers at Beltz and enough interesting people to make me feel completely the backwoods woman I indeed was. (Imagine the incongruity of receiving an award for writing a book which forwarded tolerance and brotherhood in Berlin. I was pretty much staggered by that.)

Peter Knorr, the German artist who did the German cover for Toughboy and Sister, also did this cover. His covers were perfect, absolutely authentic. It’s hard to believe he’d never been here. I loved his work so much I asked that he be asked to do the cover for The Year of Miss Agnes.

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