Author Alexis Smith recalls how growing up in a homesteading family in Soldotna gave her ample time to explore the surrounding wilderness on her own — and how that solitude fostered a habit of creating stories to pass the time. When Smith returns to Alaska next month, she returns having one of her stories featured on O, The Oprah Magazine’s Summer Reading List.
Smith, who spent her formative years in Soldotna until the age of 10, now lives in Portland with her wife and 8-year-old son. Her book “Marrow Island,” published earlier this month, claimed a spot in the “American Pastoral” category on the summer reading list. It tells the tale of a journalist returning to an island previously destroyed by natural disaster and uncovering the secrets of the mysterious colony that now inhabits it.
Smith said it was not predetermined, but natural that she would weave elements of her experience in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest into “Marrow Island” and her previous book, “Glaciers.”
“Those landscapes that I grew up with are just embedded in my memory,” Smith said. “I think it just imprints on your brain, especially, you know, having spent so much time alone just kind of wandering around the woods.”
It was during that time when Smith said her creativity blossomed — she made up stories in her head to entertain herself on those solo adventures. The landscapes she encountered played an important role in the stories she told herself then, and it seemed only natural to include them in her novels, Smith said.
“I credit being the only kid hanging out on the homestead with my grandma during the summer,” Smith said, recalling that her older sister was usually spending time with friends, and that the other homesteading children weren’t her age.
Time not spent roaming the woods was spent with her late grandmother. Smith will make a bittersweet return to Soldotna in July for her memorial, she said.
Her grandmother was a longtime volunteer at the library in Soldotna, and Smith would sometimes tag along and read while she waited.
That one of her novels has landed on the summer reading list is unexpected but an honor given that Oprah has been a large promoter of books and reading, Smith said.
“I wasn’t expecting anything like that, but it’s really exciting obviously,” she said.
While “Marrow Island” has elements of a thriller, it pulls on Smith’s experience growing up in the Northwest, a place where natural disasters like earthquakes are not uncommon, she said.
“It’s a book that takes on different issues that are in the news a lot today,” Smith said, explaining that, living in the Northwest, people are used to living with the possibility that the next big quake is on its way.
Smith said she hopes she achieved a good balance between striking those realistic chords and developing enough mystery to keep people turning pages.
While she has not yet been able to schedule a reading in Alaska, Smith said she hopes to hold one in the state in the future, preferably in her old hometown.