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Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

Watch for an interview and hopefully some excerpts from Mirklin Wood.

Interview with Paul Hollis   3 comments

Today’s interview is with Paul Hollis, author of The Hollow Man. Welcome to the blog, Paul. Tell us something about yourself. 

Hollis Paul Author PhotoI was born in a small town east of Birmingham. My family moved to Chicago when I was five and I came of age in California. I entered university at the end of 1967 and fell into a blossoming subculture that reshaped my reality, figuratively and perhaps a little too literally.


Ah, my brother’s generation!

I worked for IBM and had worldwide responsibility for several emerging business opportunities for the company, one being intelligent video surveillance. After 9/11, as you can imagine, security and safety became of paramount important to corporations, police departments, governments, casinos, banks, retailers, and a host of others. As a result, I was almost constantly on my way to somewhere else.


Such as?

I’ve lived in some exotic places such as London, Brussels, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Anchorage, and more. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in all fifty states and almost as many countries. If you’re thinking of your dream vacation spot right now, I have probably been there.


That sounds exciting and educational.

These experiences have allowed me to interact with people within their own cultures, experience their spiritual and political environments, and understand their hopes and dreams. Consumed with an overwhelming fascination to learn something from every person encountered along my journey, I was able to understand the world through their eyes; its animosities, ambitions, and motivations. As a result, The Hollow Man has a ring of realism that pulls the reader into the scene with the characters, whether it’s entering a dark alley in Madrid or sitting in a café on the Champs Elysees.


At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?

After retiring, most days I sat with friends on the porch of my country home. We spat tobacco juice into the yard and told old stories. Okay, it was the local pub and none of us smoked. Curiously though, the group was always interested in my stories. One encouraged me to write a book about a few of my early exploits and I took the challenge.

I self-published The Hollow Man on Amazon, listened to a few critiques from early reviewers, and republished a second version which filled in a few minor flaws. Soon after that the book received its first award; The Awesome Indie’s Seal of Excellence. During last summer, I entered the World’s Best Story contest and The Hollow Man was fortunate enough to be awarded second place out of thousands of entries.

It was then I realized I could do this and I had a potential to be good.


Hollis Paul Hollow ManWhat is your favorite genre … to read … to write?

Thriller / True Crime. Crime is everywhere and every day. It’s been part of our nature since the start of time. Though we don’t want it to visit our homes, we’re curious about it. We poke it, we want to know the what, the how, but mostly the why. And it’s just a little more real if the author adds a few bloody, violent or gory details, especially if the crime actually happened.

Having said that, I write what I know. I was a hollow man for almost three years, living on the fringe of what we thought was a sane world. It was either write about this, or write a very boring book on computers.


Much prefer the thriller over the cyber-snooze. When you are not writing, what do you do?

I’ve been taking guitar lessons for ten years and I’m still the “world’s okayest player”, as the saying goes. I would love to be able to play really well and I would also love to blame my lack of skill on the fact I’m left-handed playing in a right-handed world. But the truth is, playing the guitar well requires a huge level of practice. Strangely, that’s very similar to writing.


Guitar is hard to master. My husband keeps trying. Writing is too and I haven’t given up yet either. Where do you get the inspiration for your novels?

The inspiration for my storylines comes from a series of true incidents that occurred during the early 1970’s. The Hollow Man traces some of my lesser known experiences traveling in Europe as a young man. To make a long story short, I met a guy in early 1973 who thought I was wasting my time digging latrines in East Africa. He had a better offer for me.

At the time, terrorism was on the rise and I was assigned to learn as much as I could about it. Most early acts of terror were specific, personal and damage was focused on a distinct, definable enemy. But terrorism was beginning to change its strategy to the familiar, senseless chaos we recognize today. The death of political figures no longer seemed to bother us as much as these new, random attacks against our children. Targets of innocence became preferable to these people because it was the kind of shock and hurt that hit closer to our hearts. The fear inside us grew larger with each incident.

All of the characters in The Hollow Man are real or based on real people though most of the names were altered. I drew them as I remembered seeing them at the time. To create your own characters, simply watch people and interact with them. Pay attention to their actions, thoughts, and motives. Don’t worry if one person is not interesting, unique, strong or weak enough. Take pieces from these people to make the special character you need.


I minored in political science and I’m conjuring images of the Rome Airport, Belfast and Baader-Meinhof. What sort of research do you do for your novels?

The Hollow Man series is based on incidents and facts occurring forty years ago. As a result, my research is extensive. I want to be as historically accurate as possible so I explore everything from actions prior to documented events to reactions in the aftermath to local cuisine and currencies, and so on.

I use the internet for most of my research. Over the past twenty years, the web has grown from an enigma of secrets and codes to a modern oracle of answers. Ask a question and I’m immediately presented with pages of explanations, observations, interpretations, comments, and justifications. My first inclination is to believe what I find but since it is the Internet, I always double check the sources.


Yeah, the Internet — there’s a reason they call it “the web”. You must figure out which strands are safe to step on. If someone who hasn’t read any of your novels asked you to describe your writing, what would you say?

My writing style is very visual. It’s important for me to completely immerse the reader, drawing him/her totally into each scene. I want the reader to see what’s going on around them, feel the excitement, and hear the voices. When readers say The Hollow Man should be on the big screen, I feel like I’ve made the story completely real.


Do you write from an outline or are you a discovery writer?  Why?

I write from a very shallow outline. Because my work is mostly character driven, the plot is laid out in chapter boxes using a few sentences to keep the action moving with the characters. As the characters come alive, change, grow, etc. the plot changes in the same way. Though I try to remain true to the plot outline, occasionally it strays because of character development.


But generally, the drift is minimal. It’s important to me that plot and character exist in sync like words and music. Otherwise, a fully plot-driven novel is just a story told without the sound and passion of real life and a wholly character driven novel is at best, characters looking for something to do to give their lives meaning.


I’m going to need to read this book, I think. What point of view do you prefer to write, and why?

I prefer to write from the first person point of view.

Like life, the protagonist doesn’t and shouldn’t know everything. S/he learns through interactions with other characters, the environment, experiences, actions, etc.  The character is giving you their personal view of what’s happening, and yet it’s clear to the reader that it’s not the whole story. It’s the natural way we all perceive the world.

In first person, I believe it is easier for the reader to identify with the protagonist.  Everything the reader sees is infused with the narrator’s personality and pathos. Things don’t just happen in a first person narrative, they happen through the narrator’s perspective.

Having said that, I occasionally include a third person viewpoint to give the reader insights into character development and build suspense around the first person protagonist.


Do you head-hop?

I do head hop occasionally when I write in first person. Though it isn’t possible for the narrator to know all via a first person viewpoint, the reader sometimes deserves a bit more information than the narrator can provide. I use this technique to increase reader knowledge, enhance plot suspense, and expand characterizations.


I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?

Being a city boy, I’ll assume there is no electricity, not even a generator snuggled between the wolf den and the bear cave. It’s a good thing I just bought a 45-day battery for my laptop because I’ll need to write. Since I failed penmanship in the fourth grade and my handwriting went south from there, I’ll require something more than pencils.

I’ll also be bringing an automatic weapon. No offense but I’ve been to Alaska and the mosquitos are bigger than single engine planes. Mosquito spray is useless against them. They fly two hundred miles per hour and can instantly mummify your carcass without slowing down.

Thinking about it, I won’t need any books. After a month’s total isolation, when you return to pick me up, you’ll find me sitting in a dark corner, sucking my thumb, and talking to my demons.


We will have a generator, maybe next year. You are totally right about the mosquitos, though it is entirely possible that I have built up such a concentration of DEET in my system that it actually does keep them off me. 

Talk about your books individually.


The Hollow Man is based on true events during the early 1970’s, and traces some of my experiences as a young man traveling in Europe. At the time, terrorism was on the rise and I had been assigned to learn as much as I could about it. Most early acts of terror were specific, personal and damage was focused on a distinct, definable enemy. But terrorism was beginning to change its strategy to the familiar, senseless chaos we recognize today. The death of political figures no longer seemed to bother us as much as these new, random attacks against our children. Targets of innocence became preferable because they hit closer to our hearts and the fear inside us grew larger with each incident.

I’m working on a sequel to The Hollow Man, called London Bridge is Falling Down.  By the early 1970’s, animosities between England and Ireland had become razor sharp. Mass bombings and cross border clashes were constant reminders of Ireland’s struggle to be united and free. The media had dubbed these conflicts “The Troubles” which had already claimed almost a thousand lives and there was no end in sight. Militant activities were spiking amid rumors the IRA had developed a list of targets designed to bring England to her knees. Like The Hollow Man, London Bridge is Falling Down is based on true events and includes some of the same, unforgettable characters.

Surviving Prague is scheduled to be the third installment of the series.


What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?

I want readers to think I am a decent writer who entertained them for a while.


What influenced your decision to self-publish?

I totally understand there are hundreds of thousands of inferior books in the marketplace today, each vying for a portion of the reader’s attention and money. Someone needs to be a capable gatekeeper to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Those guardians are today’s agents since it’s difficult to get to a publisher unsolicited.  I also understand both agents and publishers are in the business of profits.

However after eight months of submitting the first three chapters of The Hollow Man to countless agents with very few responses, I finally understood our goals were mutually exclusive. Agents scour submissions for the next great formulary bestseller and I just wanted a chance to present my entire novel to an industry expert in exchange for an honest appraisal. It was at this point I realized the Internet was full of readers and reviewers who were more than happy to offer their opinions on the weaknesses and strengths of my novel. So the decision to self-publish became easy.


I would mostly agree with that assessment from my own experience. What do you find to be the greatest advantage of self-publishing?

The greatest advantage, and disadvantage, of self-publishing is having full control of the process.  It can be daunting for many, thinking about writing, publishing, marketing, etc. But the control can be empowering too.  The author can make every decision from cover art to font size to sales techniques. If s/he wants to change the title, finds an error, needs to rewrite parts, wishes to sample changes in the price structure or whatever, the path to a better publication is quick and easy.


Conversely, what do you think self-published authors might be missing out on?

In a few words, we’re missing out on professional marketing.  As self-published authors, most of us struggle after a book is published with such tasks as building an author platform, soliciting reviews, marketing, etc.  We just want to write and let the books take care of themselves.

That’s where professional marketing supplied by a publisher becomes a key component of a book’s success. A publisher is able to apply proven techniques to promote and sell books. But like everything these days, a publisher’s marketing doesn’t last forever. But it can be self-sustaining if an author can learn from the publisher’s actions.


Who designed your book cover/s?

The cover art on the self-published edition of The Hollow Man was designed and created by me. I had a vision of exactly what I wanted; an image of excitement, adventure, and mystery.

 The cover for the relaunched edition of The Hollow Man was a collaboration between my new publisher, the agent, and myself. We created two potential covers and allowed my fans to choose the cover they liked best.


Do you believe that self-published authors can produce books as high-quality as the traditional published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?

It is certainly possible to produce high-quality books to rival traditional publications. But it can’t unfortunately be accomplished on a shoestring budget. At a minimum I would recommend professional cover art and professional editing – possibly as many as three in depth rounds (spelling / sentence structure, developmental and character arc).

 Top quality or not, if sustained paid marketing is not included, the sales will fall short of expectation.  Book sales require either money and / or many hours of the author’s time.


Where can interested readers find you?

Social media links:




Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

There’ll be an interview and maybe an update on Mirklin Wood.

And, hey! Watch for a Booktrap event on December 3 and 4. Come celebrate the Magical World of Books.

Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

There will be an interview.

And Life As We Knew It ebook is on sale this week. You save $2 if you buy now.

Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

baa10-bluetypewriter-whitepinkflowersToday’s interview will be with Stewart Bint.

Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

baa10-bluetypewriter-whitepinkflowersThis week’s interview is with Jenna Nelson, author of The Snow Globe. I found Jenna on Twitter because her book cover is stunning.

Interview with Sydney Scrogham   1 comment

Today’s interview is with Sydney Scrogham. Welcome to the blog, Sydney. Tell us something about yourself.

Scrogham author photoAny fellow Caskett fans out there?  I’ve learned so much about plotting from watching Castle episodes…

I’m on the East Coast in the United States, Virginia to be precise.  (The weather’s crazy here in case you’re wondering.)  My day job finds me as a support staff specialist for Wingfield Ministries, and I’m the proud momma of one miniature dachshund (Zoe) and one big Selle Francais (horse—named Snowdy).

At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was 12.  In the span of a year, I wrote a 30-some book “series” (about six pages long each) about My Little Ponies who lived on a farm run by Beanie Baby cats.

What is your favorite genre … to read … to write?

Fantasy and romance… as long as there’s no erotica.

What are you passionate about?

People discovering that their heart’s desire is a good thing that they should pursue, even if it seems impossible.

What is something you cannot live without?

A horse.

Have you written any books that made a transformative effect on you? If so, in what way?

I just finished one, and it’ll be the next to come out after Chase.  I wrote it to deal with a bad breakup.  I wanted to write the happy ending I didn’t get, and I ended up learning a ton about myself in the process.

Scrogham Chase-CoverIf someone who hasn’t read any of your novels asked you to describe your writing, what would you say?

Poetic.  Visual. Fresh.  I can’t stand clichés, and I love to have my characters express themselves through their body language.

Do you have a special place where you write?

No, but I like quiet, and I’ve got to have instrumental music.  Writing to Marvel movie soundtracks is my go-to sound.

Now that is different. I like that. Are you a plot driven or character driven writer? Why?

I see that as the same thing—a good character will drive the plot as he changes into who he’s meant to be.

Do you write from an outline or are you a discovery writer?  Why?

I do a little bit of both.  I’ll outline for a little bit, and then I’ll discover, and then outline some more, etc.  I outline ONLY if I’m worried about forgetting something.  I’ll also make an outline in reverse—meaning I’ll record what’s happening as I write so I don’t forget where I’ve been.

What point of view do you prefer to write, and why?

First person, because I can get away with so many intimate character thoughts.  I also appreciate the challenge of trying to make each of my first person characters sound different.  I want readers to know who’s who without glancing back at the beginning of the chapter.

I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?

Gosh, I’ll sleep.  A lot.  And it’ll be wonderful!  But when I’m not sleeping, I’ll be exploring outside.  I love new places.  When the weather’s bad and I have to be inside, I’ll have my laptop, Nintendo DS (to entertain my need for a Pokemon game every once in a while), and a couple books.  I’ll bring The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater), the sequel to Kindle The Flame (Tamara Shoemaker), I’ll wish Kristin Cashore had another book for me to read, and I’ll study the Bible and Plot Perfect (Paula Munier).  Alongside my imagination, that’s really all I need to survive.  But I’ll miss my animals so much!

Talk about your books individually.

There’s only one available to the public right now, and that’s Chase.  It’s taken a couple contracts to get there, but that makes me even more excited about it.  I keep imaging one young girl who gets wrapped up in Agalrae and sees a blue Alicorn the next time she looks at a horse.

Right now, I’m working my way backward in the series, and I just completed a story about Chase’s grandparents. I’m super excited to let all these characters all meet in a book one day.

I love your cover, by the way. What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?

Wow, that’s a loaded question.  Chase is just a part of the story, and I want people to be satisfied with the beginning as well as wondering where we’ll go next.  I have one fan that based a horse training business off of some things that were mentioned in Chase’s first draft.  I don’t know if there’s anyone out there that can top that, but I’m open to it!

You’re published through a small press with what’s called “hybrid” publishing. Can you explain that for my readers?

Koehler Books has been amazing to work with.  I’ve also had other writers tell me that I’ve got one of the best hybrid deals they’ve ever heard of.  (Hybrid means the author and the publisher split the cost of publishing.)  Additionally, I’m getting mentored in becoming a professional, branded author.  I couldn’t’ve asked for a better situation for my first book.

What do you think self-published or hybrid-published authors might be missing out on?

Discoverability.  That’s a big word that means it’s hard to be noticed as a self-published author.  You can have a great book, but you’re going to struggle if no one knows about it.


Yeah, that’s why I do these interviews. My small part in helping others be discovered and hoping to get some exposure for myself at the same time. Do you believe that hybrid-published authors can produce books as high-quality as the traditional published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?

Yes.  But you’ll have to pay as much as the traditional publisher.  There’s also something a traditionally published book can offer you that hybrid or self-publishing can’t, and that’s promotion.   It’s a lot easier to be seen with a traditional publisher than when you go on your own or with a smaller press.  Just remember, there’s no reason you can’t try both worlds! I know many authors prefer the control over self-publishing, but even with a hybrid contract I’ve given up some of my control in exchange for professional guidance.  For example, the publisher overruled me on Chase’s cover.  (But that’s okay because I liked it anyway!)



Do you write specifically for a Christian audience? Why or why not?

No.  Personally, I cannot stand the Christian market.  If you don’t fit the cookie cutter, then your book can’t be “Christian.”  That irks me.  I want to be able to blur the lines.


We are in agreement there. What are some of the special challenges you’ve encountered being a Christian writer?

Sex scenes.  There aren’t any in Chase since it’s a YA title, but I just finished a draft of another story that included a moderate sex scene.  Definitely not Fifty Shades worthy, but still, this goes back to the “I want to blur the lines” thing.  If a couple is married (and they were), then I should be able to write a sex scene without making a Christian audience upset.  Yes, I know there are a lot of people who’d disagree with me.  But if sex is relevant to the story and a character’s transformation…  A ton of healing can occur in a healthy marriage, and that’s the situation I found myself in with my work in progress.


Good for you. That’s a challenge for me as well. Christians are told to be “in the world, but not of it.” As a Christian writer, how do you write to conform to that scripture?

I think the answer is best seen in Chase’s story.  I pray daily for the people who have and will read Chase.  It’s loaded with spiritual themes presented in (to me) a fresh way.  God, the author of romance, rose from the DEAD because He wanted a relationship with human beings that badly.  Chase barely touches on the surface of that love, but I still pray it brings breakthrough for people where they need it.


Do you feel that Christian writers are expected to conform to some standards that are perhaps not realistic to the world?

Yes, which is part of the reason why I don’t market myself as a Christian author.


Do you feel that Christian writers should focus on writing really great story or on presenting the gospel clearly in everything they write? Or is it possible to do both?

I think it’s possible to do both because I ask Holy Spirit for creativity—a great story was His idea first. Susan May Warren is a great example of Jesus on the pages of a great book.

Where can readers find you and your books?


Chase’s eBook on Amazon (print coming on August 1): ​

Posted September 2, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Author Interviews

Tagged with , , ,

Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

I took a break on interviews because my muse (obsession, insanity, whatever you want to call it) was insisting that I use all of my free time to work on either Murklin Wood. I am now 25,000 words ahead of where I was when my non-fiction muse slammed that door to open the other more widely. Yes, 25,000 words in one month and some of them were even good!

. I also completed the short story for the Gateway Anthology that Breakwater Harbor Books is publishing this fall. Watch for it and enjoy reading Pivot of Fate, a companion short for the Daermad Cycle. I’m exploring an incident 20-some years in the past for Ryanna, Gil, and Duglas.

I’m skipping the blog hop this week to set up interviews for the next few weeks and also exploring a new series with Becky Akers. See, there was a method to my madness.

I’d love to stay submerged in my own universe, but I have promises to keep, so … I’m back … and so are the author interviews. This week I’m hosting a writer from Lola’s Blog Tours. Displaying 1391883175617.jpg

Vacationing on the Extreme   4 comments

Do you like to read? Wouldn’t you like to know more about your favorite authors? Well you came to the right place! Join the MMB Open Book Blog Hop each Wednesday and they will tell all. Every week we’ll answer questions and after you’ve enjoyed the blog on this site we’ll direct you to another. So come back often for a thrilling ride! Tell your friends and feel free to ask us questions in the comment box.’

Topic: It’s the time of year for vacations (Holiday for our UK friends). Share your favorite vacation, your dream vacation or anything in between.

Hi, welcome to the blog. If you’re hopping over from Traci Wooden-Carlisle‘s blog, I’m sure she had a great story to tell. While you were there, did you check out her books? Thanks, Traci, for the introduction. If you’re joining midstream as it were, follow the link back to check out what she’s up to.

This week’s blog hop topic is dream vacations. I have all of the same dreams as anyone. I’d like to visit Switzerland, Iceland and Australia sometime, and take a cruise of the Caribbean. I want to drive east to west across the United States, both across the north and south and take time to savor the experience. I want to return to Hawaii, see the Big Island and Molakai, and return to Maui. I’d like to drive and hike the old logging areas of the Olympic Peninsula and visit Yosemite.

But the fact is … everybody has some version of those dream and I’m an Alaskan, so we already live an adventure. Most of the vacations we’ve enjoyed have been less than dreamlike during the actual event, but we remember parts of them with warm affection now, so they are all dream vacations in their own way.

A lifetime goal was finally filled last year when my son and I took the Alaska Marine Highway out the Aleutians. Lest you misunderstand me, AMHS is a ferry system that covers the south coastal area of Alaska, where there are no roads.

It’s a four day journey that carried us nearly 900 miles from Homer, where we embarked, to Unalaska, which is actually the start of the Aleutians.

The ferry Tustamena served as our transportation and campground as we took this journey, which our son (Kyle) says may be the safest camping he’s ever done. Normally we camp in the Alaska wilderness where we keep a gun tucked in the tent bag in case the wildlife attacks. While we saw seabirds, seals, whales and sea lions on our trip, we never once worried about a moose stomping the tent or a bear eating one of us while we were answering nature’s call.

Yes, we tent camped on the ferry. This is considered perfectly normal behavior on the week-long round trip as cabin space is limited and expensive. The Tustamena has showers, a lovely observation lounge where you can get in from the chill and food service … though we actually didn’t use that very often. We brought MRE’s (military-surplus meals-ready-to-eat) which use CO2 warmers. This novelty provided a great deal of entertainment for the tourists.

A part of the fun of the trip for Kyle was that he got to be the expert for the tourists who were also attempting to camp on the ferry. We are old hands at tent camping in high winds where rocky ground prevents staking the tent, so the Tustamena’s deck was not a problem for us. We know how to weight the corners with personal items and we brought along an air mattress (a luxury for us because the weight is not worth it when you’re hiking) to get us off the hard deck. Kyle spent a lot of time showing men twice his age (he was 15) how to “stake” their tents to the deck with duct tape. I’m sure they wondered why we didn’t do the same, but it was because we came prepared.

Although teenagers are great tent warmers, it was freaking cold outside the tent at night and one night the waves were up and we witnessed several of our fellow travelers break tent poles in the wind. For Kyle and I, it was all part of the fun. We brought winter sleeping bags and ours is a three-season wind-resistant tent. It was a luxury for us to roll out of the tent and be able to take hot showers, although the morning I had to take a dash through freezing rain to the shower, I wished we had a cabin. Nothing that a hot shower followed by some fresh coffee in the cantina didn’t cure. The kid even learned to appreciate coffee on this trip. Neither of us is prone to seasickness, though at one point on that stormy night I woke up thinking we were being sucked to the bottom of the deep blue sea.

We spent a day in Kodiak, because the ship stopped there for about eight hours, and we hiked with friends who live there. We then spent four days wandering the ship, taking photos of the passing landscape and talking to strangers about Alaska. We got off in Sand Point, Chignik and King Cove for short periods. I made a couple of new friends who I continue to converse with over Internet, and I learned a great deal about the King Cove to Cold Bay Road and why it essential this vehicle-capable trail be built.. The ocean trip was extremely relaxing, occasionally boring, but broken by periods of unique experience as seals swam alongside the ferry and whales breached no further away than our neighbor’s house in Fairbanks.

Neither of us knew what to expect of Unalaska or Amaknak (the island home to Dutch Harbor proper), but once we got there everywhere we went, we saw tangible reminders of Aleut history, Russian Orthodox culture and the tumultuous years of World War II, which opened door after door for reflection and education. We chose to stay overnight in Unalaska rather than continue with the AMHS for its turn-around, so we had time to explore.

The Unalaska/Port of Dutch Harbor Convention and Visitors Bureau has made a concerted effort in recent years to encourage extended exploration by visitors. Cruise ships have begun making ports of call. Originally settled centuries ago by the Aleut People who led a true subsistence lifestyle, the Aleutians are a harsh, beautiful land.  World War II shaped the future of Unalaska, at least in terms of infrastructure and topography. In 1940, the United States Navy appropriated Unalaska and Amaknak islands as a fortification against potential Japanese attack, which started June 3, 1942. While no actual battles were fought in the Dutch Harbor area, two days of bombing and an eventual presence of Japanese forces in Attu and Kiska at the western end of the chain kept up to 40,000 American soldiers, sailors and airmen stationed in Unalaska until the war ended. One of those sailors was my brother’s father, who was a photographer and so I had seen some black-and-white photos of his time stationed in the Aleutians.

The concrete and steel remnants of a world at war do not easily yield to time. Most of the gun turrets have been removed, but we saw evidence of them everywhere. Unlike sites of major battles or well-known commemorative memorials, little has been done to mitigate the eventual overgrowth of crowberry bushes, grasses and a variety of animal and bird life, which I found more affecting than what you see on the Mall in Washington DC.

The arrival of World War II meant the construction of roads, both in town and beyond, totaling 38 miles. Today, those same dirt roads lead to generally unmarked trails that, once explored, open a chapter of history that cannot be replicated in any classroom. It’s a fisherman’s paradise, but we had no way to preserve any fish we caught, so we didn’t fish.

Knowing we were going to want to hike, we had already secured a recreational land-use permit from the Ounalashka Corporation, land owners of nearly all of the Dutch Harbor area. It’s $6/individual or $10/family for day use. Corporation headquarters on Salmon Way also provides detailed hiking maps, berry-picking guidance and an excellent display of Aleut baskets, sculptures and art.

Trail options are plentiful even within the boundary of town, but we had limited time, so we hiked Bunker Hill on Amaknak, which was a wonderful place capture our first sense of the U.S. military’s attempt to establish itself as a protectorate. Accessed near the Small Boat Harbor, this old military road is closed to motorized vehicles, leaving a wide switchback trail that winds up and around the hill, past abandoned tunnels, bunkers and a concrete turret that overlooks town. Making our way back to town, we discovered a series of carefully dug trenches in geometric patterns, designed to prevent Japanese troops from advancing overland.

Mount Ballyhoo overlooked our journey each step of the way. Ballyhoo is the site of Fort Schwatka. Almost unseen by the casual observer, Fort Schwatka provided housing, medical care, offices, communications bunkers and a series of tunnels running back and forth through the hillsides. Like many military-themed hikes, Fort Schwatka feeds the imagination. Although this remote military installation provides proof of worldwide conflict in a different era, it’s also a reminder of the people stationed here — young, naive soldiers who may never have traveled before being dropped on this chilly northern equivalent of a desert island, watching and waiting for an enemy known for stealth and surprise. When the wind blows hard enough, whistling across the summit of Mount Ballyhoo, or clouds blow a misty breath across the open front of half-buried turrets, it’s easy to visualize and difficult to comprehend just what it must have been like when this was truly the end of the world.

Unalaska’s lush treeless hillsides begged us to hike the island’s steep, windy slopes. Most trails are old military access points. Others, like the Ugadaga Trail, are historical thoroughfares of the Aleut people. Camping is allowed in designated areas, provided a land-use permit has been obtained. A map of the area, provided by the Ounalashka Corporation, is a must, as many trailheads are only vaguely marked.

We only had the one day and night, so we didn’t bother to sleep since it was mostly daylight and we knew we could sleep on the ferry when we got back on), so our last hike in Unalaska was the Ugadaga Trail. Plunging 800 feet toward the opposite shoreline, this is a 1.5-mile hike tackled by families. It only took about two hours and the sun was nice enough to come out and make us hot as we hiked.

We saw fox, ground squirrels, nesting eagles, rock ptarmigan and so many types of wildflowers that I lost track. We also encountered a lot of wet, slippery conditions and other hikers who were alarmed that they couldn’t get cell phone or Internet in many parts of Unalaska. We had locked our electronics in the trunk of the car in Homer so were not really concerned with the loss of connectivity. We brought MREs, water and layers of warm, weatherproof clothing. We also stopped for breakfast at Amelia’s.

The best part of this trip was that Kyle and I spent an entire week together, enjoying each other’s company. We played a lot of cribbage and took some great photos, met some interesting people and got to see a part of Alaska that even most Alaskans never see. Brad (husband) and Brianne (daughter) were unable to join us for this journey, so we will probably go back, at least to Kodiak, but I’m also curious to explore King Cove and Cold Bay. This is not a trip for everyone. It pays to have experience in shoulder season camping and stomachs not easily upset by rolling waves, but it is definitely something that’s been on my life list since I was in college and the State first opened the route there.

So now that you’ve been way off the beaten track with me, you should go on and see Stephany Tullis‘s vacation stories and perhaps take some time to check out her inspirational books.

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