Cold Storage, Alaska is Straley’s eighth novel, and his first since 2008’s The Big Both Ways.
But Straley says he actually wrote Cold Storage before his last novel, and had put it in a drawer.
“The feedback I got from publishers was that it wasn’t violent enough. It didn’t have a strong enough revenge ending where everybody gets shot up. One of their reactions was, Well, I don’t see the big deal about this bunch of oddballs in this little Alaska town.”
Although Cold Storage is a mystery, Straley says it has its share of screwball humor. He revisited the manuscript when his publisher, SOHO Press, hired a new editor. She liked it, and the book went into production.
Cold Storage ties in with The Big Both Ways. The latter’s young protagonist, Annabelle, appears in Cold Storage as an older woman. The story is set in the early 1990s, during the first years of the Clinton presidency.
But it is not set anywhere real. Although Ketchikan, Juneau, and his hometown of Sitka loom large in his earlier work, Straley says the community of Cold Storage is pure fiction.
“I wanted to write in my own made-up universe, for this whole series of books that are going to be the Cold Storage series. So I created my own little town which is an amalgam of Tenakee, Pelican, and Port Alexander. Sort of my own little universe.”
And that universe is populated with fictional residents. But Straley doesn’t hesitate to give locals full credit for helping him create his novels’ rich characters.
“I still just love the way this place shapes people. We have amazing intellectuals that roam the docks and the waterways, and bars and cafes — and not just intellectuals but characters, roustabouts, fishermen, fisherwomen. It’s a great place to work and live.”
Straley lives in Sitka with his wife Jan Straley, a marine mammal biologist based at the Sitka Sound Science Center.
Straley himself works full time as an investigator for the state Public Defender Agency. He’s not bothered that six years have passed since his last book.
“Writing novels is a hard job, especially if you already have a hard job — which I do!”
In addition to writing novels, Straley is also a published poet. His collection, The Rising and the Rain was published in 2008. And two years ago, a work by Straley was included on a list of great poems prepared by the National Poetry Foundation for it’s national recitation contest Poetry Out Loud. He is the former Writer Laureate of Alaska.
Straley will be signing copies of Cold Storage, Alaska today (2-4-14) in Sitka at Old Harbor Books. He’ll read from the novel tonight at 7 PM at Kettleson Memorial Library.
KCAW’s Melissa Marconi-Wentzel contribute to this story.