Midnight Sun, Arctic Moon

Interview for EARTH EXPLORER Magazine
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Note: Following her graduation from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1977, Mary Albanese moved to Fairbanks and received her M.S. in Geoscience from the University of Alaska in 1980. She worked as a geological explorer for the state of Alaska until she left the state in 1987, and later received her PhD (in writing education) from the University of Reading, United Kingdom. Her autobiography MIDNIGHT SUN, ARCTIC MOON chronicles her decade spent as an Alaska geological explore, and is just out from Epicenter Press. For more information see: www.MidnightSunArcticMoon.com  
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Q: What made you write your auto-biography MIDNIGHT SUN, ARCTIC MOON, about your years spent mapping Alaska's geology? 

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I had been writing fiction for a while, and not getting very far with it. A friend in England in my writer's group suggested I write something different. I hadn't planned on writing about my years in Alaska as a geological explorer [from 1977 - 1987], but three hours into an overnight long-haul flight to Australia, I picked up a pen and my Alaska years started to tumble out.

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 Q: How long did it take to write your biography? 

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The first draft took four months to write. Once it started, I couldn't stop writing -- at the airport, on the bus -- it was something that had apparently been bottled up inside me and just had to come out. After I got that first draft down, it took another four years to complete the second draft and the third and the fourth.

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 Q: Why did you need so many drafts?

          

Like most writers, I find that writing is not a particularly linear process. While that first draft came out in a rush, the re-writing required a lot of reflecting, which usually involves a generous dose of backing up and re-thinking. The first draft is my chance to get the story down for me. The revisions are done with the audience in mind.

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Q: Why didn't you write your story sooner? Why did you wait for twenty-five years after you left Alaska to write about it? 

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When I first arrived in Alaska, I saw everything with fresh eyes. After I had lived there for a few years, the extreme conditions of a remote explorer, the outrageous characters I knew who thrived there, and the sub-zero winters began to seem normal. Perhaps I had to wait a good long time to be able to consider my Alaska years with fresh eyes again.

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Q: So, the book covers other aspects of life in Alaska besides being an exploration mapper? 

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It does. While I think the book will resonate with geo-professionals, it is accessible to a broader audience including arm-chair adventurers, those who like a good (true) story about beating the odds, and young people dealing with the task of trying to carve out their own niche in the world.

Also, you have to remember that as an exploration geologist in Alaska, you only have three or four months where you can work out in the field. The rest of the time, you spend in town dealing with your data and making maps. Life in Fairbanks was never boring and dealing with those winters is a rich subject in itself. I was involved in a range of northern activities that are included in the narrative. I even did a bit of dog-sledding and was involved peripherally with the first Yukon Quest, the long distance dog-mushing race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse. That was a uniquely memorable experience.

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 Q: What is different about your biography and other biographies on the market? 

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The years following the completion of Alaska's pipeline (finished in 1977) are not  covered very well in the literature. This was an exciting time in the state's history. Much of the geology hadn't been charted. This created huge opportunities for my generation of explorers, and made it possible for a young geologist like me to put my name on the map, literally. I wanted to capture that sense of wonder and the feeling of unlimited possibilities that we all felt at the time. There was a general mood of excitement in the air that went far beyond my circle of geologists. It was something that it seemed the whole town felt at the time. You don't need to be a scientist or a geologist to enjoy the book. However, at the same time, it will give people a taste of that life, and I hope a better appreciation of what goes into exploring for minerals and the things that we all tend to take for granted.

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 Q: As a writer, do you ever have problems with the "blank page" syndrome? 

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Not really. I view writing not so much as an additive process but more of a sculptural process. Once I have a clear vision of the story I want to tell, whether fiction or non-fiction, I see my job as the taking away of everything that is NOT the story. As soon as I start to remove things that are NOT the story, it gets easier to focus. I think it was Michelangelo who was asked how he could carve a horse out of stone, and he responded that all he had to do was remove everything that WASN'T the horse. For me, writing feels that same way. The fear of the blank page, I think, is not so much a fear of what to put in, but the overwhelming fear of having infinite thoughts at hand, and knowing which paths of that maze to ignore and which one to head down. Once you chose a path, you are that much closer to reaching its destination. It sounds like a simple thing, but it has been very helpful to me not only in writing, and in mapping, but in just about everything else, too.

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 Q In your book, you site another personal philosophy: "If at first you don't succeed, try something that's harder". Can you elaborate? 

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It might seem counter-intuitive, but this philosophy has indeed worked for me. For one thing, it seems to me that the biggest impediment to achieving one's dream is inaction. If you don't try, you will never get anywhere. Trying something that's even harder forces me to challenge myself further, and pushes my limits and boundaries. In short, it forces me to re-map my own abilities and extend those margins into new territory. After all, there are very few things that a person can't do if they put their mind and heart and soul into it. For another thing, if you aim higher, you might find there is less competition up there. If so, it automatically increases your odds for success, and that's always a good thing.

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