Category Archives: Living in the wilderness on Kodiak Island

Life in the wilderness on Kodiak Island

Terror in the Wilderness

I write wilderness mystery novels set in the remote, untamed wilderness of Alaska, and I also write a newsletter about true crime in Alaska. Recently, as I thought about a plot for my next novel, I decided I would draw pieces of my plot from the bizarre true crimes I write about in my newsletter. I then recalled a character from my past who was far more frightening than any fictional madman I could conjure in my imagination.

My husband and his family operated a remote hunting camp on the Alaska Peninsula, and when my husband was just a boy, he and his family were terrorized by a crazy man who stalked the wilderness of the Alaska Peninsula and claimed he owned the area around Becharof Lake. Killer Bill, as he was called, once hiked into the hunting camp, threatened my father-in-law and then punched him, knocking him unconscious. Killer Bill served time in prison for this crime, and he also spent time in jail when he was convicted of manslaughter for killing a man in a bar. When released on probation, the judge warned Bill that as a condition of his parole, he could not carry a firearm. Killer Bill ignored the warning and carried a rifle everywhere he went.

Bill burned down the hunting camp my husband’s family owned, and when they rebuilt, they constructed tent frames, instead of cabins, hoping Killer Bill would find the tent frames less offensive. Bill responded by burning the tent frames.

One winter, the Alaska State Troopers found Killer Bill’s snow machine submerged in a river, and they assumed he’d fallen through the ice during the winter and had drowned, but they never found Bill’s body. Everyone wondered was he dead or still alive, terrorizing anyone who dared camp on the vast area of the Alaska Peninsula he considered his. On my first trip to Becharof in the late 1980s, my husband warned me to keep watch for an old man who might suddenly walk out of the woods.

“What,” I asked, “was I to do if I saw him hiking up to our camp?”

“I’m sure he won’t bother you,” my husband said, “but grab a rifle as soon as you see him, just to be safe.”

I never saw Killer Bill, and he was surely long dead by then, but every time we camped at Becharof, I worried less about the bears and wolves prowling the Peninsula outside my tent than I did about a strange, old man who might appear at any moment out of the mist.

Numerous rumors circulated about Killer Bill. A fish and game biologist told us that on several different occasions, Killer Bill had gone trapping during the winter with a partner, but when Bill returned in the spring, his trapping partners were never with him. Once, according to this biologist, troopers entered Bill’s cabin when he wasn’t there and found human remains in the cabin. They suspected Bill had eaten his trapping companions, but they were never able to find Bill and charge him with the crimes.

I can’t imagine anything more terrifying in the wilderness than a crazy man determined to do anything and kill anyone to protect what he believes is his. I plan to base a character in my next novel on Killer Bill, and I hope my readers will find my character as frightening as I found the specter of the real man.

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Home Again

ike and I just returned home after six weeks on the road. We had a great vacation, but as always, I am happy to be home, despite the cold weather and frozen waterline.

Spring is still two months away in this area of the world, and we’ve had a tough winter here. After several mild winters, the black-tailed deer population on the island had exploded, but many deer did not survive the freezing temperatures this winter. I haven’t had a chance to go hiking yet to see with my own eyes how bad the winter kill was, but I’ve heard it was bad. The cycling of deer populations is normal, of course, and the deer population here will recover, but I find it difficult to watch animals starve to death and die from exposure.

I was thrilled to get a dose of sunshine and heat on our vacation. We went sailing with friends in the British Virgin Islands, and then Mike and I traveled further south to Bonaire where we snorkeled and dived and enjoyed wearing fewer layers of clothes than normal. Besides spending time with friends, the best part of the vacation for me was that I could snorkel nearly every day. I studied marine and fisheries biology in college, and I have always been fascinated by the underwater world. I could float above a coral reef all day long, watching the interactions between the fish and marine invertebrates in that busy community. The area surrounding Bonaire is a protected marine park, so the coral is healthy, and the tropical fish thrive. I would grab my mask and fins, jump off the dock at our hotel, and instantly be immersed in a gorgeous, underwater world. Getting to Bonaire was not easy, but it was well worth the hassle to enjoy that little piece of paradise.

During the many, long plane rides and mornings on the sailboat on our trip, I had time to edit the manuscript of my latest novel. With each pass, I am polishing it into the story I want it to be. I think most authors would tell you editing is the least fun part of the writing process, but editing is necessary and can’t be avoided. In addition to questioning every comma and semicolon and trying to remember whether a character’s eyes are blue or brown, I worry that the plot moves forward in a logical progression. Will the reader be surprised or disappointed? Are the characters believable? Have I provided enough description or too much description? My working manuscript is long, so I’m concerned I need to cut some scenes. Luckily, I will get help answering these questions. Once I have the manuscript as perfect as I can make it, I will send it to a professional editor who will look at it line by line and then step back and consider the manuscript as a whole. A few friends have also volunteered to read the manuscript, and my publisher will read through it and give me his thoughts.

I also want to ask for your help with my manuscript. In a few weeks, I will post a few excerpts from the book, and I encourage you to let me know what you think, good or bad. I would much rather have the feedback now than read it in a review on Amazon once the book has been published!

Finally, I have a gift for my blog readers. Click on the cover of my book below and receive a free coupon for an e-book of my novel, Murder Over Kodiak. When you click on the link you will be taken to a site provided by my publisher, and you will need to register to download the book, but there is no catch. The book is yours free!

As many of you know, I write a monthly newsletter about crime and mysteries in Alaska. I think of spring as the start of the new season for my newsletter, and I have several interesting topics I plan to cover over the next months. My newsletters are free, and you can always unsubscribe if they aren’t for you. If you think you would be interested in my newsletters, you can sign up here.

Summer Friends at Amook Pass

Summer Friends at Amook Pass is a post by my friend, Marcia Messier. I love this humorous story about her animal encounters while she worked for us at Munsey’s Bear Camp. What Marcia doesn’t tell you in this piece is that I named our goat visitor Marcie because the goat’s daring trip each summer from the mountains to the ocean, reminded me of Marcia’s adventurous spirit. Prepare to smile as you read about Marcia’s adventures!

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Summer Friends at Amook Pass

During the summer months at Amook Pass, the animals were my friends. That sounds a bit corny, but they were amusing, startling, and comforting, all that friends should be. I looked forward and anticipated who might stop by for a visit during my busy days.

House Animals

I was privileged to know Gizzy, Fletcher, Elsie, and Olive during my summers at Munsey’s Bear Camp. They were my very best animal friends. I thought it was interesting that Gizzy and Olive had similar personalities as did Fletcher and Elsie; even though, they had never met. Gizzy and Olive were the sweet ladies, soft-spoken, polite, accommodating for a photo, well groomed, and perhaps just a little bit shy of visitors. Fletcher and Elsie, on the other hand, were true wilderness cats. Fletcher was getting along in years when I first met him, but he told me many a hair-raising tale about his hunting skills as a younger gentleman. Elsie was in her prime, and she loved to stalk bears for days on end. Many a time as Robin and I were mourning her early demise, we would hear Mike yell, “Elsie’s back!”, and there she would be, dragging herself through the door, ragged, dirty and ravenously hungry after her latest adventure.

Fletcher and Elsie loved to hunt voles, the tiny mouse-like creatures close to the bottom of the Kodiak food chain. They must be a very tasty snack because twice daily I’d find their tiny blue and green left-over parts deposited on the front door step. I used to tell myself they were loving gifts, but then again, whoever left the pieces always seemed slightly amused when I reached down to pluck the bits off the doorstep while making slight gagging sounds.

Freddie the Weasel became a daily late-afternoon house guest. Maybe the sound of the old generator starting up interrupted his afternoon nap. He’d shoot in the backdoor, zip through the kitchen and take cover under the couch in the living room to watch and learn about life in the big house. At first, I jumped and shrieked thinking he must be some kind of Kodiak rat, but later in the day, Robin calmly explained about weasels.

Gizzy and Fletcher were still with us then but getting along in years. They knew their limitations, so they decided to pretend Freddie was just a figment of my over-active imagination. Not wanting to insult them, I went along with the game and soon we all looked forward to Freddie’s daily antics. I knew when he heard the boat motoring up to the mooring; I would see the tail end of Freddie flip out the front door.

Yard Animals

Early in the summer season, the female Sitka deer would bring their fawns into the yard to nibble the bright green salad-like greens growing around the cabins. Sometimes there would be twins, and I would think happy thoughts as I watched them through the kitchen window while preparing breakfast.

One day I came nose to nose with a deer! I was hurrying to the cabin with a load of fresh laundry, and we met coming around the corner at the same instant. We were both startled and just stared dumbfounded into each other’s eyes for a moment. I’m not sure who moved first, but a hunter later told me I was lucky it hadn’t given me a good kick in the shins before it bolted off! I guess that happens, but ours was a peaceful meeting, and I will forever remember that instant.

I live in Arizona, so the first time I saw a fox on the pathway, I excitedly reported to Mike I had seen a coyote in the yard that day. Laughing, he looked at me like I was nuts and said, “There are no coyotes on Kodiak Island!”. I felt a little foolish but still maintain at a distance, a big healthy Kodiak fox looks very much like a thin Arizona coyote in the summertime!

I’ve seen Bald Eagles before, but in Arizona, they are a special sighting. On Kodiak, they are commonplace, and I was thrilled to see a nesting pair close to camp. On my mid-day break, if the weather was good, I’d sit in a lawn chair facing the bay and watch the eagles fish. It was entertaining; an eagle would fly over the water and scope out a fish, and then in an amazing feet-first dive, catch the fish in its talons. After this, it was usually impossible to get airborne once again, so it had to row itself and the fish, still clutched in its talons, ashore with its wings. There, after expending so much energy, it would devour the fish and do it all over again.

More than once, on a nice day, while taking a siesta in the hammock, enjoying the warm sun on my face, I’d hear and feel the strong wing beats of a very large bird flying close over me, and I’d know I had been checked out by a Bald Eagle!

Some of you may have read my “Encounter” with a bear. I was walking along the path up to the guest cottage one afternoon, my mind far away, when I heard a “horse” snort. The sound brought me back to the present in a flash, and I must say, I have never confused the sound of a bear with that of a horse again!

A secret I’d like to reveal is Mike used to make a bear playground out of old red mooring buoys a distance up behind the generator shed. I heard him and Robin laughing once about how much fun the bears had rolling, tossing and chewing these old red buoys. I never did venture up past the generator shed and burn barrel. Wearing a red jacket, I didn’t want the bears to make a mistake. I did wonder if mother bears warned their cubs, “never go near that playground as there is a dangerous human there who makes frightening loud, smoky blasts come out of the shed and soon after makes fire leap high into the sky out of a barrel!” Thinking back, I was probably quite safe.

Marcie was my favorite yard animal. One warm July day, we spotted a solitary mountain goat strolling along the beach near camp. Mike and Robin reported this was indeed a rare sighting. We couldn’t help ourselves, Robin christened her Marcie, and we began to speculate about her life and why she was here on our beach. She was a rebel. Marcie was tired of billies, she had too many youngsters to raise, and the constant stress of all those steep icy mountain ledges was wearing her down. Maybe she had arthritis in her knees. Maybe she just wanted a vacation at the beach! We happily welcomed her, and for a number of years, she would appear for her annual July vacation at Munsey’s Bear Camp. One year she didn’t arrive. We looked and looked, but no Marcie.   Right away we decided, instead of feeling sad, we would celebrate her life. We had a toast to Marcie, how brave she was to break away from the herd and dare to be different!

Sea Animals

The sea otter is a zen-like sight floating on its back, paws pressed together as if in meditation pose. It’s a sweet maternal picture with mom floating on her back and a tiny baby resting on her belly. And how clever of them to use tools! They often are observed with a rock balanced on their belly, happily cracking open clams for lunch. Brilliant!

At Munsey’s Bear Camp, I often saw sea otters floating in the cove in front of the lodge, and the sea otters kept to themselves. Their cousins the river otters, however, were a different matter. A family of river otters took up residence under the dock. This dock was now their home, and no one else was welcome. The dock became their dining room and their toilet. A mop had to be stationed on the dock so that the horrid stinky mess could be swabbed away. The mop could also be used as a defensive tool.

River Otter

With guests arriving and departing from the dock every five days, caution had to be observed. One day stands out in my mind. It was a beautiful, sunny Kodiak day, and we were all on deck welcoming new guests. As they were embarking from the float plane and luggage was being handed down, I took a step back and slid on an unseen mound of otter poo. I wanted to vaporize as I fell on my backside in an ungraceful plop! Afterward, we laughed about this incident, but I never forgot, and every time I saw a sweet little otter posing for pictures, I saw two little horns poking up through the top of its head.

I grew up near Cape Cod where everyone loved to fish. I didn’t. To me, the whole process from baiting the hook, to dragging the poor thing out of its natural habitat with a hook in its mouth, to butchering it, to stinking up the house with fried fish was cruel and disgusting. Fast forward 40 years and I’m a cook in a fishing camp. I politely listened and smiled at all the fish stories and quietly cooked the fish, wondering what all the commotion was about. One day my perception changed. Robin and Mike asked me if I’d like to go out on the boat with them for the day. We had only one guest, and it was a great day to get out of the house. Yes, I wanted to go! Like a good sport, I purchased my fishing license, and away we went. Mike anchored in a pretty cove, and as I sat down in the deck chair ready to enjoy the sunshine, Robin stuck a baited pole in my hands and showed me where to drop the line. Still not paying much attention, suddenly the pole was nearly yanked out of my hands, and the line was whizzing off the reel. “What’s going on?”, I hollered. Robin and Mike replied, “You’ve caught a fish.” They proceeded to give me instructions. Suddenly, the scenario was hilarious, like an old re-run of “I Love Lucy.” I couldn’t stop laughing which in turn made my arms weak and unable to reel in the line. In a second, Robin strapped a belt-like thing around me to support the fishing pole so that I could reel. Now we are all laughing hard, but with perseverance and aching arms, the fish finally emerged from the deep. I was leaned over the rail gasping in amazement at “my halibut” when all of sudden, Mike, with an expert jerk of his pliers, freed my fish from the hook and off it swam! Hey! At that moment I was totally conflicted. On the one hand, I proudly wanted to bring my halibut home for supper, but on the other, I wished it well and was happy it was able to live another day in Uyak Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

Getaway!

Our suitcases are packed, and we are headed off on our winter getaway! Part of our trip is business-related, but the rest is a pleasure trip. Our first stop will be Las Vegas, where we will have a booth at the annual SCI Convention. It is a culture shock to leave remote Amook Pass and travel straight to Las Vegas. Here, the only sounds we have heard for the last few months have been the blowing wind and the occasional scream of an eagle or raven, and the only person we have seen is our mail plane pilot on his weekly stop. Las Vegas is sensory overload with constant noise and thousands of people. We always have a great time at this convention, though, because we spend time with friends and talk to past guests. I eat too much and sleep too little the entire time we are there, and when we arrive at the airport for the next leg of our trip, I breathe a sigh of relief because I know we are headed someplace less crazy than Vegas.

For the second part of our winter getaway, we are renting a sailboat with friends and sailing around the British Virgin Islands for a week. I know nothing about sailing, but everyone else in the group knows what they are doing. It will be a fun, relaxing week. After that adventure, Mike and I will spend another week in that area of the world, and we plan to snorkel, dive, relax, read, and I plan to write!

Next, it’s back to Anchorage and back to work. We will shop for lumber and other supplies to finish our new cabin and warehouse, and we will shop for everything else we will need from the city for the next year. We charter a barge once a year in the spring to bring fuel, building supplies, furniture, and any other large items from Kodiak to our lodge in Uyak Bay, so while we are in Anchorage, we will purchase these items and arrange for them to be shipped from Anchorage to Kodiak.

Also while we are in Anchorage, we will take a recertification course for our Wilderness First Responder credentials. We are required to recertify every three years. This course is important to us because it prepares us to take care of our guests when we are hiking in the Kodiak Wilderness.

By March 15th, we will be ready to fly home. We’ll be tired of eating in restaurants and sleeping in strange beds, but most of all, we will miss the peace and quiet of the wilderness. It is always nice to get away from Alaska in the middle of the dark, cold winter, but it is much better to return. By March, the days will be longer and brighter, and while it will still be winter, spring will soon be here.

I will post while on the road, and I already have several posts planned. My friend, Marcia Messier, has again promised a guest post while I’m away, and her posts are very popular. I also hope to keep up with my monthly Mystery Newsletters, and Steven Levi, a well-known author from Anchorage, will write the March edition of the newsletter. You will not want to miss that newsletter because Steve is an expert on crime and criminals throughout the history of Alaska, and I am thrilled he has agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to share his knowledge with us. If you haven’t yet signed up for my Mystery Newsletter, follow the link and do it now, so you don’t miss Steve’s newsletter.

I’ll let you know how the trip goes!

Welcome 2017!

Happy New Year, and welcome 2017! I’ll admit I am sad another year has flown by so quickly. Not everything about 2016 was great, but as I reflect on the year, the good times outweighed the bad. For me, the saddest events of 2016 were the sudden death of my oldest brother and the deaths of three friends. I loved the time I spent with my family in in Kansas in May, though, and I enjoyed seeing high school classmates at my reunion. We had great summer and fall seasons at our lodge, and our yard has been full of deer the past several weeks.

A few years ago, I began making New Year’s resolutions. I had always considered resolutions a joke, like a diet that only lasts two days. I never thought I’d feel bound to a resolution, but to my surprise, I have taken my resolutions seriously, and they are in the back of my mind all year as I struggle to fulfill them. I am not great at following through with resolutions to embrace healthier habits, but I do now exercise an hour a day, and I wear a Fitbit to keep myself honest. I never make a resolution to go on a diet because just the thought of a diet makes me hungry. The resolutions that have worked best for me are those related to writing.

At the start of 2016, I resolved to finish the rough draft of my next novel and the rough draft of my wildlife book by the end of 2016. I remember announcing this resolution and then laughing because I doubted I would come close to achieving either one of those goals. I am proud and amazed, though, to say I almost did it!! I’m not quite done with the wildlife book, but I will finish it in a week or two. I finished the rough draft of my novel in October and am now busy editing it. I know I would never have pushed myself so hard on either manuscript if I hadn’t made that crazy New Year’s resolution on January 1st, 2016.

I’ve given this year’s resolution a great deal of thought. I have several projects in the works, but I don’t want to set impossible goals for myself. I think goals should be lofty but within reach. Here’s what I came up with for a resolution. I want to finish editing the manuscript of my next novel and send it out to an editor by June. I don’t believe I can have the wildlife book ready to send to an editor before the end of 2017, but I want to send it out sometime next winter. I also want to finish the manuscript of my fourth novel by the end of 2017, and since I haven’t even written an outline for this novel yet, this may be a tough goal to reach. I would also like to work with Marcia on the cookbook we are writing and have the rough draft of it done sometime next winter. Finally, I hope to compile my Mystery Newsletters into a book and self-publish that. The e-book of my Mystery Newsletters will be available for free for my newsletter subscribers.

Whew! All those goals sound like a great deal of work, and I’ll let you know next year what I accomplished and what I didn’t. Writing a weekly blog post and a monthly newsletter plus doing my day job takes most of my time, but I’m becoming a faster writer and am getting better at multi-tasking, so I am hopeful and excited. At least I won’t be bored!

None of us can see what the future holds for us, but I wish you all a happy, healthy, successful 2017. Take a minute to tell me some of your resolutions!

If you haven’t signed up for my Mystery Newsletter yet, you can check out my latest edition here. If you want to sign up, you can either click on the sign-up button in the upper left-hand corner of the newsletter or sign up at http://robinbarefield.com.

The next few weeks, I will again concentrate on wildlife profiles, beginning with the fascinating, beautiful, fierce Arctic Tern.

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from Kodiak Island! For many people, this is a busy time of year filled with holiday events, family gatherings, shopping in crowded stores, and long-distance travel. It’s an exciting season, but it is also very hectic. For many, the holiday season is a happy time, but for others, it is stressful and even depressing. Most of us experience all these emotions to some degree throughout the holiday season.

I won’t say I escape the psychological highs and lows of the season, but I think my holiday experience is unique because I spend it in the middle of the Kodiak Wilderness. I haven’t been to town since early June, and I don’t plan to fly to town until late January when we leave for our vacation. For me, the holidays are quiet! I find myself missing Christmas music and sometimes even the hustle and bustle of stores before Christmas (this is only a fleeting feeling, though). I miss family gatherings, and I’m sad when I remember past Christmases spent with my family. We only get a mail plane once a week in the winter, so we wait each week eagerly for Christmas cards and presents to arrive. We have to ship out our Christmas cards and presents by mid-December, so the first two weeks of December are busy, but then everything slows to a crawl. I take a deep breath and relax.

I spent the last two weeks of December and plan to spend the first two weeks of January doing what I want to do. This year I am editing my next novel and finishing the rough draft of my wildlife book. I take the time to fuse glass jewelry in my kiln, weave baskets, and make metal jewelry. I walk on the beach and through the woods with my cats, always with a downcast glance, hoping to spot a recently-shed deer antler. I read, write, watch wildlife, and enjoy the beauty of a Kodiak winter. This may not be the customary way to celebrate the holidays, but I have learned to love it. In a season when we talk about peace on earth, I truly do have two months of peace and quiet in my world, and I remind myself every day how lucky I am.

I don’t forgo all the holiday indulgences. We decorate the house, I make candy, we open presents, and we have a special dinner on Christmas day. I have a wonderful friend in Anchorage who sings with the Anchorage Concert Chorus, and he has sent me several CDs of Christmas music performed by the Chorus, so I enjoy those while I remember Christmases past and relish the present holiday.

Wherever you are and whatever holidays you celebrate this time of year, I wish you peace, quiet, and love in your world.

I recently published a new Mystery Newsletter.  Check it out here.  You can subscribe for my newsletter either in the upper left-hand corner of the link or on my home page.  Anyone interested in our summer season at Munsey’s Bear Camp can read that blog post at the Munsey’s Bear Camp website.

End of Summer

 

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Our summer wildlife-viewing and sport-fishing trips ended three days ago. It was time for them to end because summer is over here on Kodiak Island, and a fall storm broadsided us with our last group of bear viewers. They were good sports as we fought through the wind and rain to watch bears. The bears didn’t seem to mind the weather and put on a fantastic show, and while our guests loved watching sows chase salmon while their cubs played, we were all very wet by the end of the day. I love our September bear-watching trips, but I am tired of fighting boats in the wind, and I admit I am ready for a break. It is time to let my bruises heal and curl up with a blanket on a rainy, windy day instead of pulling on my foul-weather gear and heading out on a boat. dsc_0590b

We had a great season this year. No two days of our summer trips are ever the same, and every minute is as much of an adventure for us as it is for our guests. In July, we enjoyed great salmon fishing, and halibut fishing was good most of the summer. We saw bears in July, but they weren’t concentrated in any one place. As the summer progressed, the bear viewing steadily improved, and by September, we enjoyed phenomenal bear viewing every day. We watched several sets of sows and cubs this summer, and while our guests crouched behind fallen trees on a riverbank, they were thrilled by bears that fished only a few feet from them. They were so close; they could hear bones snap when a bear bit into a salmon.dsc_0204-2

We saw whales nearly every day of our summer season. Huge fin whales surfaced beside our boat, while humpbacks raised their flukes in the air. We saw killer whales a few times, and once, they swam over to us when we were in our 19-foot whaler, jumping beside the boat and playing in our wake. We saw dozens of sea otters and countless bald eagles every day, and we watched Sitka black-tailed deer prance along the beach while red foxes dug for clams.dsc_0287-2

On the sport-fishing front, our guests caught 17 halibut over 40 lbs. (that’s what it takes to make the Munsey’s Bear Camp halibut club) and many more halibut between 20 and 40 lbs. The largest halibut of the summer weighed 128 lbs. We enjoyed great pink salmon fishing in July, but we had a poor silver salmon run.

Michael Acela and his 128-lb. halibut
Michael Acela and his 128-lb. halibut

As always, we had guests from around the world, and we shared many laughs on ouradventures with them. Summer always seems to fly by too quickly. Sure, by mid-September I’m tired, but come next June, I’ll be excited for our summer season to begin again.

Visit our Munsey’s Bear Camp website for more information about our summer trips. If you haven’t signed up for my free Mystery Newsletter yet, head over to my home page and do that now. My newsletters chronicle true crime stories from Alaska.

Gordy Sexton with his 87-lb. halibut
Gordy Sexton with his 87-lb. halibut

Facebook Launch Party Recap

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This week, I decided to write a post about my Facebook launch party for the release of my novel, Murder Over Kodiak. For frequent readers of my blog who enjoy reading my wildlife posts, I apologize for this divergence. I’ve had several people, including other authors ask about my virtual, book-release party, though, and instead of answering everyone separately, I thought it would be easier to write about my experience in a blog post that anyone can access. When I first thought about having an online launch party, I found some helpful blog posts, and now I would like to return the favor. I’ve been asked how I planned the party, how I invited guests, and what it was like during the party. The question I’ve been asked the most is, “Was it successful?”

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who either came to my Facebook party last month or signed the guestbook on my website. 180 people attended my Facebook party, 99 signed my guestbook, and 63 signed up for my newsletter. Honestly, my party was successful beyond my wildest dreams. I hoped at least 25 people would show up, so I was quite surprised. I learned a great deal during the planning process for my party, especially about the technical aspects of Facebook and my website, and since I am not the most social creature, I had to drag myself out of my shell. Still, a virtual party was less painful for me than a physical party would have been; I am not comfortable being the center of attention. I’ll break down the process for you and tell you what I learned (good and bad).

Why Facebook and Why a Launch Page on My Website?

I’m sure you all know that Facebook is by far the largest social media website, and it is difficult to be a successful author today without having a presence on Facebook. I don’t love Facebook, but I realize it is necessary for me to use it. I originally planned to have my launch party on my website, but I soon remembered that I am not a technical genius, and I live in a remote area with only satellite Internet. It would have been impossible for me to do a party on my website in “real time.” I began exploring my options and soon realized a “Facebook Event” would be the easiest alternative. The biggest problem I had with a Facebook Event was that a guest could not attend my party unless she had a Facebook account or was willing to sign up for Facebook. I know several people who hate Facebook and would never sign up for it for any reason, so I decided that in addition to the Facebook party, I would also have a “Book Launch” page on my website, complete with a guestbook that visitors could sign. This page had links to the synopsis of my novel as well as to links to where the novel could be purchased. Several people thanked me for offering an alternative to attending the Facebook party, so I was glad I had the launch page on my website, plus it was a good way to get people to visit my website, and by signing my guestbook, they gave me permission to add their e-mail address to my newsletter list.

How Did I Create My Facebook Event Page?

Creating a Facebook Event page is as easy as clicking a button. I made a banner for the top of the page, and then I started to get nervous. In all my research, I noticed several businesses that, for a price, would help you with your Facebook party. I thought I probably could do the party by myself, but during a moment of panic, I hired a party planner who specialized in virtual book launches. I don’t know if the money was worth it because I did most of the work myself, but she was there to answer my questions, and that was nice.

To create a Facebook Event, look at the left side of your Facebook “Home” page. Under the heading “Create,” click on “Create Event.” You now have an Event page! Next, you will want to make a banner for the top of your Event page. The banner needs to be 784 x 295 pixels. It takes only a few minutes to design your own banner in a program such as Photoshop or Canva. I used Microsoft Paint to design my simple banner. If you don’t want to tackle designing your own banner or if you want an intricately designed banner, you can hire a graphic designer to create it. Perhaps the designer who created your book cover could design your event banner. You can visit my Event Page to see the simple banner I designed. It has a background scenery photo, a photo of my book cover, and photo of me. A graphic designer or artist would have created a more eye-catching banner than the one I designed, but I was on a budget, and I didn’t think a fancier banner would be worth the cost. Don’t forget to include the date and time of your party on the banner. Also be sure to state the time of your party for various time zones, because you will have people from across the U.S. and perhaps from around the world wanting to attend your party, and they will need to know the time of party where they live. I thought it was most important to include Eastern and Alaskan times for the party. Be sure to post a description of the event under the “About” tab.

How Did I Invite Guests to My Party?

To invite friends to your Facebook party, go to your Event page and click on the “Invite” button in the lower right-hand corner of the banner at the top of the page. Checkmark the friends you wish to invite, and an invitation will be sent to them. I also posted an announcement about my party on both my personal and author Facebook pages and asked my friends to invite their friends. They invite their friends in the same way you invited them. They simply go to your Event page, click on “Invite,” and choose the friends they wish to invite. Before you know it, you’ll have hundreds and perhaps thousands of people invited to your party. Approximately 1400 people were invited to my party.

I sent e-mails to acquaintances who were not Facebook friends, told them about my book launch, and invited them to attend my Facebook party, sign the guestbook on my website, or better yet, do both. To sweeten the incentive to sign my guestbook, I told everyone to enter my drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card on my website once they signed my guestbook.

A few days before my party, I reminded my Facebook friends about the date and time of the party and described some of the prizes I would be giving away. I also posted about my party on Goodreads in the groups I belong to that allow that type of post (be sure to read the rules for each group; some do not allow authors to promote their books). I tweeted about my party and pinned the invitation to my Pinterest board. Those are the only social-networking sites I use, but if you use others, be sure to promote your party on those as well. I did not pay for any advertising, but the party planner I used sent invitations to her list, and that was helpful.

A few days before the party, I began posting comments on the “Event” page. One of my friends told me she would be hanging out by the pool, so I posted about that and let everyone know there was a large pool at the party venue. When I reminded my friends about the party on my Facebook page, I told them there was no dress code, so they could wear whatever they had on or nothing at all, and a few guests joked about that.

Any time you want a post to stay at the top of the Event page and not get moved down the page by subsequent posts, you can “pin” the post. Write the post and then click in the upper right hand corner of the post and click “pin”. You can only pin one post at a time, so if you later write another post that you want to pin to replace your previous pinned post, you must first click in the upper right hand corner of the pinned post and “unpin” it. You can then “pin” another post.

How Did I Plan My Party?

I chose to have a two-hour party, and I spent many hours planning my two-hour party. I worked out the details of every post I planned to make, found a corresponding photo for each post, bought two cartoons to use, and even planned the posts for after the party when I would list the answers to the questions I had asked. Most of my posts were questions, and I awarded prizes either to the guest or guests who answered the question correctly, or I drew a name from the list of everyone who commented on that post.

My party was mostly a fun quiz, and I had very positive feedback on this format, but there are many other options, including simply chatting with your guests and posting funny photos and videos. No matter what you do at your party, the party should reflect the novel you are promoting. I write mystery novels that take place in the wilderness of Alaska, so I did a series of posts I titled “Test Your Wilderness IQ,” where I did such things as post a photo of two berries and ask my guests which berry was safe to eat. I also created a few wilderness scenarios and asked my party guests what they would do if they were in this situation. The answers were fun, and several of the guests interacted with each other, discussing the correct answer. For my wilderness IQ posts, the top ten guests who answered the most questions correctly won an e-book of my novel. I also posted two bear photos and asked my guests to write funny captions for them. I had folks still posting captions two days after my party ended! For the funny caption posts, I randomly drew winners.

I live in the wilderness and have satellite internet which can be slow, so my biggest concern about this party was how long it would take me to post and upload each photo. As the party progressed and got busier and busier, I spent nearly all my time preparing the next post, while my husband sat at his computer and ran interference for me, telling me who was commenting on each post. The more questions I posted, the more hectic it got, because each of my posts was receiving comments at the same time. When someone commented, my computer dinged, and the dinging was non-stop until one hour after the party ended. When it was over, I had a headache, but I also had a smile on my face. The party had been fun and a success. I’d pulled it off, and the two hours were over in a flash.

How Did I Hand Out Prizes?

This is the part of the party I would do differently next time. I promised to post the winners two hours after the party ended, and that was not enough time. I think next time I would announce the winners the following day. At the end of the party I was exhausted, and then it was a race to draw the names and post the winners. Besides choosing the winners from each post or question at the party, I also drew names from the list of people who signed my guestbook, people who signed up for my newsletter, and people who “liked” my Facebook page, and researching all of that and randomly drawing winners took awhile to do. It took me several minutes just to figure out where to find the list of people who “liked” my Facebook page.

By the end of the party, I gave away 40 e-books, two signed copies of my novel, three $10 gift cards, and two $25 gift cards (including the one I gave away on my website). I chose mainly to give gifts I could e-mail, because I live in the wilderness, and mailing items is a hassle. Also, I wanted to spend my party budget on prizes not postage. My favorite prize was when I told my guests I would use the name of the first person to answer the question correctly for a character in my next novel. I also asked if anyone knew the title of my first novel and then told my guests they were all winners, because for the next two days they could download that novel for free on Amazon.

Would I do another Facebook Party?

I absolutely would do another Facebook party, and I hope to help plan a multi-author Facebook party this fall with other Alaskan authors. It would be much easier to do an event like this with other hosts. Not only could they help with the planning and share the expense of the prizes, but each author would bring his or her own friends to the party, introducing them to the other authors, and hopefully, each author would gain new readers from the event. A multi-author event could also last for several hours, with each author in charge of a certain time period.

Were there glitches in my launch party? Of course, but what party doesn’t have glitches? My internet connection slowed down toward the end of the party, and I couldn’t post all the photos I’d planned. Worse still, the code for the e-books I gave away didn’t work, and it took a few days to straighten out that mess. All the winners were patient, though, and didn’t seem to mind the delay.

An event like this is a way to reach potential readers around the world. It’s a promotional event you can control, unlike buying an ad and hoping for the best. I’ve tried advertising on Goodreads, Facebook, and with numerous online book newsletters, and I have never had good luck. With my Facebook party, I sold books, connected with friends, signed up people for my mystery newsletter, and gained new readers who I feel as if I know. Several people e-mailed me to tell me how much fun they had at the party, and that made me smile, because having fun was my main goal!

I have a series of wildlife posts planned for the next several weeks, so be sure to check back weekly to see what’s new.

My latest Mystery Newsletter is about the true crime of the murder of two brothers at their fish site on Kodiak Island. If this sounds interesting, sign up for my Mystery Newsletter and read this story and other tales about true crime in Alaska.

 

 

The Fishermen

The Fishermen is another story by Marcia Messier, who cooked for many years at our lodge. This story, as well as the other stories of hers I have posted, will all be part of our cookbook, Tales from the Kitchen at Munsey’s Bear Camp. I love this story, The Fishermen, and I think it is remarkable that Marcia captured the essence of what it is like to spend a day on a boat with a group of sport fishermen. Marcia was always busy in the kitchen and never went out with us on our fishing trips, but between listening to the fishermen spar as they sat around the dinner table and listening to Mike and I as we told her our tales of the day, she pictured our fishing days perfectly and describes it beautifully here.

The Fishermen

by Marcia Messier

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It’s not just about bears at Munsey’s Bear Camp. Some guests are passionate about fishing, only fishing! They don’t want to waste valuable time looking at bears. They aren’t interested in photographing the majestic mountains rising straight up out of the bay. They couldn’t care less as Bald Eagles swoop down over their heads. From the moment they excitedly pile out of the float plane, they are in a race to see who can lower their fishing line into the water first. All stare into the mesmerizing deep blue water anticipating the first tug on the pole, and then, “ZIP, ZING, WHIZ,” the sound of fishing line flies off the reel. Ah, the sweet music of Uyak Bay!

Each fisherman has his favorite spot to fish on the deck of the Mary Beth, and they closely guard these spots. Stories are told of how Robin and Mike occasionally suggest different positions for the fishermen when tempers flare, lines tangle, and “the big one” is lost. The arguments are in good fun, though, and they are part of the game plan as Robin and Mike quickly re-bait hooks and make gleeful observations and proclamations to keep the fires of competition burning.

IMG_0559Fish is what the fishermen want to eat.   Halibut salad sandwiches for lunch, or maybe freshly caught, grilled fish on a nearby beach. For dinner, halibut and salmon, baked, grilled, or fried is the popular expectation. If dinner is running a little late, homemade, smoked salmon dip with crackers is put out, pleasing everyone and successfully buying the cook a little extra time. Occasionally, even the breakfast menu includes lightly fried fish fillets.

Along with meals come the fish stories. Descriptive techniques on how to successfully land a 100-lb. halibut are robustly and expertly discussed as well as the reasons these techniques sometimes fail, probably hampered by the swing of the boat or your neighbor’s lack of line control. Imaginative and complicated contests are mandatory and are made up daily. These involve specific fishing holes Mike might have in mind; the size of the fish caught, lost, or thrown back; and the time limits involved in all these maneuvers. Everyone has many opportunities to win! At the end of the day, there are many tales about the one that got away, maybe a mermaid sighting, and always laughter as the tired fisherman make their way to the cabins.IMG_0561

At the end of their fishing trip, as we are pushing and shoving boxes full of fresh fish into the float plane, I’m certain I can detect a faint line of bright silver fish scales creeping out from under the collars and cuffs of our fishermen.

 

Munsey and Boda

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20160530_084322 (2)This past Memorial Day, my cousin and his wife, Mike and Mary Kohr, drove from their home in Minnesota to Marshfield, Wisconsin to visit Munsey and Boda at the Wildwood Zoo. Those of you have been following my blog know that Munsey and Boda are two of the three bear cubs we helped rescue last spring after their mother was shot by a hunter. If you haven’t read these posts, follow these links to read the first one and the second one.

We were thrilled that Mike and Mary planned a trip to see the bears. We had seen recent photos of the cubs and knew they were thriving, but from the photos, we only caught glimpses of the bear enclosure at the zoo. Mike promised to take photos and videos of the enclosure and to send them to us. The thumb drive with the photos and videos arrived a few days ago, along with a special treat: The Marshfield, Wisconsin Visitor’s Guide. Guess whose photos are splashed across the cover of the visitor’s guide? That’s right! Two spunky, healthy Kodiak Bear cubs dominate the visitor’s guide. Not only are their photos on the cover, but the guide has a nice, long article about the cubs and how they came to call the Wildwood Zoo home.

20160530_081745Mike and Mary’s photos and videos provided us with great views of the bear enclosure. This enclosure was completed just before the bears were transferred to the zoo, and it is spacious and beautiful. The Wildwood Zoo is not a large zoo, and the bear enclosure is the centerpiece of the facility. The enclosure cost 1.3 million dollars to build. Designers took an existing 1,200 square-foot outdoor exhibit and expanded it by adding 4,600 square feet. This enclosure includes a one-acre wooded area called the “Bear Woods,” and an enclosed bridge that spans 65 feet connects the woods to the primary exhibit area. Additional pools with recirculating water were added to the exhibit, and state-of-the-art containment and care facilities were added to the existing den building. The bridge joining the woods and the primary exhibit area is usually left open, allowing the bears to wander back and forth, but the bridge can be closed if the staff needs to isolate the bears from each other for some reason.

Here is what Mike Kohr had to say about Marshfield and the Wildwood Zoo: “Marshfield, Wisconsin is a small rural town of about 20,000 people. The Wildwood Park and Zoo complex is small but well maintained and seems to be very popular. The zoo itself is small and does not charge admission. It has mostly birds and a few mammals. However, the Kodiak Bear complex/exhibit is spectacular by any standard. I love zoos and have been to many around the world. Munsey and Boda are in a great place that rivals any bear exhibit I have seen.”20160530_081734

 Mike said that wherever he and Mary went in Marshfield, people asked them if they had seen the bears. Munsey and Boda truly are the stars of not only the zoo but the entire town. For two little bears that nearly died from dehydration and hunger on a Kodiak mountainside, life at the Wildwood Zoo is very sweet.

Thank you, Mike and Mary for visiting the zoo and sharing your photos, videos, and observations with us. The Marshfield Visitor’s Guide is a treat that we will share with our guests. If any of you are in Wisconsin in the near future, take a little extra time and swing by the Wildwood Zoo to say hi to Munsey and Boda. E-mail your photos to me at robin@robinbarefield.com, and I will share them on my blog!

Thanks to everyone who came to my Facebook Book Launch party and/or stopped by the Book Launch page on my website. Laura Nelson was the winner of the raffle for the $25 gift card on my website, so congratulations, Laura, and thank you to everyone who entered.