Good Advice

Jamie Bastedo is not new to the Yukon. He first came to the territory 35 years ago as a biology graduate student.

“Think Never Cry Wolf,” he says. “My head full of book knowledge about northern landscapes and cultures.”

The Yukon still means a lot to him and he is excited to be coming back.

“For me, any trip to the Yukon is a kind of homecoming. I cut my ecological teeth there as a young grad student, I proposed to my wife there – on the Carcross Dunes, I have several dear friends there, and I continue to enjoy hiking and paddling there even though I now live in the NWT. For example, I’ll be paddling down the Snake River this summer.”

In addition, his latest young adult novel, Cut Off, is set partly in the Yukon, “including the Wheaton and Carcross valleys where I did a lot of field work back in the ’80s.”

His career path at that early point led him to a series of government jobs in Yellowknife, where he lives today, but that work left him feeling unfulfilled.

“I hungered for a deeper, experiential knowledge of the land and for ways to share that knowledge with others. And so I struck out on my own as a freelance naturalist and writer.”

His early books are nonfiction, but he’s made an effort to produce more accessible work.

“I made a deliberate shift away from highly technical, scientific publications in ecology to more popular works that promote wider appreciation and wise use of nature,” Bastedo says. “I try to harness the magic power of story to translate scientific and cultural concepts or issues into a format that is accessible, entertaining and inspiring to readers of all ages.”

He found writing about various subjects was a great way to learn about them.

“When I first came north, I found the best way to really make sense of the land and its people was to write about it. Beyond facilitating my own learning, I discovered that it was a lot of fun to share my writing, and that I could actually make a living from it. I was hooked!”

In recent years, he’s made the move from nonfiction to fiction. Part of this came about as a result of a push he got from his children.

“When our two daughters were adolescents, they told me, ‘No more books, Daddy, until you write a kids’ book.’ That request sparked another shift in my writing, from adult non-fiction (natural history, river guides, hiking guides) into fiction for young readers – and I’ve never looked back!”

He takes a business-like approach to writing while trying to still leave room for inspiration to make a contribution.

“The best tip I ever received about writing was ‘AIC’ – Ass In Chair! If I stick to that mantra and consistently buckle down to write every day, that’s half the battle.

“The second best tip is: turn off your wifi. Unless I’m doing research, the Internet does not exist for me while I am seriously writing.

“Though I take a very business-like approach to writing regularly, I also rely on the magic that can happen when I ‘compost’ ideas in my head for awhile, letting the story reveal itself to me, discovering it, rather than forcing it in a direction it may not want to go.”

Editing and revising are also important. He quotes Stephen King’s opinion: “To write is human, to edit is divine.”

He has a number of hints and techniques that he likes to share with young writers. Those in his two day workshop sessions at the Young Authors Conference learned how to “write like a gorilla,” to keep on the lookout for ideas, and to consider the importance of character development.

Good writing, he says, is “like a strip tease, a bowel movement, and a prayer. Reveal your characters and plot slowly, teasingly! You work hard – and then the words come out smoothly!”

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