Authors: Stories Behind the Books, Sheila Kelly
"I am a accidental historian," Sheila Kelly told me in her interview for the Author project. Sheila Kelly is a Washington native but has family ties to Treadwell, Alaska, the historical gold mining town on Douglas Island, not too far from Juneau. Sheila has spent over two decades researching her family's history and the people of Treadwell for her book, Treadwell Gold, An Alaska Saga of Riches and Ruin. It became important to her that she she learn where her family and the native people of Alaska came from, what goals did they accomplish in their life and how it help shape that particular corner of the United States.
Describe your relationship with Treadwell. How did your interest of the town start?
What was the extent of your research when interviewing locals?
Did you have any difficult moments or roadblocks when you were researching Treadwell and/or what were some surprising moments for you?
According to your biography, you have been studying Treadwell for the past twenty years, how have you seen it grow or change in that span of time?
You have been in the process of turning your book into a theatrical production. How do you begin to turn Treadwell Gold into a theatrical production? Picking out the protagonist, writing conflicts, how do you go about writing dialogue to bring your book to life?
As part of these two Anniversary events mentioned before, I envisioned a play that captured the drama of the story of Treadwell. Transforming an extensively researched (20 years!) non-fiction book Treadwell Gold, an Alaska Saga of Riches and Ruin (University of Alaska Press, 2010) into as 90-minute theater production required a different way of telling the story and a different set of writing skills. Everything has to be in dialogue, not my long and carefully-crafted pieces of exposition. Characters are conflated, or invented. The timeline is adjusted to increase the drama. It is a challenge that activates other parts of my creative brain. I am a non-fiction writer not a playwright. I am working with a playwright Rachel Atkins who will develop a script to adapt my book to the stage. (..then maybe we’ll move on to Treadwell the Musical!)
What do you want readers to take away from your story as well as the stores from the people of Treadwell, Alaska?
I encourage people to explore their own family background and the historical context in which it happened. I say “My family made history….and so did yours.” It is the weaving together of personal stories that make up the fabric of history and tell the whole story, more so than dates of battles and events. A caveat. Beware the seduction of historical research—aka the Rapture of Research. I became enthralled with archives and primary sources and was easily hijacked by intriguing side stories. Yes, it all contributed to making my book more than a family memoir, but it also explains why it took 20 years to get it published. I am an accidental historian.
Sheila Kelly's book, Treadwell Gold, An Alaska Sage of Riches and Ruin can be found on Amazon.com for purchase as well as your local book store. You can find more about Sheila Kelly and Treadwell, Alaska at http://www.treadwellgold.com/
Sheila, thank you for being a part of my project.
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