Monday, November 17, 2014

John Smelcer: A great Alaskan Writer

I can’t really do John Smelcer justice in a short blog post. He’s authored over forty-five books, has degrees in archeology, linguistics, literature and education, is the last surviving reader and writer of the Alaskan Native Language, Ahtna, and has won numerous awards for his writing. His books, four of which I’ll highlight below, have been widely and favorably reviewed. If you’ve never read any of Smelcer’s work, I’d start with The Trap. It is a classic survival story, and like most of Smelcer’s fiction, it is inspired by true events and personal experiences.

The Trap (2006 Henry Holt)

Seventeen-year-old Johnny Least-Weasel knows that his grandfather Albert is a stubborn old man and won’t stop checking his own traplines even though other men his age stopped doing so years ago. But Albert Least-Weasel has been running traplines in the Alaskan wilderness alone for the past sixty years. Nothing has ever gone wrong on the trail he knows so well. When Albert doesn’t come back from checking his traps, with the temperature steadily plummeting, Johnny must decide quickly whether to trust his grandfather or his own instincts. Written in alternating chapters that relate the parallel stories of Johnny and his grandfather, this novel poignantly addresses the hardships of life in the far north, suggesting that the most dangerous traps need not be made of steel.

Edge of Nowhere (2014 Leapfrog Press)

Seth is a typical teenager—overweight from not getting enough exercise. One night he and his dog, Tucker, are washed overboard from his father's fishing boat during a torrential storm in the Gulf of Alaska. Although a rescue search goes on for days, the two are assumed drowned. But by good fortune, Seth and his dog make it safely to one of the hundreds of islands that line the coastline there. Over many months, the boy and his companion makes their way, island by island, toward home, while Seth's desperate father never gives up hope. Along the way, Seth learns many hard lessons about survival and even harder lessons about himself.

Lone Wolves (2013 Leap Frog Press)

Deneena Yazzie’s love of the woods and trail come from her grandfather, who teaches her their all-but-vanished Native Alaskan language. While her peers lose hope, trapped between the old and the modern cultures, and turn to destructive behaviors, Denny and her mysterious lead dog, a blue-eyed wolf, train for the Great Race—giving her town a new pride and hope.

 Savage Mountain (Forthcoming 2015 Leapfrog Press)

Summer 1980. Brothers Sebastian and James Savage climb one of Alaska's highest mountains to prove to their father that they are worthy of his love and respect. Inspired by true events, Savage Mountain is not a story of father-son reconciliation. Some relationships can never be mended. Instead, it's a touching story of two brothers who save each other's life time and again, only to discover that brotherhood is the strongest bond of all.



  1. Paul, thank you for introducing me to John Smelcer. These stories sound fantastic for all readers who love adventure. (I am amazed that he is the last surviving reader and writer of the Ahtna language.)

  2. As you know, I love survival stories. Must look into these. John Smelcer sounds like an Alaskan treasure, for sure.

  3. I've heard of The Trap but I'm not familiar with the other titles. And survival stories always intrigue me.

  4. This is John Smelcer's agent. I sure thank you all for the wonderful comments about his novels. His publisher has asked me to ask you to make one teeny tiny correction: Can you change the cover of Edge of Nowhere to the current American edition published in 2014 by Leap Frog Press (the one you have is the 2010 British, NZ, Australian cover)

    1. Thanks Johnny!! I'll make that change!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!