Stan Jones's fourth Nathan Active novel, Village of the Ghost Bears, probes the mystery of life in northwest Alaska.
How do you see Alaska's climatic and geographic conditions affecting the personal relationships you portray in your fiction?
It's tough to live in rural Alaska, where there's not much cash and a harsh climate. People respond in two ways: on the one hand, in small villages they have to live in close proximity to one another, which can cause friction, and on the other, they can quickly hop on a snow machine and be completely alone in very wide open spaces, which can heal.
Tony Hillerman said that his Navajo detective Jim Chee can unravel a mystery because he understands the ways of his people. Why did you make Nathan Active an Inupiat [Eskimo] cop?
I lived for some time in a remote Arctic village, where I became fascinated by the Eskimo culture. I wanted to write some kind of crime fiction, but I needed to figure out how to make it work, and when I read Hillerman in the 1980s, the light went on. Active had to be both an insider and an outsider. He was born an Inupiaq in Chukchi and raised in Anchorage by white schoolteachers, so he can see his work as a Chukchi policeman and the people in his cases from both perspectives. I believe all people are pretty much alike, but they take on different attributes from their environment. I think any flexible investigator can solve any mystery, given enough time.
A haunting Eskimo song seems to provide the mystical keynote for Village of the Ghost Bears: “Earth and the great weather/move me,/have carried me away/and move my inward parts with joy.” What do you find is the most fascinating aspect of Eskimo spirituality?
I'm intrigued by the relationship of the Eskimo culture to Christianity. They adapted very easily to Christianity because it allowed them to relate directly to God, rather than through shamans, who often were corrupt. Christianity spread Eskimo to Eskimo, not by being imposed on them by outsiders. In my earlier novel Shaman Pass, I used a figure based on a real-life mid- to late-19th-century native preacher-mystic who denied and shattered the shamans' power and is still revered in northwest Alaska.
What will be your next writing project?
There's a glimmering of a new Nathan Active novel, but I'm also thinking about a science fiction crime novel to be called Heaven on Earth—and I'd like to do a big, big novel about an Alaskan bush pilot.