Author Interview: Deanne Burch – Journey Through Fire And Ice, Or Slaked Alaska

October 26, 2021

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Deanne Burch spent 30 years as an internationally known photographer. She taught in Canada, United States and Canada. During this time, she published several articles in photography journals and magazines. After retiring, she has devoted her time to writing. Deanne grew up in Toronto and moved with her husband Ernest Burch to a primitive village eighty miles above the Arctic Circle in Alaska in 1964. After1965, Deanne and her husband lived in several different places before settling permanently In Harrisburg. Her time in Alaska inspired her book Journey Through Fire And Ice.


When, and under what circumstances, did the idea for your latest book come to you?

I had always wanted to write a memoir about the time I spent in Alaska with the Inupiaq people  in 1964/65. After my husband died, and I was no longer working full-time as a portrait photographer, I decided to write Journey Through Fire And Ice. I hoped that there would be an audience for the book, especially since the village where we lived is a victim of climate change. Kivalina, Alaska, will be under water by 2025 and is now being relocated.


Did it initially feel like something to commit to, or was that something that took time to develop?

It was something I was committed to; butit took me several years to complete.


How did you conduct your research or other preparation before writing – was it more experiential or more academic or desk-based?

Since it was a memoir, there was very little that I had to research. I had a journal as well as letters that I had written to my parents, my in-laws and several friends. When I had to research something I usually researched it through books written by my late husband, Ernest Burch Jr, who was one of the foremost anthropologists in northwest Alaska. If I couldn’t find what I wanted in his books, I researched it using Google. It was rare that I could not find the answer I was looking for in any of the books that he wrote.


If resources (money, time, whatever) were no object, what additional groundwork would you like to have completed?

If I had had the time, I would like to have gone to Kivalina for a visit to find out how much it  has changed in the last 57 years. I would have found that the people we knew at the time had died, but many of their children and grandchildren are still alive and are an integral part of the village.


When considering influence, do you find yourself wanting to write like someone (in terms of their style, tone or use of language), or aiming for a kind of perspective or storytelling approach you admire or enjoy?

No, I have not tried to write like anyone whose writing I admire or enjoy. I wanted to be true to myself and in doing so, most of my memoir is written in the present tense, which is a departure from most memoirs. I wanted to take the reader to take the journey with me and I think I succeeded in doing that.


What’s in your to-read pile – and what upcoming book (other than yours!) are you most looking forward to?

I have so many books in my to-read pile that it is hard to figure out which one to read first. I read everything from psychological thrillers to literary fiction and memoirs, as well as historical non-fiction. I will probably read The Four Winds next, by Kristin Hannah. I particularly enjoyed The Great Alone because it was a book about Alaska, but I enjoyed The Nightingale as well.


Do you have a favourite character that you have created? Or if you’re writing non-fiction, do you have a specific topic that you find endlessly fascinating?

As a writer of non-fiction, I have enjoyed reading about people who lived off the grid. I find the topic of Alaska particularly interesting as my husband and I spent another year in Kotzebue, Alaska in 1969/1970 with our two small daughters. In fact, I have a children’s Christmas story that a children’s publisher is interested in that takes place there. It is partially non-fiction. I think, in a way, Alaska is a character in both my memoir and my children’s story.

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