"What's Up Yukon"
by Joanna Lilley
May 30, 2008
If you asked your spouse if you could take five years off work in order to devote your time to writing, what would they say?
Jessica Simon's husband not only said yes, he threw in another two years and gave her seven.
His faith in her has paid off. It's only Year 5 and she's just signed a contract with NeWest Press to publish the first novel in what will be called her Log Cabin Adventure series.
Each set mostly in the Yukon, Simon already has three other novels in the pipeline: "I have a finished manuscript that needs to be worked on. I have a half manuscript that I am working on and an outline for a fourth," she says.
There's a glint in her eye as she talks. In fact, the whole time she's being interviewed she has a pleased air about her. It isn't hard to understand why.
From having just a couple of poems published over 20 years ago, she's gone straight to winning Dawson City's 2007 Authors on Eighth competition and, now, a contract with a publisher for her debut novel, which is about a terrorist threat against Fort Greely in Alaska.
It was the decision to focus primarily on writing that was the turning point for her fiction career.
"2003 is when I started really concentrating on writing first and everything else last," she says.
Not that Simon has been sitting around making up stories the whole time since then. She currently has four jobs: she writes freelance articles mostly for the adventure market, has a part-time job at a gas station, teaches wilderness first aid and is also a wilderness guide.
"My specialty is the German-speaking market because I do speak German," says Simon, who learned the language after marrying her German husband.
The main character in her novels, Markus Fanger, is German, too. "There was a terrible experience that happened to him in Germany which made him chuck it all. And here in Canada he's a wilderness guide, what a surprise," says Simon.
"I draw a lot on my experience but there's a bunch of stuff way outside my field like my terrorist is a Muslim but I sure am not. I had to do research on that."
Simon found herself also having to research topics ranging from explosives to snowmobiling.
She did her homework, too, when it came to submitting her manuscript to publishers.
"What I learned by talking to industry and reading a whole lot of books is, in the States, the publishing houses aren't really interested in talking to the writers," she says.
"They want to talk to agents. They want to talk to business people. And in Canada, publishers are just a little sceptical of that middle man there making money off of the backs of writers who could probably send out their own manuscripts and didn't need a middle man. That is the impression I got."
As well as having figured out the publishing industry, Simon has a good eye for a business opportunity.
In partnership with Nature Tours of Yukon, she's set up the Klondike Writers' Tour where participants can follow in the footsteps of Jack London, Robert Service and Pierre Berton with real-life Yukon writer, Simon, as their guide.
Taking place in August, the tour is timed to end with Dawson's Authors on Eight competition.
The tour seems a perfect way for Simon to combine her talents. In fact, you can't help get the feeling it just might become the subject of a future Log Cabin Adventure.
Simon's debut novel is due to be published in November 2009.