Leonard Wayne Compton, Author of Treadwell, A Novel of Alaska Territory

What is your book about?

Treadwell is about the Alaska Territory, in particular from September 1915 to April 1917, and a cross section of the people who lived in the Juneau area. The main focus is on an honest man who is first a Pinkerton detective and later a lieutenant on the Juneau Police Department, who comes to Alaska to locate evidence against a serial murderer.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

About a year. I got the urge to write about the area and then decided to do some research and see what sort of a challenge it would be. I was living in Juneau at the time and spent 8 months of my free time in the Alaska State Historical Library where I discovered my characters and actually read original documents created by the people on whom I based them.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

A letter from the wife of the main lift operator at the Treadwell Mine the night it caved in and flooded. Her typewritten letter is only three pages long. But she talks about how it felt to live at Treadwell, what  they did for fun, how proud they felt to be part of it. In short, she made the place breathe for the length of her letter. And she didn’t sign it; we have no idea what her name was. When I read that I thought,  “I want to write a book that brings that time and place to life.”

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

There is a lot of me in some diverse characters, especially Jack Malone, the boss of Lower Front Street, and Julia Prescott, the anthropologist who literally falls in love with the culture she is studying.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

August Lepke is a Pinkerton detective who is good at his job. He is analytical and thorough. He is not afraid of hard work or any size ruffian. He is a naturalized citizen from Germany and spent eight years in the US Army prior to attending college for three years and then joining the Pinkertons. He is honest and stubborn to a fault.

Florence Malone was born in Juneau, she has a younger sister, Fiona, and they live with their father, Jack. They know their father is heavily into Democrat politics but not much else about him. Their mother died of cancer in 1911. Florence attended the University of Washington and lived with an aunt. She discovered photography and the suffragette movement, which changed her life. Rather than spending the money her father provided for her senior year tuition, she bought a complete photographer’s outfit and returned home. Her father was less than pleased. She now works for Winter and Pond, one of the most prestigious photography firms in Alaska.

Amanda Ganbor, who is the first character we meet,  is British born and unhappily married to an Austrian Baron-to-be. Amanda goes through more life changes than any other single character. She is a tough, earthy, mature scrapper who gets what she wants at the beginning and quickly becomes terrified of her choice.

George Mak-we is a Tlingit policeman in the Auk village. He is also a dry alcoholic, educated, very aware, and pragmatic. His wife died from burns sustained when they both were drunk and an oil lamp was knocked over. He carries massive guilt with him and will collect more as the story unfolds.

Then there’s Jack Malone, Begay Santo – a college educated Filipino who works as a grocery clerk, Julia Prescott, Maye Wattnem – who keeps incredible secrets, Fiona Malone – Florence’s sister who goes from naivety to strong businesswoman. You get the idea. This is a very large work and there are 22 characters you come to know intimately. And I didn’t even get to the real villains.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Eleven years.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

Maybe half of it. At the beginning I wanted to illustrate the day-to-day life of people living on Gastineau Channel. The characters provided the story, I just wrote it.

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

I want the reader to feel like they have been there. I want them to care about the characters, and be intrigued enough to buy the rest of the Gastineau Channel Quartet when it gets written.

What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?

Pretty much everything.  My first marriage ended in divorce (I blame me). I left Alaska and spent a year in Colorado and then ten years in Washington state before moving to Nevada two years ago. I met and married Colette. And somewhere along there I finally matured into an adult, I hope.

How has your background influenced your writing?

By the time I was eight I had read all the titles in the “children’s section” of the Grand Island Library. So I went and picked out five volumes in the adult section. The librarian said I couldn’t do that. When I asked “Why not?” she said there were words in those books I couldn’t understand. I told her to find one. She couldn’t. The only word I remember from that episode was “moccasin.” I have always loved books and images. I didn’t start to write seriously until I had to give up my painting/printmaking studio in Juneau due to the economy. I needed a creative outlet so I started writing short stories and somehow never got back to fine art. However my current day joy is being a visual information specialist for the USAF.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

I grew up on the Oregon Trail in Nebraska and became obsessed with the history of it. The Indian tribes, especially the Pawnee and Sioux, fascinated me. I developed a yen for adventure. So my best friend, Del, and I joined the Navy. That turned out to be a bit more regimented (duh!) than I had anticipated. So when I got out I messed around for a few months and decided to go look at Alaska for the summer. I left 31 summers later, and only then because my mother was dying from cancer and I needed to be closer to her.

What are you working on right now?

I’m in the process of publishing my work under my own imprint, Pullo Pup Publishing. I spent twelve years trying to get agents and publishers to give Treadwell, A Novel of Alaska Territory a chance. Nobody would. Then technology caught up with me and I ran with it. I have another novel being edited – actually my editor has me rewriting the first quarter of the ms. – which I will be releasing soon, titled Whalesong. I went ahead and released a short story and a novella that had not fared well in the “publishing world.” Deliverance is a western short story set in frontier Nebraska, and Diplomatic Exchange is a science fiction novella that deals with three founding fathers getting swapped in time with three men from the year 2014 with conflicts for the characters in both times. I have a friend working on turning that one into a screenplay.

And I’m writing two science fiction novels at once, one is the sequel of the other, and I have the third story in the series in outline. My plate is pretty full at the moment.

What was the first story you remember writing?

A short story about going back to Nebraska for the funeral of my favorite great aunt. I was in college in Missouri at the time and took a creative writing class. I still have the ms but it will never see the light of day again.

Does writing come easy for you?

Yeah, it does. I have always been a story teller, or a BS artist, you choose. I tried journalism in college but I always wanted to embellish the story to make it more interesting. I usually have two or three manuscripts in progress at the same time so if I bog on one I just switch to a different one. That was when I wasn’t outlining. I’ve just started outlining and while I don’t find it quite as thrilling as “seeing what happens next” I must admit it makes getting through a story a lot easier – and I allow myself to embellish and take off on tangents, so it’s all good.

What’s been the most surprising part of being a writer?

How much I love it. And also how much it really surprises me when someone comes up to me and tells me how much they enjoyed my novel.

Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his or her creator?

Yes. To the point I wept as I wrote the death scene.

Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?

Yes, as well as stories that got started and bogged and I just haven’t gotten back to them yet.

How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?


What do you like to read?

History, historical fiction, science/speculative fiction, literary fiction, biography, action/adventure, Alaskana, anthropology, I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

What writer influenced you the most?

That’s like asking which of your children you like best. For fiction, James Warner Bellah. For non-fiction, Steven Ambrose.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. That is the most elegant piece of fiction I have ever read. She is a genius talent.

Where can people learn more about your books?

On my website: http://www.stoneycompton.com  It needs work but all the information is there. Thank you for this opportunity and I apologize for running on for so long.

See also: Interview with: August William Lepke, hero of Treadwell, A Novel of Alaska Territory by Leonard Wayne Compton

August William Lepke, Hero of Treadwell, A Novel of Alaska Territory by Leonard Wayne Compton

What is your story?

I am one of the characters in the Gastineau Channel Quartet, of which Treadwell, A Novel of Alaska Territory, is the first book.

Who are you?

My name is August William Lepke. I am a detective with the Pinkerton Agency out of the Portland, Oregon office.

Where do you live?

Now I live in Juneau, Alaska Territory.

Are you the hero of your own story?

In heroes I do not believe. People do what they must, and are expected of them, to the best of their ability.

What is your problem in the story?

At first I just had a work to do, which was my job. Then I met this woman and suddenly I had a problem.

Do you have a problem that wasn’t mentioned in the story?

I was never comfortable with my father. He was a carpenter and worked with his hands all his life. He thought I should do the same thing but I wanted to see the world. He was killed when I had but twelve years. There was a part of me that felt relieved and I have always felt great personal shame for that exaltation of relief.

Do you embrace conflict?

No, but also I do not flee from it.

How do you see yourself?

As an honest, professional law enforcement officer.

How do your friends see you?

As someone who does what they say they will, steadfast and supportive.

How do your enemies see you?

(Laughs) As a walking nightmare, I hope.

How does the author see you?

He believes I am a better man than I think I am. But he portrays me honestly and objectively. I cannot ask for more than that.

What, if anything, haunts you?

I was once in the US Army and served in the Philippines during our war there. Once when I was on guard duty I shot a man who I thought was a saboteur. It turned out he was stealing food for his family. I can still see his dead, surprised face.

Have you ever failed at anything?

Like many men, I have failed at love.

Has anyone ever betrayed you?

Yes. A girl. I thought she was a woman, so perhaps my fault it was.

Do you keep your promises?

Always. I do not make them easily or thoughtlessly. But if I promise I will do something only death will prevent me from accomplishing it.

Have you ever had an adventure?

My whole life has been an adventure and I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any other way.

If you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?

I would end the war in Europe before the United States can get into it.

Where can people learn more about you?

On Leonard Wayne Compton’s website: http://www.stoneycompton.com

See also: Interview with Leonard Wayne Compton, Author of Treadwell, A Novel of Alaska Territory