Trip to Juneau, AK for novel research! Writers & locals please help.
October 15, 2018 11:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be in Juneau, Alaska for two and a half days in the near future, and need some help getting the most out of my trip! I've written a first draft of a novel set in post-apocalyptic Juneau, and really want to get a sense of the place, the culture, and the history that I haven't been able to get through reading and googling.

I know that most of the tourist places will have closed down by now, and I don't mind that. I've done some research on my own, and feel like I know the city as well as I can through ~the internet~ but of course nothing can take the place of visiting the real thing! I'll be in Juneau for two and a half days (I would totally have preferred to stay longer, but that's what I could afford to take off work at the day job, and I figure some research is better than none).

Things that I'm planning on probably(?) visiting so far:
Alaska State Museum
Rain Forest Trail on Douglas Island
Sealaska Heritage Institute
Mendenhall Glacier

This is my first novel, and I've never done a research trip before. I've also never been to Alaska. Because of this, I'm specifically asking for two types of advice:

1. General advice about conducting a research on-site for a novel and

2. Specific advice about what to see in Juneau.
posted by bridgebury to Travel & Transportation around Juneau, AK (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I read an interview with the author of Cold Mountain, who said he went to the library with a list of questions.

I'd suggest starting by going through your novel and writing a list of questions.
posted by FencingGal at 12:47 PM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

A lot of this depends on what kind of research you're wanting to do and what you want to know? Starting with a list of questions is a great idea. I don't live in Juneau but I'm there regularly and would be happy to answer questions.

Options I would add to your list, with varying degrees of touristy:

Sandy Beach and the Treadwell mine historic trail
Flume trail
from the glacier viewing area, walk out to Nugget Falls
Basin Road and perseverance trail
take the tram up Mt. Roberts and hike up to Father Brown's cross
or if it's a nice day, hike Mr. Roberts trail and take the tram back down
Governor's house
the humpback statue and fountain
posted by rhapsodie at 1:00 PM on October 15, 2018

If weather permits, take the city bus to (near) the Mendenhall glacier and walk to the park. The $2 bus ride from downtown is about 40 minutes, and the walk from the stop to the park is an easy, flat mile with a few good views (and a beaver pond). If 'near future' means next Spring, you might need insect repellent. There are some side trails once you get near the park entrance. Riding the bus is a good way to pick up on local conversation and concerns in ways that you won't in the touristy downtown.
posted by dws at 1:05 PM on October 15, 2018

Mt. Roberts was almost otherworldly when we were there during August a few years ago. The hike was amazing. I'd definitely recommend that, and the tram was probably the most touristy thing we did, but helped get a sense of place. We talked with all of the Tlingit docents and they were very kind and willing to educate about their history and legacy.

If you need coffee during your trip, Heritage Roasters is the way to go.

And I think it goes without saying (*points to username*) I'm going to recommend going to the library.
posted by librarianamy at 1:32 PM on October 15, 2018

Best answer: Take the bus on its complete route (it is a simple route and timetable) and walk. DWS is correct that the bus is a good way to get the feel of people. Depending on the time of year, you can bike and walk. My best thoughts came to me when walking around Juneau and surrounding areas including Douglas Island and Lemon Creek. You have the landmarks and places of interest. In the mornings as the mists fall from the mountains, it is dreamlike, especially, if rainy.

There is a lot for you to pack in visually with the list of things to do. The list above is good and that does not include all the activities including kayaking and skiing.

Allow yourself time to be still: watch the animals, both winged and not; walk with your ears open and your eyes languidly hungry and smell the nuances of wet and dry.

Living in Juneau allowed me, even forced me to be still. It made my hungers more thoughtful. Have a good trip.
posted by jadepearl at 2:39 PM on October 15, 2018

Response by poster: I think jadepearl hits most on the head what I'm looking for. I don't have specific questions I want answered at this point. I've gone to the library, I've looked at pictures, I've looked around the city on Google maps. I just want to know what it feels like, smells like, what the people are like, what the mountains and glacier look like in person instead of in pictures.

Writing this out, I'm thinking I could probably skip the Alaska State Museum, and should focus more on just hiking or walking the city.

I'm interested in the Tlingit, but I remember coming across some research early on that suggested that they don't like outsiders telling their stories, so I've erred towards not pulling directly from them for the novel in respect of that. I'll still visit that museum though, if purely for personal curiosity.
posted by bridgebury at 6:19 PM on October 15, 2018

If you want to take a downtown walk, I might suggest this one: Get yourself to Cope Park, aka Evergreen Bowl. Stand down at the pool formed by the little damn and find a few good stones and skip them. Then, catch the staircase on the south side of the park up to Chicken Ridge. You will pass right by Judge Wickersham's old house, famous territory lawman and lover of the ladies. Also, keep an eye out for the Unspeakable Acts Research Centre - don't ask, it's unspeakable. Keep heading NE on 7th until you get to Gold and head up, taking the dogleg to Basin. Head out and just keep going past Gold Creek until you come to the first trailhead for Perseverance. Take it to the Falls and walk down to the water and contemplate. Then head back to Basin and, this time when you get to Gold Creek, take the foot bridge to the other side and hit the Flume. When it turns into Evergreen Ave, take a left and head down Pine to the staircase that dumps you out on Hermit, just above the graveyard. Walk through the flats to Foodland and have a cup of Heritage coffee and a big, greasy cup of adobo with rice from the deli. You'll appreciate the warm up and the healthy dose of Filipino chow.

BTW, fall is prime bear time. Keep aware of your surroundings. Remember that the rain impairs your vision and ability to hear and it does the same to the bears.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:59 PM on October 15, 2018

Oh, and go buy a Bill Spears pin from Dee. Tell her Cherry Mash sent you. Then give her some chocolate.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:02 PM on October 15, 2018

I wrote two novels (and counting!) set in London. They're urban fantasy so they left me free to be inspired by the real city or leap off in imaginative directions as I chose. I suspect your post-apocalyptic novel offers you the same sort of freedom.

I found there were two types of things I could discover by walking around the city: known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Known unknowns were specific questions I needed answered ("How crowded is this location at lunchtime on Thursday?") Unknown unknowns were the bits of inspiration I didn't know I was seeking -- the ideas that would suddenly pop into my head when I stumbled across an unusual building or unexpected view. It sounds like you've answered your known unknowns, and you're just looking for the unknown unknowns.

Everybody is different, for me personally, the best thing was to walk around with a detective's mindset. The city was a mystery, my book was going to be the solution, and I was on the hunt for clues. “Hm… Why is this parking lot closed in the middle of a day? Sure, it could be because the manager is sick— but isn’t it more likely that there’s a nocturnal giant sleeping underneath, and if you wake him in the daytime, he’ll go on an angry rampage?"

I kept a particular eye out for juxtapositions. I could sit at home and research a specific 1970s parking garage or ancient Roman wall, but it was only by walking the city that I could feel what it's like to see them right next to each other.

I found the best thing place to walk was outside in aesthetically appealing areas. Second best was to walk inside a building that was part of the city's daily life. I did not find museums very helpful for general inspiration. Museums (whether history or art) meant interacting with other people's view of the city; walking around let me discover my own.

Given how that you've only got two and a half days, I’d stock up on as many memory cues as you can. Take photographs, but make sure you take a mental picture of the scene before you take a literal one. The photos should trigger your memory, rather than replace it. Record sounds. If there’s a particular flower or tree whose scent follows you around there, try to bring back some leaves or blossoms. Honestly, it might not be a bad idea to fabricate your own memory triggers, just to be safe. Every day you’re there, wear a cologne you don’t normally wear at home. Then when you’re back, take a sniff of it to transport yourself back to Alaska.

On a practical note, make sure you are prepared to record ideas in whatever way is easiest and fastest for you. Bring a phone charger, or a bunch of spare pens, as appropriate. With less than three days, you don’t want to waste time hunting for an electrical socket or a stationary store.
posted by yankeefog at 6:23 AM on October 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

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