Alaska author Paul Greci shares his work with young readers

During his presentation to young readers at the Irene Ingle Public Library on Jan. 14, Alaska author Paul Greci shared the formula that helped him produce his first novel, "Surviving Bear Island" - experience plus imagination equals story.

Inspired by his personal outdoor experiences, he imagined the gripping narrative of Tom Parker, who is stranded on a remote island after a sea kayaking accident separates him from his father.

The middle-grade adventure story was chosen as the Alaska Center for the Book's 2023 title. In partnership with the Alaska State Library, Alaska Humanities Forum and Rasmuson Foundation, the center has distributed books and funded Greci's visits throughout the state.

The Wrangell library was one of his last stops on a tour that included Anchorage, Seward, Homer, Delta Junction, Haines, Juneau and more.

Even after publishing four novels, Greci remains a full-time teacher in Fairbanks. Over his 32 years in education, he has taught a wide variety of subjects, from the sciences to humanities, to K-12 students of all ages. For the past nine years, he's been a special education resource teacher for third graders, but most of his career has been spent teaching English to "junior high and high school kids who have exhausted all their public school options."

He started writing "Surviving Bear Island" - his first novel - in 2002, about 15 years into his teaching career. At the time, he was working at an alternative high school where many students were reluctant readers and writers.

"As a way to get them to do some writing, I was reading some novels to them and I was stopping at high points in the story and having them take over and write the rest of the story," Greci recalled. "I was doing the assignments along with my students. That was how I discovered I liked fiction writing."

Between working at his full-time job and working on the novel, he was on a tight schedule. "Before I went to work in the morning and after I came home at night, I would work on this story," he said.

Completing the first draft took about two years, but the first draft was only the beginning. "I probably rewrote it about 50 times" he said. After producing a draft that he was satisfied with, he started reaching out to agents and publishers in 2007. The book was sold in 2013 and published two years later, in 2015.

"It was a long process with a lot of rejection," he said. "Having a thick skin and knowing that that's part of it" were essential skills that helped him endure the difficult road to publication.

Since "Surviving Bear Island," Greci has written three more books, each involving harrowing outdoor adventures and resourceful teenage protagonists. His first novel may have taken 13 years to arrive on bookstore shelves, but each subsequent release is separated by an average of two years. Outlining, studying fiction writing and using a three-act story structure helped streamline his writing process while working on "The Wild Lands," "Hostile Territory" and "Follow the River."

Two of his later works, "The Wild Lands" and "Hostile Territory," depart from the wilderness adventure model established by classics like "Hatchet" and "My Side of the Mountain" and enter a more futuristic, imaginative realm, where teens contend with the impacts of climate change and geopolitical breakdown.

"I'm really interested in how the world is changing," Greci said. "I did a lot of reading on what scientists say Alaska might look like ... and applied my imagination to some of the information I had." "The Wild Lands" depicts "one way it could go." But, he added, "hopefully it'll go a better way."

Copies of "Surviving Bear Island" are available at the library.


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