If you live or spend a lot of time in Haines Junction, chances are you’ll recognize a few of the landmarks in the fictional Yukon town described in Elayne Hurlburt’s first young adult novel Face-Off.
Hurlburt will be at Coles Whitehorse on Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. to sign books and speak with readers.
The YA mystery is set in a fictional community, though Hurlburt acknowledged many of the community’s features are based on those in her home community of Haines Junction.
The sculpture of wildlife — commonly called the “muffin” by those who live in the Junction — is one such feature that’s been added to the fictional town and storyline.
Face-Off follows Ona Baird, a young woman who is dealing with a number of her own issues.
In a Nov. 4 interview, Hurlburt didn’t want to give away a lot of the mystery in the book, but highlighted the cover description when asked what it’s about: “… On her quest, she tangles herself and her friends into some slippery twists and turns.
“Then, when a crisis hits the town, Ona’s passion and keen observation skills lead to an ever-tightening spiral of danger and secrets.”
As Hurlburt put it during the interview, “she tangles herself into all sorts of things.”
The story began as a piece about two boys who find a secret room in an old house. A girl, who’s dealing with a few of her own problems as a teenager, enters the picture and the story took off from there, Hurlburt said.
For Hurlburt, who is no stranger to writing short works of fiction and non-fiction, this story was different from anything she has done before.
You would think a longer novel would be easier to write in a sense, she said, pointing to the opportunity for more detail and being able to more fully explore characters in a full-length novel.
What she found was the opposite.
“This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever written,” she said, noting the pieces of the mystery all have to work together and the characters need to fit into that.
She also wanted to ensure her work was unique.
“It’s excruciatingly difficult to write a meaningful and entertaining teen mystery,” she said. “I was always conscious of Nancy Drew trying to take over.”
With that, Hurlburt took as long as she needed to craft the novel.
“It’s taken me a long time,” she said of the two-to-three-year effort to write the novel.
She added that while it was a multi-year process to write Face-Off, it was not done on a full-time basis, but rather came together bit by bit.
The first part of the book was drafted and then submitted by Hurlburt to a writing course she wanted to get into in Tennessee.
Those first 50 pages secured her a spot in the program.
“That was the beginning,” she said.
During and after that course she continued to work on the novel, taking knowledge she had gained during her previous years as a high school teacher and college instructor to develop the main characters who are between the ages of 14 and 18.
That inspiration is outlined in the book’s dedication to “all the tweens and teens” she’s known. Hurlburt said writing Face-Off brought back a lot of memories of the students she’s known.
In addition to the youth featured, there are also four adults who are a major part of the novel.
She’s hopeful youth will have fun reading Face-Off, which Hurlburt described as “fun, thought-provoking, and a little bit spooky.”
Perhaps, she said, some youth may see themselves in the characters who deal with things experienced by many teenagers — insecurities, crushes and more.
At the same time Hurlburt was writing the book, she also continued work on a number of other projects. Among them is her role as one of a few Haines Junction residents behind the St. Elias Echo community newsletter.
As for whether Hurlburt is ready to get to work on a second novel, she said she hasn’t ruled it out but does not have any such project on the go right now.
She said she has had a few friends who have read Face-Off suggest a sequel may be in order and that’s something she’s giving thought to.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org