Author Shares Tales Of 'Alaska, As It Used To Was'


John B. Thompson retired in Payson more than 22 years ago.

But this year, at the age of 84, he started a new career.

Thompson published a book in March, "Alaska As It Used To Was." In it, he shares a collection of stories about his adventures in the wilds of Alaska's southeast islands.

Thompson lived in Alaska from 1946 until 1966, first doing odd jobs in the town of Craig, then working at its cannery. The owners of the Craig cannery then sent him to Klawock, to make its abandoned cannery in that village operational for the Thlinget Indians.

His book about Alaska is a tribute to the Thlingets of Klawock who adopted him into their tribe and taught him their skills for living from the land and waters, and shared their wit and wisdom.

It is written in a warm, personal, down-to-earth style a style that took Thompson more than a few times to discover.

He said he started writing the book five times before he found the tone he wanted. He calls it taking the readers by the hand and leading them as if they were beside him in his adventures.

His wife, Ginnie, started urging him to write the book in 1993. She told him he needed to write down all his stories from Alaska for his sons.

Before writing the book, he had written a few songs and also writes poems, some of which have appeared in the Roundup's Poetry Corner. He has also written articles for magazines, including Readers Digest.

Thompson went to too many publishers to list before discovering Infinity Publishing.Com. He said that in his experience, the traditional publishing route would have cost thousands of dollars and involved getting an agent.

His wife found Infinity for him. She went to Minnesota to visit family and one of her nephews had written a book and had it published by Infinity. The people at Infinity help writers to self-publish and the effort only cost Thompson $400.

He did not get terribly enthusiastic about the project until he found Infinity, he said. Then he really applied himself. Sometimes he would start writing at 6 a.m. and not stop until 10 p.m.

There were hard parts, like getting used to using a computer. It was also hard to make the stories light and airy and keep them educational as well. He wants to teach his readers about Alaska with this book, about the gifts the land and waters provide for the people.

The biggest thrill of the whole process was seeing the book printed, at least according to his wife.

"I felt like a Cadillac with a flat tire," Thompson said. He said he was left wondering what to do next.

What he is doing next is pushing the books like mad. "Now I want the acclaim," he said.

Thompson is selling the books himself at craft fairs and through word-of-mouth by friends. So far, he has sold about 155 copies.

One of his old friends in Alaska is selling them for him too. Thompson's friend in Alaska just happens to be one of the state senators from Klawock. As boy, he attended classes at the cannery after the old school burned down.

That school fire is one of the stories in Thompson's book.

After leaving Alaska, Thompson built bridges in the Pacific Northwest, primarily across the Columbia River.

He also spent time in Hawaii and California, then came to Arizona to help his former wife with a project in Munds Park. From Munds Park he went to Chandler, where he did more welding work before retiring.

Thompson met Ginnie in Phoenix at a singles' dance and they were married in 1980. They were part-time Payson residents for awhile, and have since become full-timers, though they still have a place in the Phoenix area.

He has returned to Alaska four times since his departure. Once he went up to visit a friend's gold mine, another time he and Ginnie cruised through the southeastern islands where he had lived.

Thompson's twin sister, Marti O'Brien, is also a Payson resident.

His advice for aspiring writers, "Never quit. Set a goal and go for it. It will happen, if you work at it."

To get a copy of Thompson's book, contact him at 474-4482. They sell for $14 each.

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