Juneau resident Meilani Schijvens loves to read and hike. When her two sons were young, she wanted to spend the summer hiking with them. But, her kids had other ideas. They wanted her to read to them all through the long days. So, she hatched a plan to make everyone happy.
“I thought, I can fix this. I’ll tell a story while hiking. Then, I told the story with cliffhangers,” she said.
The story Schijvens told her kids that that summer has turned into a novel titled “Mapmaker’s Mistake,” which was published late last year and is now available for sale.
“That summer was seven years ago. It took five years to find the time to write it down and two years to write the book,” she explained. “It’s been so wonderful. It was really the most lovely thing about 2020,” she added.
Aimed at readers ages nine to 12, the story features a 13-year old heroine who embarks on a sword-fighting adventure to save her kingdom.
“It’s got a heroine, but it’s really written for young boys,” she said. “In the end, she saves herself and the kingdom.”
Schijvens explained that writing the book was a family affair.
“The kids helped me edit it and made sure the young teens in the book sounded like young teens. They were brutal with the dialogue,” she said. “The kids are really proud of it. They love it. They feel like their contribution made it better.”
Tapping Juneau’s creative community
Juneau’s full spectrum of artistic talent is on display in the book. Schijvens decided to pursue independent publishing options to give her more control of the process.
“There’s so much talent in Juneau. I thought about publishing it outside, but there’s so much incredible, local talent for art and literature. I wanted to tap into that local talent,” she said.
Readers will see the work of local artists Glen Fairchild, who did the cover art, and Kirsten Shelton, who created the chapter heading drawings. James Alborough created a website — mapmakersmistake.com — and Charles Westmoreland served as editor for the book.
“The book is a celebration of all the talent that’s here,” she said.
Nods to Southeast Alaska
Although the story has a medieval setting and takes place in the fictional land of Zanzia, the book includes several local touches.
The characters pay a visit to a city called Ketch and dine on a halibut and kelp dish.
It’s also dedicated to close family friends Sig and Helen Decker, who died in a tragic car accident in Petersburg last July.
“It gave me great comfort to give something to them,” Schijvens said.
New to fiction writing
Although this is Schijven’s first work of fiction, she’s no stranger to the world of publications. She has authored hundreds of economic publications as the owner of Rain Coast Data, a research and economic consulting firm. Several national publications, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have cited her work.
“This is a huge departure from my day job,” she said. “I shock people with the idea that I wrote a children’s book. I’m usually deep in Excel spreadsheets.”
“I didn’t know how wonderful and beautiful it would be. Writing children’s fiction is a delicious, creative and delightful endeavor,” she said. “Writing it created a wonderful world I could escape into in 2020.”
Ready to read Mapmaker’s Mistake?
The book is available locally at Coppa in Juneau and at the Nolan Center in Wrangell. You can also order it from Amazon.
•Contact Dana Zigmund at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-308-4891.