Copies of Nick Jans new book, “Romeo the Friendly Wolf,” arrived at Hearthside Books about two weeks ago. (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire)

Copies of Nick Jans new book, “Romeo the Friendly Wolf,” arrived at Hearthside Books about two weeks ago. (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire)

Nick Jans goes back to ‘Romeo’

Author returns with follow-up to best-selling book about Juneau’s most famous wolf

When Nick Jans visits the downtown Hearthside Books on Aug. 15 for a talk about his new photo book, “Romeo the Friendly Wolf,” it will also bring him “full circle.”

Jans gave a talk about his first book, “The Last Light Breaking,” at Hearthside in 1993, kicking off a long relationship with the bookstore, the city and its most famous wolf.

“I ended up living in Juneau, and finding a home,” he said in an interview Monday.

These days Jans splits his time “just past Haines Highway marker mile 26,” his base this season while working as an Alaskan storyteller on Princess Cruises, and along north Florida’s Suwannee River, where his wife Sherrie lives. Before he heads to warmer climes, however, he will make his annual fall trek to Ambler, an Inupiaq village in the Arctic, where he lived for 20 years.

Alaska Author Nick Jans.

Alaska Author Nick Jans.

But wherever he is, he still feels a powerful connection to Romeo, the beloved wolf who lived in the Juneau area from 2003-2009.

“I have never, ever, ever let go of that wolf. His story and his life and his death are a personal thing to me,” Jans said. “It goes well beyond my boundaries as a writer and photographer. As weird or unbelievable as it seems, I see him as a neighbor and a friend.”

Jans has been back to the Hearthside a number of times over the years, including to talk about his best-known book, “A Wolf Called Romeo,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014. He stresses the new book isn’t a rehashing of that best-selling book. This one is a photo book, but also much more in-depth than the average picture book. It captures why Romeo’s life, and his connection with humans, matters so much, he said.

He stresses that the new effort is a lot different than the first book, which was 72,000 words with grayscale images. “Romeo the Friendly Wolf” is a mere 4,500 words on 64 pages featuring dozens of high-quality color images interspersed with “highly crafted blocks of text.” His aim is to reach a wider audience and he designed it accordingly.

“It reads in a linear fashion — a narrative with a beginning, a middle and a definite conclusion,” he said.

Telling the full story with the right flow is important in helping ensure that readers, especially young people, grasp the larger meaning. The book, and the wolf’s story, is about more than just a remarkable wild animal that touched a lot of lives by interacting peacefully with humans and most dogs.

“Romeo’s story is an archetype, a touchstone for our own relationship with the wild,” Jans said. “It’s a bond between ourselves and nature. Without nature, we’re screwed.”

Katrina Woolford, longtime manager of Hearthside Books, was working at the downtown store last week, shortly after the books landed.

“A family came in and the parents bought ‘A Wolf Called Romeo’ for them, and the photographic book for the kids, and they were going to read them together,” she said.

Woolford said she has known Jans since shortly after the first book came out, which includes hosting him somewhat regularly at Hearthside. He has also served as faculty at North Words Writers Symposium, an annual event held in Skagway, which she helps organize.

“Nick is committed to a very authentic and honest portrayal of Alaska, its people and places, and the wildness of all of it,” she said. “That really comes out in his books.”

Laurie Craig, a former ranger at Mendenhall Glacier, got to know Jans during the Romeo era, and has done some work for him over the years.

“Nick is one of those real Alaskan men who have done so many rugged things, but he’s still an incredibly sensitive person,” Craig said. “He became a student of living the native Alaskan way.” Gaining knowledge of traditions, particularly as he did it, required a major commitment over many years. The fact he was drawn to learn the ancient ways in the first place speaks to that deeper connection.

Craig, who is a contributor to the Empire, has high praise for the new book, calling “Romeo the Friendly Wolf” a standalone book for the whole family.

“Nick manages to capture why the connection to Romeo was so magical for so many people,” she said.

Jans will be signing books starting at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 15. The reading/discussion starts at 7:30 p.m.

• Contact Meredith Jordan at meredith.jordan@juneauempire.com.

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