Cold Spell by Deb Vanasse

Cold Spell

In Books, Novels by Deb Vanasse

Cold Spell by Deb Vanasse

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Montaigne Award FinalistPopular with book clubs.


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“Captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds.” ~ Booklist

“Grabs you from the opening line and never lets go” ~ Publishers Weekly

“By one of Alaska’s leading storytellers . . .complicated family and community dynamics, death, teenage drama, and the pressures of living a subsistence lifestyle in a tiny isolated town” ~ Library Journal

From the moment Ruth Sanders rips a glossy photo of a glacier from a magazine, she believes her fate is intertwined with the ice. Her unsettling fascination bewilders her daughter, sixteen-year-old Sylvie, still shaken by her father’s leaving. When Ruth uproots Sylvie and her sister from their small Midwestern town to follow her growing obsession—and a man—to Alaska, they soon find themselves entangled with an unfamiliar wilderness, a divided community, and one another. As passions cross and braid, the bond between mother and daughter threatens to erode from the pressures of icy compulsion and exposed secrets.

With precise and evocative prose, Cold Spell tells the story of a mother who risks everything to start over and a daughter whose longings threaten to undo them both. Vanasse captures the reality of life in Alaska and the emotional impact of loving a remote and unforgiving land.


Cinthia Ritchie ~ The Alaska Star

Deb Vanasse sits out on the deck of her house out on Hiland Road, casually dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, her hand idly stroking the head of her energetic boxer, McKenzie. Behind her the valley stretches wide and far, and out in the distance two eagles float across the sky.


Author Deb Vanasse generously shares with LFF about how she came to writing fiction, her personal writing inspirations, her recent (and 14th!) book Cold Spell, feminism in her work and much more…

Where are you from? How did you get into writing?

I was born and raised in the Midwest—Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa—but I’ve lived in Alaska for all of my adult life, so…


AUDIO: Cold Spell reading and discussion

Teachers as Writers – scroll to #30

The Art of Writing and Publishing — scroll to #29

The UAA Campus Bookstore organizes Literary Events Live to promote expression and engaged discussion with panel discussions and author readings.


Vanasse researched glaciers extensively for Cold Spell. Here she shares a few accessible and notable sources.


Written by friend and fellow writer, Bill Streever, this piece is a favorite first-person account of traversing a glacier.Into the Heart of the Ice: Experiencing the beauty, drama and danger of an Alaskan glacier—from the inside.

The story behind Cold Spell

Q & A with Melinda Brasher

Cold Spell has an interesting range of characters. Who was your favorite to write and why?

I’m always delighted to talk about characters—they’re the pulse points of any novel. Choosing a favorite is tough, though. It was Sylvie’s voice that opened the story for me. I’m intrigued by characters who long to be noticed, who find subversive ways to get power, as Sylvie does with her sexuality. So often, our longings betray us, as is the case for both Sylvie and Ruth; that line between impulse and self-control is constantly shifting. In many ways, the two of them mirror each other, not only as mother and daughter, but also in the ways that they fool and also frighten themselves. I can relate to all of that. I also ended up falling hard for Lena, a character I was sure I wouldn’t like. I have lots of outtakes written from her perspective. I love it when characters surprise me like that, weaseling in where I didn’t expect them.

The glacier in Cold Spell is almost like another character in the book. If you could describe it in three words, what would you say?

I feel place intensely, both in life and in fiction. I think you find that often in placeslike Alaska where people choose to live intentionally—landscape not as backdrop, but as relationship. I love the traditional Native idea that landscape is sentient, that it acts and reacts as humans do. In this book, I especially loved working with ice, which on the surface appears stagnant and off-putting but is actually vibrant and moving and full of power. As a character, the glacier is potent, multi-faceted, and transformative.


Part of this novel takes place in Alaska, a state that most people only experience as a tourist, or through film. What are a few things about living there that travelers don’t usually see?

Each new “reality TV” episode chips away at what those of us who live here consider to be the real Alaska. It’s amazingly diverse, in every way—people, landscape, cultures, opinions—and quirky, a word I don’t especially like, but it captures in part the idea that it’s easier to be your own person here than in many places; the showboating that you see on TV isn’t at all who we are. It’s also impossible to truly feel the effects of a vast, changing wilderness unless you put yourself in the middle of it on a regular basis and engage all the senses: the smell of tundra in autumn, the taste of wild blueberries warmed in the sun, the searing cold when you breathe air at 40 below. Seeing Alaska through a tour bus window, or worse yet, on a screen, simply isn’t the same. I’ll admit a bias, but I truly believe that, short of living here, the best way to experience the astounding variety that is Alaska is through books.


What do you find most difficult about the writing or publishing process?

I love what I do, but none of it’s easy. The hardest thing these days—and to some extent, maybe it’s always been this—is cutting through the noise so your book finds its readers. That, and you have so many choices, especially when you write fiction. You have to develop a huge sense of discernment, coupled with a readiness to let go of whatever’s not working in a story.

Reading Cold Spell with a group?

A few questions to spark the discussion.

Why Alaska? When Ruth latches onto the image of a glacier in Alaska, what does that image symbolize for her?

Could this novel have been set in another place? Say Kansas or North Carolina?

Talk about the essential character of Kenny? Is he to blame for the difficulties between Ruth and Sylvie?

Is Ruth a good mother? All mothers are a mix, but if you had to tip the scale one way or another, how would you judge her?

Sexuality, especially new sexuality, is often portrayed as dangerous, or at least as socially unbalancing. In what ways does Vanasse follow in the paths of other novelists in exploring the fallout of Sylvie’s burgeoning sexuality? In what ways does Vanasse expand the literary lens of new sexuality?

What motifs does Vanasse use throughout the book? In what ways did those mofifs highlight the important themes and ideas?