Sunday, October 14, 2012

M.M. Justus: True Gold

True Gold
by M.M. Justus

Romancing The West welcomes western author M.M. Justus, author, museum curator, and among other things, quilter. The Klondike Gold Rush has always interested me and I'm excited to read her book, True Gold. M.M., please tell us about it.

MJ: When Karin Myre, a young Norwegian seamstress's assistant from Seattle, gets caught up in the excitement of the steamer Portland's arrival with a ton of riches from the Klondike Gold Rush, she decides to escape a future of too much drudgery and no choices. Stowing away on one of the many overcrowded ships bound north, she finds herself trapped in the cargo hold with a crowd of second thoughts. But her rescue from the captain and a fate worse than death by a handsome prospector and his photographer partner is only the beginning of her search for true gold.

RTW: How did you get interested in the Klondike Gold Rush?

MJ: When I was fourteen, my parents and I drove from Los Angeles (where we were living at the time) to Alaska and back, pulling a travel trailer. This was in 1973, when the Alaska Highway was mostly still gravel, and the tourist industry in that part of the world wasn't nearly as developed as it is now. It was one of the great adventures of my childhood, and something I still date events in my life from. We traveled and camped for six weeks through Yukon Territory and Alaska, including part of the trail Karin follows in my book. We got as far as Fairbanks and Denali (then called Mt. McKinley), coming back down on the ferry through the Inside Passage. I've loved that part of the world ever since, although I've only been able to go back once as an adult.

The Yukon and Alaska are permeated with history, the kind that's recent enough that those who experienced it personally haven't been gone all that long. The Klondike, after all, is known as the last great gold rush. And Seattle, which the primary jumping off point for the Klondike, is just down the road from me. The historical resources there about the Klondike are almost limitless.

RTW: Would you have wanted go to the Klondike in 1897?

MJ: Not on your life. Those people went through hardships I can't even conceive of putting myself through, many of them gave up before they even arrived at Dawson, and most of the rest turned around and left once they got there without ever having put shovel to dirt. Only a small percentage of the few who did actually stake claims and mine (most of whom were already there when the stampeders arrived) struck gold, and only a small percentage of them managed to hang onto their fortunes. Most of the journals from that time and place are by people who had no idea what they were getting themselves into, and who were absolutely appalled by it all. However, those same journals do reek with that sense of 'greatest adventure I'll ever have,' so perhaps their rewards weren't quite so tangible as a sack of gold.

RTW: What, to you, is the best part of fiction set in the West?

M.M. Justus, author
MJ: I think it's how close yet how far away it seems. The Old West, as we think of it, was in its prime less than 150 years ago. The Klondike Gold Rush, arguably the last hurrah for that time period, was only 115 years ago. My grandfather was born the year of the Gold Rush. Karin is my great-grandmother's age. That makes it seem so close. But when we went to Alaska in 1973, which itself was 39 years ago, we drove there and back in six weeks and still had time for plenty of sightseeing. We had indoor plumbing and a fully-equipped kitchen that Karin would have killed for. Life was so primitive back then in the wilds that it seems much farther away than it is. I love that paradox. I find it absolutely fascinating.

RTW: Why does Karin take her journey? And what does that handsome prospector have to do with it?

MJ: Literally or figuratively? She takes her literal journey because she's searching for something more than she would ever have if she stayed home. At first she thinks a literal fortune would change her life, and then she discovers that what she really wants is not something she can buy. As for Will, the prospector, he's part of the reason she figures that out. Anything more would be a spoiler.

RTW: We'd love to read a little bit of True Gold. Please set the scene for us.

MJ: This scene takes place just before the last hard climb over the steep pass between the Alaska Panhandle and Yukon Territory. Mr. McManis -- Will, the prospector who has been bullied by his other partner into taking Karin on as part of their party -- is trying to convince her to turn around while, as he thinks, she still can.

Excerpt of True Gold
by M.M. Justus

"Revolutionary," Mr. McManis muttered. But he did not mutter it very loudly.

I held my peace.

"You two are going to be the death of me," he said, not much more loudly.

"Oddly enough, I feel the same way about you," I told him.

"I'll bet you do." He eyed me in that unnerving way of his. "Why?"

That surprised me. "I do not understand your question."

He waved an arm, ostensibly at the men still climbing in the fading light, apparently at the whole adventure. "Why are you doing this?"

I blinked. "Why not?"

He frowned.

"Why are you here?" I asked.

"I'm here to make my fortune." He turned away.

"As am I."

"But you're a woman."

What did that have to do with it? "May a woman not have the same goals as a man?"

"Not the women I know."

"Who are these weak-spined women? And are you not ashamed of them?"

He looked taken aback. "Why would I be ashamed of them?"

I bent back to my cook fire. "You and Mr. Hoel will want my women's work done by the time he returns. So I'd better get started."

The silence ran on for a bit, then he stalked off. Sounds of canvas being shaken out and put over tent poles came to my ears. I did not go to help him. He would not have welcomed my help in any case. Well, and I had told them I would no longer need them once I made it over the pass. It was time I proved it. This would be my last night beholden to Messrs. Hoel and McManis.

You can buy True Gold at 

RTW: We're rooting for Karin! Will there be more?

Yes. The third book in the series, about the missing link generation after Charley and Will, and the man who will become Chuck's father, is in the works, and will be coming out sometime next year. After that, I have a number of ideas yet to come.
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We're looking forward to it! M.M. Justus will have an article for us on Thursday, The Klondike Gold Rush: A last hurrah of the Old West, so be sure to stop by!

You can visit M.M. Justus anytime at her website, blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.


  1. Oh, that looks like fun! I'll definitely keep an eye out for it.

  2. I have always wanted to visit Alaska, but would never have ventures there in pioneering days! I love my creature comforts. Thanks for sharing with us.

    1. You're welcome. If you'd like to read more about visiting Alaska, I've been blogging ( about the trip my parents and I took there in 1973 -- we drove the Alaska Highway with a travel trailer back when it was mostly gravel and there weren't nearly as many tourists. Not quite what my heroine went through by any stretch, but it was an epoch in my life, as I believe Anne Shirley once said.

  3. Now I'm feeling an urge to watch the John Wayne movie "North To Alaska" again. Or at least listen to the song.


    1. I don't know why, but this is the third try trying to post an answer here. Here's hoping this one goes through.

      I have yet to find a movie about the Klondike Gold Rush that is in the least bit historically accurate. OTOH, if you're just watching for Wayne, go for it.


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