Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Worth Going Back: An Interview with Author John Williams

Worth Going Back: An Interview with Author John Williams
by Gina McKnight

On July 28th of this year, John Williams launched his new book Worth Going Back: A Memoir of Alaska (Monday Creek Publishing 2018). The launch had been planned since early spring and was highly anticipated by John and his wife Teddi – on their 50th wedding anniversary. John, a sincere diarist, was excited to share his journey from Albany, Ohio to Alaska. I met up with John and asked him about journaling, traveling, and much more…

Welcome, John!

GM: Your new book, Worth Going Back: A Memoir of Alaska is receiving great reviews in Athens County and around the country. What is the premise of your memoir?
JW: After we made a decision to drive to Alaska, our son Pete, who lives in Texas, sent to our house three items - a military gas can, a can of bear spray and a blank journal. On our first day from home, Teddi, my wife, mentioned I should put something in the journal. I logged the date and where we were. I then realized no one would want to read it but Teddi and myself, and then only to log picture taking dates. I also realized then that sites along the way triggered something in my mind that would bring back a part of my history. I also realized my grandchildren knew little of my youth or younger years. This would be a good opportunity for them to find out more about me. No TV, newspaper, phone service or any outside distraction was keeping me from following through. In the evening after I wrote my thoughts, Teddi wanted to listen to what I had to say. I would read it to her. As the trip progressed she appeared to be eager to hear what I was going to say next. So when the trip ended I sought out a way to put it into book form.

GM: Driving cross-country to Alaska must have been great fun! Of all the places you visited, which place stands out the most?   
JW: This is really hard to answer. Let’s start first with the negative side of things. The multitude of people in the Banff-Jasper parks of Canada surprised me a little, but I should have expected that. Very few things were negative and that was good. The beauty of the raw wilderness of the Yukon and Alaska stands out. I’ve heard people talk of the blandness of tundra areas, but I saw nothing but beauty in its shape and color. Winter might show the other side. The many natural lakes of the far north stand out. I didn’t expect to see so many. The glaciers that filled mountain valleys on the Glenn Highway of Alaska were impressive. If you ask me to pinpoint what stands out the most but not necessarily a place, it would be spending quality time with my wife Teddi right beside me weeks on end. That was perfect.

GM: How long was your journey from beginning to end and did you preplan the entire route?
JW: The journey started in the middle of July and lasted eleven weeks. We wanted to spend as much time as we could in a land that is limited in seasons of good weather. We wanted to connect with the land and the people that live there. We had routes planned before we started but nothing set in stone. If something appealed to us, we would spend more time at that spot. If I felt tired, we would stop. We would take hikes or maybe just sit by a lake and take it all in. All roads go somewhere and the one you drive by may lead to an amazing adventure. Fortunately, that part of the world has few roads so we didn’t miss much. So to answer your question of preplanning the trip; I would say yes to the main routes and no to any time limit.

GM: America has beautiful scenic routes and a lot of back country roads. Did you run into any hurdles or snags along the way?
JW: America does have beautiful scenic routes and a lot of back country roads. Teddi and I have been on more than our share. Because we were pulling a light camper, few places were actual snags. The dirt roads can last hundreds of miles, so supplies of gas were hurdles that needed to be addressed. Bad weather and construction cropped up once in a while but no more than at home. Scenic routes are everywhere. Our home turf of Athens, Vinton and Hocking counties here in Ohio are as scenic as anywhere. The fog lifting off Lake Hope on a cool autumn morning is pretty special. It’s the back roads of time that tug at the heart and makes life special.

GM: Your memoir, a journal, is detailed and inviting. Did you journal every day? What is the key to staying motivated to journal when on vacation?
JW: Funny you ask. To be out hiking a trail or paddling a stream or lake; even biking the back roads is the joy that drives me. To sit and write is actually more difficult for me. This trip leveled the playing field. The only time I didn’t journal was when with family, but I journaled most every other night. As time went on I looked forward to putting in print all the adventures we had that day. So staying motivated was part of the reward for actually doing the physical jaunts of the day. The evenings were welcomed for the rest but also to relive the day or days of the past all over again. I would say the motivation to journal comes from the things I do.

GM: What are you currently reading?
JW: Actually I’m not much of a reader but I like stories that are realistic. My daughter-in-law calls me a no-nonsense guy. The books I enjoy don’t have to be facts but reveal realistic life. A book I picked up after Teddi read it is by Lois T. Henderson about Lydia of the new testament of the Bible. It’s a novel but I can’t say if I like it or not yet because I’ve barely started. It’s a forty-year-old book but time makes literature better.

GM: What are you currently writing?
JW: I enjoyed writing Worth Going Back and the joy and inspiration of stories coming together. I‘ve started to compile stories of other great memories for a future endeavor. Nothing is etched in stone yet but we’ll see.

GM: What advice do you have for those planning a trip to Alaska?
JW: If you’re taking a cruise, that is no doubt planned for you. But if you’re driving you’re entering a different world; much time is essential. The distances are enormous and the prices of everything will shock you. Leave the designer clothes at home. Dusty roads are the norm. Clothes that keep you warm and dry are way more important. Spare gas wouldn’t hurt. Be prepared for a world that will grab you and not let go. My advice for your traveling in this natural country is to enjoy and try not to change or add to it. It’s perfect as it is.

GM: What adventure are you going on next?
JW: I’m giving that some thought. I’m thinking Teddi would like to go visit her ancestral roots back in Ireland. We can’t drive there but adventures aren’t always behind a steering wheel. We’ve traced family trees on trips to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador, so visiting another Island would be fun. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Adventures don’t really have to be in other places. The best stories are those at home with family. We just had our fiftieth anniversary. What an adventure.

John’s book is available in hardcover from Barnes&Noble,, or you can contact John to receive a signed copy by sending an email to

See photos of John's trip to Alaska on Monday Creek Publishing's facebook page here!

Photo (c) John Williams 2018

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