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As readers, we are always curious about the inspiration behind the stories we love—not just the big ideas, but the details, too. This curiosity is what prompted us to ask about the people, places, and things that authors borrowed from real life to build their fictional worlds and deepen their characters’ journeys.
Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine is the story of Jasper and his older brother, Melvin, and their pursuit of gold during the Klondike Gold Rush. This exciting historical novel has already been named a Junior Library Guild Selection and an Amazon Best Book of the Month for February 2017. We asked author Caroline Starr Rose to share with us how a specific person, place, and thing inspired her newest novel. Here’s what Caroline had to say.
After publishing two novels with girl lead characters, my sons, Noah and Caleb, asked if I might write a book about a boy someday. Their request got me thinking about American literature’s most famous boy protagonist, Huckleberry Finn. Huck is brave and resourceful, quick to speak his mind and a little naive. I realized he was the perfect model for a setting I’d been toying with, Canada’s Yukon Territory in the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush, where rumors ran rampant and determination was essential. I re-read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to get a feel for Huck’s voice and personality and jumped right in.
My husband and I are the babies in our families by a lot. I’ve always described myself as a semi-only child. So it has always been special to watch our boys, who are two years apart, interact with each other. Even when they’re annoyed, it doesn’t last long. They’re a team. They’re friends. They’re brothers. It’s a beautiful thing. In watching my boys, I realized Jasper’s story wasn’t just his alone. It also belonged to his brother, Melvin. I wanted devotion and commitment to be key to Mel and Jasper’s relationship and wanted these to remain strong throughout, despite the conflict that comes with being siblings. Mel, as the older brother, has a deep sense of obligation for Jasper’s safety. Jasper wants to prove himself, first as someone deserving to travel to the goldfields with Mel, but finally as someone who is faithful to his word. I’m so grateful my boys’ request led me to Jasper. I’ve dedicated his story to the two of them.
When I was researching frontier women for my first novel, May B., my mom loaned me a book called Women of the Klondike. My interest was piqued. News that gold had been discovered in this far-off corner of Canada inspired 100,000 people to try and make the treacherous journey to the goldfields. For several years, the whole world was absolutely riveted by Klondike news. So how was it I knew so little this historic event?
My research for May B. ultimately led me to Kansas and its short-grass prairie, but I couldn’t forget the Klondike with its harsh climate, striking beauty, memorable characters, and fascinating history.
Not long before my sons’ request and my renewed interest in the Klondike, I’d read in the Albuquerque Journal about an eccentric millionaire named Forrest Fenn who’d hidden a large portion of his wealth somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Fenn had written a cryptic poem he said pointed to its location. The first person to unravel the clues and find the treasure could keep everything.
Treasure hunters from all over have searched for Fenn’s treasure. Fenn says a few have gotten close, but no one has found it yet. A treasure hunt like Fenn’s felt like the perfect layer to add to my Klondike setting. My Fenn character is One-Eyed Riley, who has left five riddle-clues pointing to a mine worth millions. The first person to find it can claim it as his own.
Animated spot illustrations by Jason Kirschner
To learn more about Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure, watch this!
Caroline Starr Rose is the author of the critically acclaimed middle-grade novels May B. and Blue Birds. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her husband and two sons in New Mexico.
Visit her at carolinestarrrose.com