Five Q’s is a running series where I’ll be talking to fellow writers about something they wrote, and try to ask five interesting questions about it. You can find the whole collection here.
Eva Holland is one of my favorite writers, which is of course why I had to get her to be part of Five Q’s. Earlier this year, she wrote a piece at Pacific Standard titled "The Peacemaker" about Schaeffer Cox, the leader of the Alaska Peacemakers Mlitia. It’s a remarkable and crazy story, including the possibility that Cox might have been involved in a plot to commit mass murder in Alaska.
I talked to Eva about the piece and a few other things. So, check out the piece here and then read the Q&A below.
What about the Schaeffer Cox story attracted you to want to write about it? In a story with this many strange threads, did anything surprise you?
I was initially planning to write about another Alaskan militia, one that’s still active.
I was browsing their online forum from January 2013, when Obama had his second inauguration and since that event coincided with Cox’s sentencing, I happened to see their posts about him as well.
It was clear right away that the story was convoluted - their posts included condemnation of one of the two FBI moles who’d infiltrated Cox’s group, someone who was clearly known to them personally, and they viewed the whole thing as part of a larger federal conspiracy. The more I read, the more it seemed clear that Cox was the real story.
As for surprises, maybe this was naive of me, but I think I was surprised by some of the stuff Cox was willing to do face to face - like going to the airport to harass and threaten TSA agents, that sort of thing. I often think of people being abusive online, but it’s less common to see them go out and look someone in the eye, you know?
You cover a lot of very niche, non-mainstream stuff and you’re based in the Yukon Territories. What is the best thing about living a non-city life? Any drawbacks?
I’ve always lived in large or medium-sized cities, so moving to the Yukon five years ago was an adjustment.
But there are so many great things about it: I never worry about parking or traffic, I never wait in a lineup for basically anything, aside from maybe the post office at Christmas time. And I like the way we make eye contact and smile at each other on the street, or the way I can’t really go anywhere without running into someone I know.
But I miss being able to see whatever movie I want in theaters - we mainly get the big blockbuster action and thriller stuff up here, and kids’ stuff - and I miss having a wider range of restaurant options.
When I go south for work or to visit family, all I want to do is eat.
You seem like a person who loves to explore, who enjoys the outdoors. Given those traits, what’s one thing that people would be surprised to find out about you.
Ha, well, if they follow me on Twitter they might not be surprised, exactly, but I think my love of lowbrow romantic comedies and trashy television surprises some people, given the stuff I write about - extreme sports, outdoor adventure, etc.
What is the biggest challenge you find with crafting long form pieces?
I feel like I’m still learning about story structure. I’m pretty confident at the sentence level, generally, but I still worry about how to organize my material more broadly. I’d like to take more chances and do interesting things with structure, but that requires a confidence that I’m still developing.
Once I get the structure settled, I usually really enjoy the writing itself. I always feel kind of guilty and embarrassed about this because the consensus in the writing community seems to be that if you’re enjoying yourself, or if you think what you’re writing might be any good, you must actually be shit.
But if writing was a miserable act for me, I wouldn’t do it. I’d go get some other job that also made me miserable but paid three times as much and took up half as much of my time. Sometimes I think we have kind of an unhealthy veneration of suffering.
What is one story that you’d love to write about that you haven’t had a chance yet?
Good question. I just sold a big story on a subject I’d been wanting to tackle for years, so that’s exciting. I guess there aren’t that many specific stories I’m dying to write about as there are types of stories I’d like to try writing, if that makes sense?
The Schaeffer Cox story was my first real crime story, and that’s an area I’d be interested in revisiting. I’d like to try writing a big profile of a famous person of some sort, just out of curiosity since it’s such a huge part of the industry and I’ve never done one. I’d like to push further into the realm of pure reporting, also.