The Alaska Billy Blog uses family history to consider how the landscapes of our past shape our future lives. Born in 1881, only 5 years after Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn, my grandfather and namesake, William Otis Hanson (Billy Hanson), grew up in a sod house on the Nebraska prairie. At the age of 15, Billy left home to become a cowboy in Wyoming.
I’m Bill Hanson (writing under my full name, William Arthur Hanson). The Alaska Billy Blog unites my desires to produce immediately readable work, interact with other writers and interested readers, and conduct research for my novels in an entertaining way.
I’ll combine relics from Billy’s steamer trunk with memories of my grandpa’s ranch (called “The Billy” by neighbors) to link the society and history of life in the rural West from 1881 to 1964 to life in the present day.
I plan to explore topics useful in writing my novel Spinning Heart, including themes, history, and changes in American society at the dawn of the 20th century: exploration of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, migration and settlement of new territory, and the changing roles and perspectives of women. At the same time, I’ll include thoughts about contemporary life, writing, and the relationship between landscapes in different parts of the world.
In the future, this first blog post will also available in the menu under the About Alaska Billy Blog tab .
William Otis Hanson – Billy Hanson
The Alaska Billy Blog originates in my grandfather, Billy Hanson, but if these writings ended in a simple family history, they would serve little purpose. A family tree standing by itself without the context of the culture in which our predecessors lived is a barren landscape.
Rather than a family chronicle, I want to learn about the origins of my own heroes and dreams. True, I’ll learn about my family, and hopefully come to understand my fascination with the stories of fathers and sons. My name, William Arthur Hanson, is a combination of Billy’s first and last names, with the middle Arthur from my maternal grandfather (whose middle name in turn, was Wilhelm). And yet, Billy was not a blood relative of mine. He was my father’s stepfather, so we’re talking about nurture here, not nature.
Despite our separate genes, I share a number of characteristics with Billy: my fascination with rocks and fossils, and my love of open spaces and wild places. Perhaps there are other shared interests as well. My father, Milt Hanson, found his first love of music listening to Billy’s records on the Victrola. Dad moved on to classical music in his own time, but I think that the universal presence of music in my life (encouraged by both my mother and my father) from birth until now can be traced back through the generations.
There’s another Billy that looms out of my sense of myself. That would be ‘The Billy’, my grandfather’s ranch in the dry lands of eastern Wyoming. This is the first place that I can point to as a Place of My Own, a landscape that I had all to myself, a personal world in which to act out my dreams, explore and discover, to return to every year to explore again, recognize changes, and become part of.