With a propulsive style, Alaska author Paul Greci hopes to keep reluctant readers engaged

This is part of Alaska Authors, an occasional series about authors and other literary figures with ties to the 49th state.

As a teacher, Paul Greci has worked with lots of struggling students, many of them described as reluctant readers. These are the kids he has in mind as a writer.

“Having worked with so many kids that have negative views on reading, I want my writing to help some of them discover that they actually like reading, and that it can enrich their lives,” Greci said, discussing his work. “To get a kid to pick up a book as a non-reader,” he added, “you really need something that has action early on, and they get invested in it. I want that kid to want to want to turn the next page.”

Greci is the author of four action-packed young adult novels set in Alaska that have garnered national attention. Ranging from “Surviving Bear Island,” his debut novel about a teenage castaway on an island in Prince William Sound, to “The Wild Lands,” a post-apocalyptic thriller that follows a quartet of young people making their way across a future Alaska ravaged by climate change, his books tell stories of survival in the far north. The books are fast-moving and filled with narrow escapes from danger.

Greci’s writing is an extension of his professional career. The longtime Fairbanks resident has been a teacher since the 1990s, much of that time spent first at an alternative school for troubled students, and then as a special education instructor.

It was in the classroom that Greci said he was first inspired to take up writing. He recalled reading novels to his students, and when a book hit a major moment, he would stop and assign them the task of creating and writing the next scene. As their teacher, he would write his own version as well. “I was doing those assignments with my students, and that is how I discovered that I like fiction writing,” he said.

Around 2002, Greci got the idea for what would become his first novel. Drawing from his own outdoors experiences, he began composing the story of a young teen named Tom who becomes separated from his father while kayaking in Prince William Sound. Tom washes up on an island where he has to learn to survive while hoping for rescue.


“My first sea kayak trip was a nine-week, 500-mile trip in Prince William Sound with a friend,” Greci said, explaining how that voyage provided the material he needed to paint an accurate picture of what Tom would encounter. “Mistakes that Tom made in the book, some of those mistakes I made. The way he cooks his fish with a little alder grill, that’s a thing I developed out in Prince William Sound.”

Greci grew up and attended college in Indiana. That’s when his attention turned to the North. “When I was a sophomore, I had an opportunity to come to Alaska to work in a salmon cannery,” he said. After college returned for another summer in 1986. Unable to stay away, he settled in Fairbanks in 1990.

It was around 2002 that Greci began writing in earnest. He wrote early drafts of “Surviving Bear Island” before setting it aside and working on other ideas that remain unpublished. “I learned how to write fiction writing this book,” he said of Bear Island.

For most of the aughts, Greci toiled away on various ideas while reaching out to publishers. In 2007 he quit his job for a few years to devote his full attention to his writing, and in 2009 he hired an agent. Meanwhile he began writing “The Wild Lands.”

Working with his second agent, Amy Tipton, he was told that post-apocalyptic fiction was not selling well right then and asked for something else. “Amy was in it to win it,” Greci said of her efforts. He gave her “Bear Island,” which they revised further. Then she began pitching it to publishers. It was acquired by Move Books, which specializes in publishing stories aimed at keeping young readers, especially boys, engaged.

“I never thought this was going to be my first book published, “Greci said. He assumed a couple of his other unpublished manuscripts would precede it. “But this novel, which I worked on and worked on for 13 years, which was the first novel I wrote, also became the first book that I got published.”

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“Bear Island,” published in 2015, quickly attracted national attention and was a Junior Library Guild Selection that same year (more recently, the Alaska Center For the Book named it the 2022-2023 Alaska Reads Book for the state of Alaska). Suddenly Greci’s name was known in the young adult market. This led to Imprint, a division of MacMillan, picking up “Wild Lands,” which came out in 2019. It was followed in 2021 by “Hostile Territory,” a contemporary survival story with political overtones that’s also set in Alaska. In 2022, “Follow the River,” the sequel to “Bear Island,” was released.

Greci said he developed his style from reading ”Scene & Structure,” Jack Bickham’s writing guidebook for fiction. This is where he learned that ending chapters with cliffhangers or sudden revelations would help meet his goal of keeping young readers engaged. “That structure has helped me keep stories moving and focused. And I think that is a big thing for reluctant readers,” he said. “Every time I have a setting detail in my writing it has to also advance the plot and/or develop the character. This keeps the story moving while at the same time creating a rich setting.”

Greci said that his own experiences teaching young readers with limited skills have shown him that they lose focus when assigned books with extensive subplots or tangents. Keeping things moving smoothly is his first objective. “So I tend to write kind of plot-heavy on my first drafts, and develop characters more in successive drafts.”

Greci added that the story can change his characters from what he originally envisioned. In early drafts of “Bear Island,” for instance, Tom, whose mother has died and whose father is missing, is very angry. “And the final character, thirteen years later and all those drafts, he was not angry.”

He also uses a three-act structure for his stories, another trick he learned from Bickham. “That structure has helped me keep stories moving and focused. And I think that is a big thing for reluctant readers.”

Writing young adult fiction in an era of book bans, Greci, whose own work has not been challenged, expressed his regard for those caught in the middle of these battles. “As an educator and author who has focused for years on reaching reluctant readers,” he said, “I have tremendous respect for school librarians who work hard to ensure that all students have access to books that they can connect with.”

To this, he added, “I am saddened and angered by Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor’s recent attempt to intimidate library personnel from doing their jobs, and that there are already review and challenge processes in place to review materials that are put on library shelves. These processes have been working successfully for years, and threats from officials like the Attorney General are neither needed nor productive for our libraries to continue to operate.”

Having worked with many reluctant readers throughout his teaching career, Greci observed that “they’re already putting out a lot of energy to read.” For him, writing books that will appeal to these kids and encourage them to keep turning pages is the paramount goal. “I see reading as a way to enrich their lives,” he said, “and as a real skill that they need.”

David James

David A. James is a Fairbanks-based freelance writer, and editor of the Alaska literary collection “Writing on the Edge.” He can be reached at