All Aboard for The Turnagain Arm

The Turnagain Arm on Kindle
The neighborhood where I live is situated along the Ohio River, directly up a very steep hill that ends at the train tracks that run along the riverbank. On clear mornings and nights, we can hear the whistles of the trains as they make their way along the river. I've always found the whistles eerie and for whatever reason the empty tracks have always been a bit creepy to me. An old abandoned train station used to sit along the tracks and when I was a kid I always imagined all kinds of scary things going on in that deserted station and on the tracks behind it. It seemed to me that station probably had lots of tales to tell.

I got the idea for my latest tale, The Turnagain Arm, after hearing a train whistle coming up from the river while I was walking my dog Clancy early in the morning. Later, I heard another whistle to end the day. It was fall and the night was crisp and chilly, and the whistle lingered in the air long after the train had moved past us. 

I wanted to write a story about what my Polar Night vampire Aleksei Nechayev was up to before the events of that book and after his human experiences as a Russian soldier in World War I. When I read that the Alaskan Railroad construction began in 1914 and reached its peak in 1917, the same year Aleksei became a vampire, my interest peaked. When I then learned that the Trans-Siberian railway from Aleksei's home of St. Petersburg to the far east town of Vladivostok was completed in 1916, I knew I had the beginnings of my story. Suddenly it became crystal clear how Aleksei left the ravages of World War I in the Russian West for a new start in Alaska, as freighters regularly went from Vladivostok to the Western United States and to the Alaskan territory. Like the day that gave me this idea, the story begins and ends with the haunting whistle of a train. 

While researching the time period and the area, I found this great video put out by the Alaska Film Archives showing early footage of the rail's construction, which started in a tent camp that is now the city of Anchorage. 

There are also great historical photos of the early days of the railroad camps, such as this picture of two women who ran their own waffle house. I was so intrigued by the thought of two women running their own business in those days that I created a character who ran a waffle stand of her own.


About thirty miles south of Anchorage was the most difficult stretch of the railroad's construction, the area known as the Turnagain Arm. The tracks had to be constructed at the base of steep vertical cliffs that ended in the body of water that gave the area its name.

This is what the tracks at Turnagain look like in the present day, so it's impossible to imagine how difficult and dangerous it must have been to construct them back in the 19-teens.

Source: alaskarails.org
This photo from the Alaska Digital Archives gives some idea of the conditions the rail workers were working under.

I loved the idea of setting my story in such a hostile and forbidding place. The characters who live and work in the Turnagain Arm camp are a hearty and tough lot by necessity, but they also find time to relax and enjoy themselves in the Turnagain Arm saloon.

Unfortunately for them, the vampire named Aleksei Nechayev finds himself drawn to the saloon as well. And the workers who call the camp home soon learn that the brutal conditions of the Alaskan wilderness are nothing compared to the danger they face now.

Want to take a trip to The Turnagain Arm? Find the novella on Amazon Kindle and on Goodreads


  1. Hi Julie - what a wonderful back story - even better knowing a little more of the history of those times - clever to find the film snippet. Times were pretty difficult back then - let alone with the freezing, harsh conditions of Alaska ...

    This is great ... and good luck - I'm sure you're on the right track - if I'm allowed to say that - cheers Hilary

  2. I couldn't imagine working under such harsh conditions. One day I'd like to visit Alaska, but in the summer! It's the perfect setting for your story.

  3. I love the story about your neighborhood abandoned train station and your imaginings as a child. Creepy! The pictures were wonderful! Great post!

  4. I agree with you about the train tracks. When I was a child I saw a great art piece of a black horse running on the train tracks towards a distant locomotive. It was so eerie and haunting. Your description reminded me of this art piece. Now aside from Sandbox Palin saying she can see Russia from her house, I love that you have this story set in Alaska at this time period it really sets the mood

  5. I've also been intrigued by the opportunities the west provided. I know what Alaska air feels like and don't think I could handle one of their winters.

  6. This sound really good, Julie. I still need to read Polar Night.

    Hugs and chocolate!

  7. These pics are eery for sure. I think I'd find those empty tracks creepy too, I can't imagine how those workers even got their work done, amazing. Really awesome setting for your book, Julie. Love it!

  8. Congrats, Julie! I can see how the train nearby and the one in Alaska inspired you.

  9. Cool photos, and I agree, I am totally intrigued by the harsh setting of old Alaska.

  10. @Hilary, definitely allowed LOL. I couldn't believe I found the video - so cool.

    @Christine, yeah it would have to be summer for me too. Thanks!

    @Lexa, I should try to write a story about that train station sometime. Thank you!

    @Birgit, oh, I'd love to see that painting! Sounds amazing.

    @Mary, I know I couldn't LOL.

    @shelly, thanks and hugs back to you!

    @SK, thanks! And I don't think I ever would have survived back in these times. Unimaginable!

    @Cherie, thanks!

    @Catherine, it's so interesting, I loved doing the research.

  11. The current day photo is creepy, all by itself. I can only imagine how it was a hundred years ago.

  12. I loved reading The Turnagain Arm!!! I'm serious when I say I couldn't put it down and I swiped the last page!!! And I especially like reading the facts that inspire your stories!! Congrats, Julie!!!

  13. Hi, Julie,

    Whoa... I didn't know about a train whistle giving you the inspiration for your book.... Love how you put it all together! Such an exciting and intriguing story....

  14. @Carol, I agree, I thought that was creepy too!

    @Cathrina, aww, thank you so much!

    @Michael, it was fun to do, thanks!

  15. I'm glad you listened to that whistle. I loved the Turnagain Arm. Great stuff!

  16. Great story, Julie! It sounds great (and creepy, and visceral). Looking forward to reading it. :)

  17. Very cool to learn about the inspiration behind The Turnagain Arm! I especially love that tidbit about the women who owned their own waffle house back then, and how it led you to create a character with a similar backstory. Really shows you never know how, or where, inspiration will strike you!

  18. @Melissa, thanks so much! And thanks for your review of the book.

    @Loni, I hope you will enjoy it if you have the chance to read it, thanks!

    @Heather, I thought the picture of those women was so cool! I was so surprised to see women running their own business back in those days.

  19. Great background story! It's interesting to hear about how the sound of train whistles inspired you. You're right; they have a lonely haunting sound, like howl of a coyote.

    I loved "The Turnagain Arms" and hope you sell a bazillion copies.

    Cool video, too!

  20. Awesome setting to write to. I love learning a bit of history when reading.

  21. I enjoyed reading about your inspiration for The Turnagain Arm! It sounds like all of your extensive research has really paid off! Great photos that set the tone for your story. I can't wait to see what trouble ensues with the handsome, and charming Aleksei!


  22. Oooh, I love this, Julie. My grandfather used to tell stories of hobos and rock soup and the railroad. He and my great grandfather worked for the railroad. I have some pretty cool photos, one from the mid to late 1800s. The railroad calls to a lot of people. So cool.

  23. @Dolorah, thanks! I love history too.

    @Julie, thank you!

    @Gwen, oh, how cool! I'd love to see your photos, that's awesome. Thanks!


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