Igloo High: the Long Road to Writing this First Novel

Years ago—and I do mean yeeeeaaaaaarrrrs ago—when I was sixteen, I had the amazing opportunity of taking part in a student exchange, which brought me to a First Nation community in Northern Quebec. I was struck by the warmth of the people, the beauty of the place, and the coexistence of tradition and modernity. And I’ll never forget an exhilarating snowmobile ride across a frozen bay, gliding at a furious speed on an endless landscape of ice and snow, holding on to the driver, a teen guy named Henry. Little did I know, the seed of a story was planted.

In the opening credits of Northern Exposure, a moose goes around town. To this day, I can’t think about this TV show without picturing the moose and getting the dang theme song stuck in my head. I advise you to not Google it.

Fast-forward to about twelve years ago, when I was mainly writing feature screenplays. I started developing a comedy concept—Igloo High—about an urban teen girl who was forced to move to an environment very foreign to her, very much the opposite of her. A classic fish-out-of-water story, where contrasts often lend themselves to comedy. Back then, I was thinking of setting the story in Alaska. The beloved early 90s TV show Northern Exposure came to mind. But with a cast of teenagers instead.

I workshopped the concept with a group of screenwriters (thanks again for the help, guys!) and ended up with a logline, a one-sentence description/pitch of what the movie would be about. It was something along the lines of:

When her family relocates to Alaska, a spoiled popular LA teen girl must brush up on her survival skills after the boyfriend of the local ‘ice queen’ falls for her and she gets dispatched to the bottom of the school’s food chain.”

Back then, I was living in California and I was well-invested in playing the Hollywood game—probably the main reason why my protagonist was a teen girl from LA and the foreign land was Alaska.

For reasons I don’t remember (probably “because life happened”), I ended up not writing the screenplay version of Igloo High. But it always stayed around, curled up somewhere at the back of my mind. And then, five years ago, I came across a screenwriting contest that was looking for 15-page pitches/treatments for yet to be written screenplays. I don’t recall how much the prize money or grant was, but I thought it would be fun to submit something and Igloo High seemed perfect for it. So, with a deadline and a cash prize motivating me, I worked on fleshing out a story over a 15-page treatment.

At that time, I was back in Canada and it was a Canadian contest. This influenced my decision to have Ella, my protagonist, be from Montreal now, and the destination became Iqaluit, a fascinating Inuit town, way up North. Santa Claus kinda North.

My project proposal didn’t win the contest/grant, but now I had a better idea of where the story could go. It had evolved quite a bit from the original concept and I very much liked where it was going.

But still, once again, not much else happened afterward. My guess is I didn’t really have the time to write the screenplay version back then and writing the story as a novel wasn’t really an option either. In the past fifteen years or so, I attempted to write in the novel format 2-3 times and always hit a brick wall pretty early on. Each time, I gave up, thinking that becoming a novelist just wasn’t meant to be.

And then, two years ago, NaNoWriMo happened. NaNoWriMo is a fun, yearly challenge that pushes writers to write a 50K-word novel during the month of November. If you succeed, you “win”, mostly the right to brag that you were up to the challenge. I entered NaNo with Igloo High and wrote by the seat of my pants for three straight weeks. The pace had to be so fast to reach the 50K word count that, at first, it felt like I was just throwing words at my writing software. Anything and everything that would cross my mind, essentially to meet the word count. I had no time to think things through, nor judge them. I had never written this fast, and I expected the results to be utter garbage. But I kept going. Hitting the predetermined word count every day, after hours and hours of frantic writing, turned out really satisfying.

The coveted first draft of Igloo High, printed on the historical date of March 13th, 2018.

At the end of week three, reality caught up to me—too much going on in real life to sustain this insane writing pace—and I decided to throw in the towel instead of getting an ulcer. I had reached 39,714 words, which was such a victory in itself for me. And later, rereading what I had written, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a good chunk of it actually made sense. It seems like my subconscious helped me channel the story that had been waiting to come out all these years.

After NaNoWriMo of November 2016, it took me *only* until March of this year to finally print out a first draft of Igloo High. Not that I had been working on the novel full-time since NaNo. There were long periods of time during which I didn’t touch the novel at all, and I even picked up another novel project along the way, a supernatural thriller titled Watermark*, which kicked my ass so many times, I stopped counting. But, here and there, I kept going back to Igloo High and, at the beginning of this year, I decided to give it one big push, intent on publishing the novel before the end of 2018.

So, here I am. The novel is being copyedited as I write this. And if all goes well, it should come out on November 14th. And if all doesn’t go well, then perhaps it will come out on Nov. 15th. Or a bit later. That’d be alright.

What matters is that, after all these years, it feels like this time around, there’s finally a finish line around the corner. And that feels fabulous. 🙂

Thanks for reading!


Dec. 3rd, 2018 update: the final wrinkles are being ironed out, and the book will soon be available.

March 11th, 2019 update: this time, it’s for real! A release date has been set to April 23rd, 2019. The ebook format is available to pre-order and the paperback will be available in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

*Also, a supernatural mystery series is on the back burner. It will follow Nora Bello, a social worker who gets premonitions linked to cases her deceased husband, a former special agent, had worked on. These books will be darker in tone, but still have a good dose of humor.


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