Havre Daily News
“Alisa & Leah's Amtrak Vacation” could just as easily have been called “Thelma
and Louise Do Church Camp in the Bear Paws.”
If they had embarked on the teenage adventure detailed in Hi-Line author BilliJo Doll's second teen tale, Thelma and Louise likely would have spared themselves their fiery demise in the Grand Canyon.
Doll carefully tells a Christian tale of suspense and faith without proselytizing, using Havre's kindly Christian teenagers as a buffer between the girls and the mysterious stranger who shadows their every move along the way.
The book, released
in January, is Doll's second young adult novel set in north-central Montana. The first was “The Seekers,” a suspenseful science-fiction tale set among the hilly, gullied cattle country north of the Missouri River, somewhere east of Havre and west of North Dakota.
Both books deal with teenage angst, growing pains and fears of rejection. She wants her books to help middle school-age kids find a smooth path through those years she found so troubling.
The themes that run through each book are cooperation, acceptance, overcoming adversity and love. And the message Doll hopes readers will take from the books is to strive for goals and impossible dreams.
Doll is turning each of the books into a series. She is nearly finished with a prequel to “The Seekers” and has begun a sequel. She also plans to write a few more Alisa and Leah vacation books.
Her sci-fi series will follow the heroes through Montana's four seasons. The first will be the prequel, “The Survivors,” which will be about the devastating war that leads into “The Seekers,” and then “The Marauders” and finally “The Predators.”
In the new book, Doll's 15-year-old heroines, Alisa and Leah, embark on a clandestine trek from Minneapolis to Seattle while their parents are away - Leah's in Europe and Alisa's in Boulder, Colo. The story begins as a straightforward adventure with Leah convincing her best friend, Alisa, that the pair should get away from Minneapolis for a couple of weeks. While Leah arranges financing for the venture, Alisa plans the itinerary.
Alisa goes to the Internet and discoveries that traveling by Amtrak is cheaper than flight. They also find Amtrak's policy of allowing passengers to hop off the train for prolonged times along the way and board a later train. Their first unscheduled stopover is Havre, where they spend the night and see some sights. They find Havre enjoyable, but still have to complete their trip to Seattle and back to Minneapolis. They make it to Seattle and enjoy it, but leave early so they can visit Glacier National Park and maybe hit Havre again.
Montana adults, especially those along the Hi-Line, will find the book interesting, as will the adolescent audience Doll has targeted with her tale. Doll's characters grow during their whirlwind tour of Seattle and Glacier National Park and more leisurely inspection of Havre and the surrounding area. Among the numerous north-central Montana attractions the girls visit are Havre Beneath the Streets, Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump, Beaver Creek Park, Fresno Reservoir, a Brother Van memorial along a back road to McClelland Ferry and a Missouri River crossing aboard the ferry.
Doll's first novel incorporated into the plot information about the medical, nutritional and other effects of numerous plants indigenous to north-central Montana. Her second book hits on the geography, scenery, relaxed pace and trusting nature of its residents. Both books contain converging story lines, multiple plots, and teenage characters who learn to trust and care about others.
Doll's book include ideas gleaned from her favorite things.
Born in Havre and raised on a Malta-area cattle ranch, Doll earned her degree in rangeland watershed management at Montana State University in Bozeman and completed her youth-ministry studies in Tennessee.
She was employed for 12 years with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service at offices in Havre, Malta, Bozeman and Chinook. Now she's a full-time rancher, with 60 head of cattle she moved two years ago from a spread northeast of Chinook to Valley County to be near her stepfather to help him out.
Besides raising two sons of her own, Doll has been a youth pastor with youth groups and summer camps, volunteer at a Christian youth ranch, Sunday school teacher, Scout leader, children's ski club sponsor, and speech and drama coach. She is willing to speak to classes about her books and her life.
Doll said she had little trouble finding a publisher, though she'd heard about writers receiving dozens of rejection slips. She researched the market she was trying to enter until she narrowed her focus to one publisher. She sent in “The Seekers” and made a hit the first time out. PublishAmerica also produced “Alisa & Leah's Amtrak Vacation,” and will likely finish out her two series.
Though she hasn't made much money with her books, Doll said she did accomplished something the vast majority of writers fail to do when “Alisa & Leah” went to press.
“For every 1,000 manuscripts submitted, one gets published,” she said. “And only one out of 10 published authors writes again.”
Her advice for would-be writers: “Don't quit your day job, realize it's a love, a passion; it's not a money-making project. It's like actors - they say 98 percent are starving and 2 percent are wealthy.”
“Ranching is a good background for delayed gratification,” Doll said. “You do a lot work, put in a lot of time and get very little return.”
In everything, it seems, the “return” for Doll isn't money, but a deep sense satisfaction from a doing the jobs she loves - ranching, writing and working with kids.