Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Athabascan in the Spotlight

Shirley Sam – Author of Deadly Summers in Alaskan

Shirley Sam in a snowshoe race in Allakaket. Courtesy photo Shirley Sam in a snowshoe race in Allakaket. Courtesy photo

Shirley Sam is one of Alaska’s most recent authors. She wrote Deadly Summers in Alaska. The paperback and Kindle edition are available for purchase at Read the description below for more information about the book.

Shirley is Koyukon Athabascan and grew up in interior Alaska. Her father is the late Ernie Esmailka Sr. and her mother is Ethel Esmailka who lives in Koyukuk. Shirley grew up in Koyukuk and graduated high school as a boarding student in Tanana. She earned college credits from the University of Alaska Fairbanks via distance learning. Shirley is working toward a certificate in Tribal Management. She and her husband Darrell have been together for 20 years, and were married for the past 13 years. They have six children and four grandchildren. Shirley and Darrell adopted one of their grandchildren. Shirley and Darrel live a very active lifestyle in Huslia. They enter many snowshoe races and footraces in the interior, and often are the top placers. Shirley is currently the Transportation Planner for the Huslia Tribal Council.

Shirley Sam with her newly written book, Deadly Summers in Alaska. Courtesy photo Shirley Sam with her newly written book, Deadly Summers in Alaska. Courtesy photo

Shirley began writing Deadly Summers in Alaska in late 2011, and completed this April. It was published in June 2013. I loved the way she weaved a lot of local knowledge and traditions into the book. I found myself highlighting those areas on my Kindle edition.

“I used the local knowledge as I was taught in Koyukuk. I tried not to be specific about what we do, just that we do it. I didn’t want to offend anyone by telling people how we do things specifically.” – Shirley Sam

The book delves into the inner workings of law enforcement and crime. Shirley gained insight into the language of law enforcement and crime through reading books, watching television and by listening to people. She researched information on missing persons, procedures, the national missing persons clearinghouse, law enforcement and rosehips. Shirley relied on Trooper Jeannine Santora in Galena for the general information about Alaska State Troopers. Shirley also relied on Darrell to give her advice on motors and firefighting information.

Shirley grew up hearing about how search and rescue operations and firefighting happens. She says, “I did have a lot of déjà vu over the years that made me want to put in the experiences with dreams and how some elders just know things.”

Shirley has dreamed of writing a book since she first started reading. At first, she wanted to write a self-help book based on her childhood abuse. However, she didn’t want to anyone to feel put on the spot or pointed out. Shirley says, “So then I started thinking about all the silly stuff that happens day to day and how much I love mystery and thriller books so that’s where it came from.” Shirley is an avid reader. Some of her favorite authors include Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark, Lisa Jackson and Stephen King.

I personally enjoyed the book. I did notice that it does need some minor editing. However, that didn’t turn me off because it was very suspenseful, interesting, and a page turner. I was impressed with the local knowledge peppered throughout the book. For now, Shirley doesn’t plan on having a second edition printed.

Shirley’s basic advice to people who want to write a book:

  • Just write
  • Don’t stop
  • Write your ideas down
  • Keep all your notes
Shirley loves spending time with her grandchildren. Here she is with Cherish, Blake, and Isaiah. Courtesy photo Shirley loves spending time with her grandchildren. Here she is with Cherish, Blake, and Isaiah. Courtesy photo

Shirley dedicated her book to Darrell, her children (Alexandria, Kate, Tyson, Patricia, Starlene and D2), and her grandchildren (Isaiah, Cherish, Blake and Riley). She thanks them for encouraging her and believing in her as she was writing the book.

Have you read the book yet? If so, please leave a review for it on the Amazon site. What was your favorite part of the book? Leave a comment below.

I’m proud of Shirley and the fact that she wrote and had a book published and she lives in a little town in interior Alaska! I admire her will and tenacity for checking something off her bucket list. It is encouraging to see an Alaska Native author be published. The book ends on a cliffhanger and the fans will be happy to know that Shirley does plan on doing a follow-up to the book. It may be set in different parts of Alaska. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this author!

About Deadly Summers in Alaska by S. A. E. Sam via
A serial killer is on the loose in Alaska, killing women who all look alike. Each woman is found abandoned in the uninhabited wilderness, and the only commonality among them is that they all physically resemble Denise “Birdie” Beardtom, an Alaska State Trooper. It would appear that someone wants Birdie dead, and it could be her abusive ex-husband. Her partner, Miles, is concerned for Birdie’s safety. He enlists local friends Myrna Elam and John Lebowan to keep an eye on her. But Myrna has problems of her own, as she faces nightly dreams that seem strangely similar to the recent murder spree. Is it safe for Myrna to stay near Birdie, or could Myrna need protection as well? As more bodies pile up, the crew calls for backup from the Fairbanks State Troopers Office. Due to the lack of evidence, however, they too are perplexed by the case. Running out of options, Birdie realizes she may be the only key to catching a killer-even if she has to act as bait. Can Birdie stop a madman before he kills again, or will she become his next and final victim?

Update: Read the next book in the series: Deadly Summers in Alaska II: Birdie by Shirley Sam