Two big things have happened to me this month. The first is that I signed the contract for Red Hen to publish my second novel, Hurricane Island. The second is that Robby and I took a 16-day road trip, driving over 2600 miles to some spectacular and remote places, and visiting friends from many parts of our lives. Reflecting on these two different pleasures sends my brain bouncing back and forth between mountain hikes and book promotion, author photos and snapshots of moose and mountains, old friends and new adventures. It also makes me think about taking risks and being bold.
We weren’t so bold in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, in Nova Scotia, the destination of our road trip. By mid-October, most visitors seemed to have packed up their hiking boots in favor of the music festivals. One day, we drove two kilometers on a not-quite-one-lane dirt road to a canyon trail in the wild center of the Park. We were the only car in the little parking area. We packed our water bottle and sandwiches, wondering if bear and moose like PB&J, and set off. The trail was mucky and slippery from the rain the day before. After a few minutes of silent climbing, we admitted to each other than we were spooked. Uncomfortable. Scared. We turned around, went back to our car, and chose a different hike, one in a more populated area.
Hurricane Island is in the production process at Red Hen and it's early to begin promoting it. That gives me a few months to focus my attention on the new manuscript, the work in progress. And that reminds me how writing a novel is also a journey. In one of my favorite quotes about the writing process, E. L. Doctorow observes that, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Like each hike is different – its scenery and elevation, its trail pebbly or criss-crossed with roots, each novel demands its own unique approach and process. Both challenge us to look around for small details: bear prints or coyote scat, a glimpse of large antlers in the brush or a brief sighting of a character’s backstory between the lines of prose or a hesitation in the dialogue.
Okay, so I accept that I’m not an intrepid wilderness hiker. But on the trail of this new novel, my job is to step each day into the unknown. To stay alert to the small beauties those dim headlights illuminate. To be bold.