"Almost caught a beaver this morning..."
That was the first sentence I wrote in my first-ever assignment as a writer. It was a profile about a snowboarder, and the editor ? a cynical literary rogue named Lee Crane ? looked at me when I handed the sheet of paper to him and said, "You passed." Lee, I learned, used what he called "the first sentence test" on all the pieces he assigned and read: books, magazine articles, newspaper columns, you name it. He told me, "If you don't hook me right then and there, I'm outta here."
I won't go into the "beaver" story, unless some of you request more. Really, the only reason I started my blog like this is because I wanted to catch your attention. Are visions of furry woodland creatures dancing in your head? Mission accomplished. Thanks for sticking around.
Well, first things first. My name is Eric Blehm, and I'm truly excited to be here in the cyberhalls of Powell's to kick off the paperback release of my book The Last Season. See, I'm kind of a rookie (i.e., full-fledged nobody) in the big-league writing game, and Powell's gave me a shot back in April of 2006 to speak on their stage at the Wordstock Book Festival. That event really kicked off a great year.
I'm from the West Coast, so I feel I'm in good company here (later this week, I'll let you know my thoughts on East Coast versus West Coast book reviewers) in Portland for sort of the second time. Back in April, Wordstock was a great excuse to take a road trip from San Diego to the Canadian border with my wife and two-year-old son, who, by the way, got tuckered out tearing around the maze-like aisles of Powell's. He also got to taste his first gelato at the little shop across the street. I don't remember the café's name, but here is a photo of him wolfing down stracciatella. Note the iron grip on my thumb, which is code for, "Don't even try and pull this bowl away from me, Daddy."
The Powell's stage (and enormous screen) at Wordstock would have been ego boost enough without the crowd of people who actually showed up to hear me read from The Last Season. Seeing my name in font this huge on my very first "book tour" was kind of a shocker. In the world of books, Powell's does it right and makes us writers feel like celebrities, even if we're newbies with big dreams for the future.
Anyway, this morning (I'm writing this on Sunday) I was at a three-year-old's birthday party, and my neighbor introduced me to a fellow parent who had heard I was the author of "that book about that ice man they found up in that glacier, right?"
"Ummm, no," I responded. "My book takes place in the same park, Kings Canyon, but I wrote about a backcountry ranger who went missing."
"And they found him frozen in the snow, right?"
I get this a lot, especially after the Ice Man ? aka a World War II pilot who had crashed in the High Sierra ? was found last spring by climbers in the same area where Randy Morgenson, the protagonist in my book, had patrolled. All the major networks covered the Ice Man, not to the extent of the story about the missing climbers on Mount Hood a few weeks back, but it was still major news. And people get confused.
"Gotcha," said the parent. "So what's your book about?"
I began with the one-minute version of the true story about Randy Morgenson, an elite backcountry ranger who was considered the most knowledgeable mountain man in the High Sierra, and how one day in the summer of 1996, he put his backpack on, walked into the wilderness on patrol, and vanished.
I went on to explain how Randy had had an enchanted childhood in Yosemite National Park where his father worked and, how, as a youth, he had befriended Ansel Adams and carried his tripod around for him. The Sherpa of Nepal taught Randy how to climb high mountains while he was in the Peace Corps in the 1960s. I explained how Randy had met Wallace Stegner, just months after the author had won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Angle of Repose ? and about this time, I noticed the parent was watching his kid and kind of listening with one ear, though he was doing a great job of acting like he was completely engaged in my description, nodding and throwing in an "amazing" or "wow" here and there.
So I wrapped it up quickly with something like, "So when Randy disappeared, it kicked off the largest search-and-rescue operation in National Park Service history, and it was really tough on the rangers involved because they were searching for one of their own. Randy was a devout environmentalist and practiced no-trace camping. He even tried not to leave footprints when he walked, so you can imagine how tough it was for the searchers."
He was still nodding.
"That's about it," I said.
At this, he said, "Wow, what a story. THAT would make a great book."
Of course, I had just described to him a book ? my book ? that actually exists, which I try not to push on people. Unless they ask. Like he had. And I can't say I blame him. Besides the fact that I tend to be a bit, er, long-winded, as my wife so kindly puts it, there's this little thing called "parenthood." At this party alone, I too was guilty of listening to at least one or two people with one ear while concentrating on my son, who was repeatedly tempting fate on playground equipment designed to scare the hell out of first-time parents.
On the drive home, luck was with us and my son fell asleep. We transferred him to bed, and I had a couple quiet hours to write this blog...
Except that he woke up after 30 minutes, so we took him down the street to the San Elijo Lagoon to stroll (my wife ? due with our second child in March ? more waddled) on the boardwalks and trails, watch the fish jump, and throw rocks ("into the water, not AT the ducks," I repeatedly told my son). Then I checked the surf, got an afternoon coffee (a triple mini nonfat Baja mocha at Pipes Café, if you're interested), and transcribed some digitally recorded files (I finally retired my old micro-cassette recorder) from an interview I conducted last week at West Point with a retired Army Green Beret. It was freaking cold in New York, and we spent one afternoon at a Mexican restaurant warming up with chips, salsa, and flammable beverages. One word: tequila. Patron shots chased with margaritas. It was the type of interview I imagine Hemingway might have appreciated, both the cocktails and conversation.
Now, everyone (including the cats) are asleep, the house is quiet, and I'm finally finishing this blog. It's been a relaxed, sleepy, overcast day ? and, except for the meager surf, just about perfect.
I hope you come back tomorrow, as I've got LOTS of stuff to talk about all week. Hopefully, I'll be able to transport you into the High Sierra where I did most of my research. Please make comments and ask questions (but try not to spoil the mystery of the book for those who haven't read it yet): I'll do my best to address everything and anything. Or write me directly if you catch this in the archives or want gritty details that aren't PG-13.