Author of psychological suspense, Jennifer Hillier blogged recently about the mixed emotions, the highs and lows, the ecstasy and the fear of having her book finally out there. Her hardcover debut novel, Creep, is now on the shelves of stores and in the hands of readers.
As I thought about this, and imagined how it might feel someday to have my own novel out there, it put to mind a day when I was doing CRM archaeology in Alaska.
We were doing a fairly routine survey in advance of some railroad work. We were definitely out in the back country. Every day we'd drive out to the middle of nowhere, hop on a helicopter, and get dropped off even further out in the middle of nowhere. Then, we would hike in, even yet further from anywhere to the official project corridor.
Each day would cover somewhere between 3km and 6km of official project territory, with quite a bit more hiking to get from one part of the project to another. We saw a lot of country. We were walking in places that hadn't been walked in a very long time, sometimes perhaps even generations.
We were curious, and we tried to open the door. It barely swung open wide enough for a person to slide through sideways. A beam of wood on the floor deliberately blocked the door from widening any further. Bear-proofing.
Entry wasn't as simple as sliding sideways, though. On the floor was a board with up-turned six-inch nails, rusty from years of exposure. More bear-proofing.
After a sideways hop, we were in a world that hadn't been seen for years. There were newspapers from the early 20th century. Boxes and cans of food from around the same time. The bed wasn't made, but there old, rough cottons on it.
The door might have stayed firm, but winter had broken through the windows long ago, and blasted between logs years before. There were more nails inside the windows to prevent bears from entering, but that hadn't stopped cold and snow. Most perishable material was ruined, and barely recognizable.
We had enough of an impression to understand that this had been a cabin that had seen a lot of use. It had been made and refined over the years, and with great care. It had been abandoned with hope of return.
But had the owner of the cabin simply left on a hunting trip one day and died in the wilderness? Or had the owner gone home after a season and never made a return trip? Or had the owner taken ill, been transported into town, and never returned? It was up to us to fill in the gaps.
That cabin haunts me a little, and there's a lot more to be said about it, but today it struck me that anything we produce is like that. Whether it's a book, a work of art, or a cabin in the woods, we pour our thoughts, feelings, and energy into it. We turn stuff into part of our story. And then, at some point, it's our of our hands.
The owner of that cabin never will never know that we were there that day. He'll never know what we talked about, what we thought about. He'll never be able to tell us how right or how wrong we were. He'll never know that our thoughts and interpretations were influenced by. He'll never even know what I've chosen to tell you about it today. And, yet, that cabin was his story. It was his investment. It was a big piece of him, just sitting out there in the back country of Alaska, ready for us to happen upon and encounter.
The difference is that Jennifer may not know what readers are doing with her book, but she's well aware that her book is out there in the wilderness and that readers are encountering it. But that's about all she knows.
Whether you're a writer, an artist, a homeowner, or just a person that does anything at all, it seems like a lot to think about.