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My new book is out May 31, 2014

Posted by Jenny in fiction, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Cover 2

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my new novel, The Twelve Streams of LeConte. It is available in both paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.com.  It will also be available in local independent book stores over the next weeks.

Serious off-trail hikers will find in this book details of exploration on a major peak in the Smoky Mountains, Mt. LeConte.

Fans of adventure novels of the early 1900s will find a narrative interwoven with themes of a famous novel from the WWI era, John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Lovers of contemporary fiction will find a good story. Here is a brief synopsis:

Anne Woodrow is on honeymoon in Scotland when fate gives her a slap in the face: right then and there, her new husband falls in love with another woman. Injured and grieving, she returns home alone and conceives of a project of renewal. She will climb Mt. LeConte in the Smokies by way of the twelve streams that drain its slopes—a strenuous, dangerous activity.

She makes her way up the streams without benefit of a trail, scrambling beside shining cascades. Her companions on the stream journeys are a trio of crass and funny hiking pals. A relationship develops with a man—but it doesn’t turn out the way she expects.

The stream journeys are interwoven in an unconventional way with her experience of reading The Thirty-Nine Steps, published 1915. Its peculiar and shadowy scenes resonate with the events of her life.

The Twelve Streams of LeConte brings together mirroring worlds of adventure tales and mountains. It speaks the language of people who engage the landscape rather than admire it from a distance, and it unapologetically explores the life of a serious reader.

Twelve Streams: The project and the book September 22, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, fiction, hiking, history, Smoky Mountains.
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Mossy cascade on Shutts Prong.

Mossy cascade on Shutts Prong.

Followers of this blog know that with last month’s climb up Shutts Prong, I completed a project to reach the top of Mt. LeConte via all the streams that drain its slopes. I climbed my first LeConte stream, Trout Branch, back in 1983 with Paul Threlkeld, Bill Neal, Rob Hawk, and Chris Hebb. Three of those people are no longer with us. Paul, a former president of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, passed away in July. Bill Neal, also a former SMHC president, died in 1994. Chris Hebb, my former husband, died of a brain tumor in 2004.

It was in the 80s that I decided that I would like to go up all the streams of LeConte. But I moved away from the Smokies in 1989 and didn’t return for twenty years. The idea still drifted around in my thoughts, but it wasn’t until this year that I decided to define the project more precisely and finish it up. At the same time, I started writing a novel titled The Twelve Streams of LeConte.

I defined the twelve streams as:

Alum Cave Creek

Styx Branch

Trout Branch

Bear Pen Hollow

Cole Creek

LeConte Creek

Roaring Fork

Surry Fork

Cannon Creek

Lowes Creek

Boulevard Prong

Shutts Prong

I had climbed all but three of them already, leaving LeConte Creek, Surry Fork, and Shutts Prong to do this year.

It would be easy to quibble with my list of streams, but after all it was my project and I could do it however I wanted. When I thought about it this year, at first I came up with eleven before I decided that I wanted the number to be twelve, studied the map, and added the obscure Surry Fork, which no one seems to climb. As I see it, the major quibble is that I should have added Trillium Branch as well. But that would have made it thirteen, and I didn’t want thirteen—so you see how arbitrary my list is.

Trillium Branch is a named tributary of Cannon Creek, and I had included another named tributary on my list, Styx Branch, which flows into Alum Cave Creek. So my list isn’t entirely consistent. On the other hand, it could easily be argued that Shutts is too far away from LeConte to be included—or that if I did, I should also throw in Walker Camp Prong.

I included Shutts because I think of it as one of the four great Greenbrier streams of the LeConte area. It merges with Boulevard Prong at the bottom. Shutts may have been the greatest adventure of them all—that’s a tough call. Cannon would certainly rank near the top.

It could also be said I should have gone up every fork of every stream, or that I should have started each creek at its mouth. That would have meant going up Roaring Fork from downtown Gatlinburg. No, I wasn’t going to do that, and I freely used trails that bypassed or paralleled the lower sections of the streams. As far as the forks are concerned, I’ve done more than one fork of Trout Branch and Styx Branch, but not of the others.

One big motivation for finishing was the book. The main character of the novel climbs the twelve streams, so I felt the author should have accomplished that for the sake of authenticity.

I’m now making final revisions to Twelve Streams. It is not a guide to hiking the streams; neither is it a murder mystery like Murder at the Jumpoff, which was published last year.

I can’t judge the literary quality of my own work, but the one thing I can definitely say about it is that it is original. No one in the world besides myself could have written anything like it. It has several narratives weaving in and out of each other, echoing certain themes. The narratives concern:

  • The journeys of the twelve streams.
  • The book—not the movie—of The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, published 1915.
  • The life of a serious reader who comes from a family of generations of readers; the teeming universe of books.
  • The challenges faced by an adventurous single woman. She has much in common with me—but beware of thinking the book is autobiographical.

Followers of this blog will not be surprised that the Boer War makes a minor appearance, as do landscape design and World War I.

I will be trying to find a literary agent to advise and assist on getting it published. The publisher of Murder at the Jumpoff , Canterbury House, is an excellent but very small publishing house specializing in genre works such as mysteries with a regional emphasis. Twelve Streams doesn’t come close to fitting its profile. I hope, of course, for a larger publishing house with national resources, but we’ll have to see what happens. I appreciate any advice, suggestions, or connections that anyone can come up with.

You will notice blog posts on subjects other than hiking appearing once again—but have no fear, I will continue to do lots of blogs about hiking. This fall I plan to do a series about the Siege of Mafeking (in the Boer War). The cast of characters fascinates me, including Colonel Baden Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts), Lady Sarah Wilson (Winston Churchill’s aunt), and Sol Plaatje (one of the founders of the African National Congress). But for those blog followers not interested, the delete button is readily available.

Sol Plaatje, c. 1900.

Sol Plaatje, c. 1900.

A writer’s decision October 10, 2012

Posted by Jenny in fiction, professional editing and writing, serial fiction.
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Many of you know that I am the author of a murder mystery, “Murder at the Jumpoff,” that was published this past spring. I have been working on a sequel, or at least some other novel, since around that time.

“Jumpoff” was conceived in a moment of inspiration and completed within about seven months. It was fun to write and went fairly painlessly—I only mention that because I am a person who can make easy, simple things into complicated, tortured affairs.

The sequel didn’t come so readily. At first I tried for a very straightforward followup to the first book. Its title was to be “Murder at Tricorner Knob,” involving the major characters of the first book and intended to be the next installment of any number of mysteries set in remote corners of the Smokies.

Somehow, as I went along, I felt I was pulling marionette strings—making things happen artificially to fit a formula. I decided to keep some of the material but do something deeper. I would keep those characters but shift them to the background and explore themes of grief and the often awkward development of relationships.

I’m not even mentioning some other totally different things I tried out along the way—a historical novel set at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (a longstanding interest of mine), and something unrelated, an account of a one-night experience inspired by Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach (except mine was set on the Chesapeake Bay). None of these flounderings seemed to work.

In the meantime, I was getting involved in the promotion of  “Jumpoff.” I had quite a few book signings, book readings, and discussions about off-trail hiking from around April through June. I attended writer’s festivals. I will say, quite simply, that overall I hated the experience, although I did have some rewarding moments, such as the group talk at Highland Books in Brevard, a discussion at Union Ave. Books in Knoxville, and a reading and talk at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. I am truly grateful to the folks who showed up for those and other events and participated. Thank you!

At the same time as these relatively positive experiences with some of the  independent bookstores, I was trying to get the “CRMs” (community relation managers) at the chain bookstores to schedule signings for my books. I met with huge indifference. I would call back again, and again, and again—figuring this was normal for this situation—only to have nothing come out of it. I’m not crying for sympathy—this is just the name of the game. The major exceptions were Books-A-Million in Pigeon Forge/Sevierville and Hastings Books in Maryville.

Another part of my experience was becoming better acquainted with the literary scene in western North Carolina. “The Read on WNC” is a widely read blog, affiliated with the Asheville Citizen-Times, that covers that world—for example, Ron Rash (author of Serena) is a star. I established a page on the blog but quickly sank without a trace. I hope this doesn’t come across as whining. I intend it not as a complaint but just as a description of the actual circumstances of being a first-time novelist in a saturated market.

My publisher, Canterbury House, was always very pleasant and supportive. Their main concept is to produce mystery novels in a regional setting, creating a series and building a loyal readership. Nothing wrong with that, but I began to see a divergence between this sort of readership and the readership for “Jumpoff,” which was hikers as much or more than mystery followers. Also, I could see that I had unfortunate literary ambitions that clashed with the concept of workmanlike writing that would appeal to a specific group. I do not scorn that concept. I respect the ability to write for a certain market in a way that will win those loyal fans. That is certainly better than a failed literary effort that no one will enjoy.

I estimate that I’ve spent close to 1500 hours working on what was originally a straightforward sequel to “Jumpoff” and morphed into what I started thinking of as merely a “linked novel.” I am very satisfied with parts of it and not at all with others. Today, something crystallized—I realized that I had three distinct, significant problems relating to the plot. This was clearly symptomatic of a deeper problem, which is that I’m not convinced that I’m a novelist, and I’m not sure anyway that I want to add another tome to the groaning, bloated output of the literary world.

I mark the fourth anniversary of “Endless Streams and Forests” this month. Every day, I look at my statistics. I generally get more than 200 visits a day from countries ranging from Argentina to Zimbabwe. This seems valuable to me. I have made some contacts through this blog incredibly important to me, the most notable going from here around the Smokies over to South Africa.

I’ve gotten some feedback about this via email and comments, so I’m going to add a few words of explanation: The majority of views come from Google searches that lead people to past articles. Over time, blog posts I’ve done about, say, a certain place in the Smokies or a certain battle in the Boer War have risen sufficiently in the Google analytics that people see my post listed. Some of my items are specific and obscure enough in their topic that my post is right at the top of the search results. Posts that do not have an obvious factual topic, such as my current series based on my grandmother’s memoirs, do not get Google search results.

There is no financial benefit for me in this (although I’ve had a few offers involving ties to companies that I opted not to do). But I have decided that this is my best future, not to load yet another novel onto the teetering stack of the literary world, but just to continue what I do here, and have been doing here for a few years, and try to do it better. And try out a few new ideas as well. Pieces of what I created in those 1500 hours may appear in different form.
Thank you, blog readers.