When I decided on adventure as my theme for the month, I knew I had to ask author M. Liz Boyle to do a guest blog. Her first novel, Avalanche, in the Off the Itinerary series concerns a group of teens trying to survive in the mountains after getting caught in, appropriately enough, an avalanche. The same characters return in her second novel, Chased, released earlier this year. You’ll find all the details about this adventure after the post.
Take it away, Liz!
We’ve all seen headlines like ‘Injured hiker found by tourists, airlifted to hospital,’ ‘Youth camp evacuates as wildfires encroach,’ and ‘Flash flood surprises campers.’ Since news stories are attached to real events and real people, why not use headlines as imagination sparks for fiction?
Once I was backpacking with a group of 10 in the Grand Canyon. We had two seasoned leaders and months of preparation in our favor, so even though we were on such a primitive trail that rangers don’t routinely patrol it, my group was ready for the challenge. Now the thing about the Canyon is that you’d have to be blind to not see the many signs warning hikers not to attempt to make it down to the river and back up to the rim in a day.
Well at 2:00 pm when the sun was blazing down on the wall of the South Rim, we met a couple who was trying to do just that. It had been hours since we’d seen day hikers, so we knew we were in hardcore territory, and we had just descended the Cathedral Staircase. What is the Cathedral Staircase? Imagine the longest set of stone stairs in the world, double it, and put it in a pizza oven. Oh, and strap a 50 pound bag to your back. The couple we met was facing that with 20 ounces of water and a Clif bar (minus the backpacks full of lifesaving gear). The girl was in a heap and had signs of heat exhaustion, and the boy didn’t have a clue what to do.
Our group was able to share food, electrolytes, hold up a sleeping pad to provide shade for the overheated girl, and call for help. After much conferring among our leaders, we chose to separate. Most of our group went ahead to our campsite and to filter water at the river (which our fastest hikers then delivered to the couple), and the rest stayed with them until the rangers arrived in the cool of night to hike them out.
The experience opened my eyes to the fact that we’re all just a few poor decisions from being in a dire state, and life is fragile. After our trip we received news that the couple was safe and recovering well from their close call.
Meanwhile we heard a few other headlines that showed how quickly a tragedy can occur. As a hiker, it made me aware. As a writer, I was inspired. If a headline can summarize a true story, why not create a fiction story based on a headline? I wrote my next novel about a group who helps a dehydrated hiker (sound familiar?). Except in my book Chased, I added a plot twist. When the dehydrated victim recovers, he becomes a threat to the very people who saved his life (sometimes the fiction is more enthralling than the inspiration!).
Chased barely resembles the experience that sparked my imagination, but a whole YA novel developed from simply considering how the media would tell the real story. How will headlines (or would-be headlines) shape your next story?
Check out Liz’s other guest post about being a newly published author.
Marlee and her sisters are glad to be hiking again with the Miles boys. Their group of five is strong and cohesive as they explore the rugged mountains of Montana.
When they first meet Thad, a dehydrated hiker on the trail, they offer first aid to help him recover. Thad seems harmless until he tells them to hike a few extra miles at sunset. When Lydie finds a hand-drawn map that Thad dropped, the group realizes that he is a modern day treasure hunter – and he decides that they’re after his treasure.
As they rush to flee from Thad, they make split-second decisions and find themselves in a unique set of dangers. They climb up unforgiving ridges, sneak through the night to avoid him, and experience a threatening thunderstorm.
To make matters worse, Marlee becomes distracted with a nagging worry that Ellie might move away from home.
What is God’s plan for the Miles boys and Stanley girls? How will they get away from Thad before it’s too late?
Liz is the author of the Off the Itinerary series, the wife of a professional tree climber, and the mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She makes adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone).