Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier *author of Cold Mountain
A Letter from Author Charles Frazier
Lost in the woods. A dangerous phrase, but also with a resonance of folktale. Hansel and Gretel with their bread crumbs. Jack alone, roaming the lovely, dark, and deep southern mountains. So, young people and old people being lost in the woods has always been interesting to me for those reasons. And also because it happens all the time still.
Back when I was a kid, eight or ten, my friends and I lived with a mountain in our backyards. We stayed off it in summer. Too hot and snaky. But in the cool seasons, we roamed freely. We carried bb guns in the fall and rode our sleds down old logging roads in winter. We often got lost. But we knew that downhill was the way out, the way home. When I grew up and went into bigger mountains, you couldn’t always be so sure. I remember being lost in Bolivia. Or let’s say that I grew increasingly uncertain whether I was still on the trail or not. That’s the point where you ought to sit down and drink some water and consult your maps and compass very carefully and calmly. I kept walking. At some point, it became a matter of rigging ropes to swing a heavy pack over a scary white watercourse. I ended up at a dropoff. Down far below, upper reaches of the Amazon basin stretched hazy green into the distance. Downhill did not at all seem like the way home.
You’ll just have to trust me that this has something to do with my new novel, but to go into it much would risk spoilers. I’ll just say that early on in the writing of Nightwoods, Luce and the children were meant to be fairly minor characters, but I kept finding myself coming back to them, wanting to know more about them until they became the heart of the story. Some of my wanting to focus on them was surely influenced by several cases of kids lost in the woods in areas where I’m typically jogging and mountain biking alone at least a hundred days a year. It’s part of my writing process, though I hardly ever think about work while I’m in the woods. But I do keep obsessive count of how many miles a day I go and how many words I write, lots of numbers on 3x5 notecards. All those days watching the micro changes of seasons can’t help but become part of the texture of what I write, and those lost kids, too.