Essay: A Conversation on WritingFirst posted in April, 2004
Right at close this evening, a really great guy stopped by the visitor center to buy a map. I could tell he probably didn't have a lot of money to spend, and really wanted to offer him one of our free park maps in lieu of a more detailed topographic map, but the maps of the two parks in our area didn't quite cover the area he needed. When I asked what use the map would have, he said that he was working on a project and needed it for reference. I showed him the TopoZone website and brought up Yakutat and showed him how he could look at different scales of maps or scroll different directions. He said he had internet access at home, and thanked me for the site information. "See, what I need it for, well, the project is a writing project. I'm a bit of a novelist, and I'm writing novel based in Yakutat. Only I don't use people, because that would upset things, so I use animals instead, but I want to set it here on the Tongass National Forest, and I want it to be accurate." (The Tongass didn't have the map he needed for free, either.) "Sounds interesting. How far along are you?" "Well, to be honest, I need to finish my current book first, and I'm only on chapter thirty-two. I think there'll be about fifty chapters altogether." "Huh. What's your current book about?" "Well, it's... it's... well, it'd take hours to explain properly, really. The book's called On a Winter's Night -" "Elegant title," I broke in. He smiled. "Heh. Thanks. Anyway, it's set in the northwest, say, around Washington or Oregon, and it also uses animals for characters, and the main character, Hope, he's an otter, and ..." ...and then he rambled for about an hour, telling me all about this world he'd crafted, all the characters, their names, things that had transpired, etc. This was interwoven with discussion of similar literature, like Wind in the Willows and the Red Wall series, but even if we hadn't deviated from the main topic of his current novel, I don't think he could have possibly done much more than brush the surface of his story. I had tons of other things on the plan for tonight, and really needed to get out of the office, but it was so fantastic to see the excitement in his eyes at describing this world he'd crafted, and I just had to stand there and take it in as he related each intricate detail through a fixed smile. The characters were real to him, and the things that happened were real. It's great to see someone with so much passion. "How long have you been writing?" I asked. "Oh, for a long time, since I was just a kid," he replied. He made a gesture indicating someone that was very short. "Well, I mean, how long have you been a novelist?" I asked. "Oh, just since I started this last book. In December." "You've written thirty-two chapters since December." "Well, they're short." He's twelve.