Why write about The Appalachian Trail?
One of the cool things about being an author is you get to immerse yourself in places and people you are interested in for no good reason. For this book, The Secrets We Bury, I indulged my strong interest with the Appalachian Trail.
My fascination with the Appalachian Trail started when I was in graduate school, in my twenties. One of my roommate’s parents were busy moving her in. She had special needs and the mother confided that the father often hiked the Appalachian Trail in order to avoid all of the school issues etceterra that raising a child with a disability required. He was sort of flippant about it, which made the entire encounter really stand out. He added that being away from the family for six months allowed him to de-stress. I thought, omg how awful. This man was truly horrible. but also, whooooaaa. What was he talking about? Hiking for six months? Who could do that? Especially when you are a parent and have a full time job…how do people make that happen?
I’d stored that memory away but never forgot about the idea of the Appalachian trail. It was one of those nagging notions that I figured one day I’d have to really investigate.
A couple of years ago, I became sort of gripped with stories set in nature. First there was Into the Wild. I read the book twice and saw the movie five times. Then Wild. Read the book. Then saw the movie three times. When Into the Forest came out I did it backwards: saw the movie and then read the book. I had no idea when I was immersing myself in the woods with these books and moives that I would write a story set on the Appalachian Trail. I just knew that this setting held a particular interest for me and I let myself indulge in the fantasy of living that kind of life. All from the safety of my couch.
For those of you who don’t know this, I am a speech language pathologist and I’ve focused my entire career on working with kids. I’ve sat in more than a thousand Individual Education Plan meetings where we’ve discussed the needs of kids with disabilities. Most times the kids were present at the meetings. Every single time we told these kids that when they turn eighteen, their educational rights revert to them. So This is where that story origin (meeting the dad who left the family for six months to avoid the difficulties of having a kid with special needs…ugh) gets turned on its ear.
One day, when I was in one of those meetings, and it was my job to help the student see what the parents wanted for them at the same time that I helped the parents understand where the student was coming from, I wondered about a teen with special needs who didn’t want to follow the plan that all of the adults in the room set out for him. I wondered if he’d listen(because he’s really smart) to the point where we tell him his educational rights revert to him when he turns eighteen. I wondered about this seventeen and a half year old, who was already perhaps a runaway, overhears someone discuss the Appalachian Trail, and how it takes six months to hike it, and that’s like…wow, almost exactly to the day how long before he’ll turn eighteen and could make all of his educational decisions himself, and viola (because that’s how Dylan, the character in the book, and his cousin Emily pronounce that word since they are both sort of into words and this is their snarky way of making fun of other people who don’t love words). Viola! The Secrets We Bury was born.
It really was that simple. And believe me, the allure of the trail itself is enough to keep anyone interested. The various ways people approach this difficult task. How some hike the entire trail, some hike parts of it, when people start, the names they give each other on the trail, just become this really fertile ground in which to plant these characters. Dylan and Sophie.
Who are they? Of course they are teens. Sure. And each of them is grieving, which felt really important. I lost both of my parents a few years ago and I can attest that grieving is a terrible, horrible, difficult, and impossible task in and of itself. So I wondered, being allowed to wonder since this is part of my job as an author, I wondered if all of that hiking and all of the having to care for yourself in the most basic ways would help the grieving process. I wondered if you really took six months out of your life to do nothing but walk and eat and sleep and do it all again the next day, if that would help you figure out your grief. Get past the regrets that we all have. Confide in another person. A person who understands completely. I wondered if the trail would help Dylan and Sophie. I hoped it would, because as authors, we really do want the best for our characters.
I’d love to hear from all of you, no matter what shape your life’s trail takes.