Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pilot Down, Presumed Dead

This guest blog was written by Colorado writer Mark Stevens, whose book BURIED BY THE ROAN is now available; it provides a suspenseful mystery while examining the greed that still endangers the American west. See more about Stevens and his writing here.

by Mark Stevens

Yeah, I know, what a title. I was nine or ten. I can practically see the precise shelf in the library where I found this book in Lincoln, Massachusetts. (And, yeah, I know: lucky me—raised in such a cool spot, among readers and thinkers.)

Did it take me a day to read? A week? I don’t remember. But it was utter, pure adventure. Man versus nature wasn’t a theme I understood or grasped at the time, but Pilot Down, Presumed Dead took this suburban kid to the edge of the survival and let me worry and fret as Steve Ferris scrambled to survive. When I read this book—-by the way, thank you Marjorie Phleger—-I was completely transported. I think it was the first time I recognized that fiction had the power to pull you into the moment of someone else’s life so completely you really don’t even know you’re reading.

That’s magic. Pure freaking magic. And, like a lot of “first time” things, I recall it vividly.
When I found a copy of Pilot Down a few years back, I brought it on a trip and my daughter read it in just a few beach sittings (that’s her in the photo).

To this day, this is my favorite theme.

Loners in the wild, out on the edge.

To Build A Fire, by Jack London. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, both by Jon Krakauer. Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson. Blind Descent, by Nevada Barr. (Anna Pigeon’s hairy, tight trek down the caves of Carlsbad Cavern is an absolute classic loner tale. I read an interview with Nevada Barr and she said she has claustrophobia. I think that comes through.)

Into the Silence by Wade Davis, about the attempts by the British and specifically George Mallory to summit Mt. Everest in the early 1920’s (a mind-blowing account). River of Doubt, by Candice Millard. And, recently, Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson, a brilliant genre-bending “mystery” that involves climbing a gnarly Wyoming mountain in a howling winter storm with the irascible Walt Longmire (and a paperback copy of Dante’s Inferno in his back pocket). Delicious stuff—thriller, suspense, mystery and literature all bound up in a tasty meatball of fiction.

I know that’s a mixed list—fiction and non.

Doesn’t matter to me; just take me away via Magic Book Transporter Beam and I will follow.
Non-fiction, of course, is a matter of researching the details, getting the story arc right and re-telling the struggle. I’m not saying one is harder than the other. It’s not. They are different beasts. But to create a fictional setting and insert a character we care about into the fray against Mother Nature and all she can hurl at our hero is, to me, art. I don’t necessarily want to make the actual journey, of course, just soak it in via words.

I know the P.O.V. in The Call of The Wild is half St. Bernard and half sheepdog, but I think Buck nails the feeling any reader gets when you come across a story you just have to devour:

“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.”


Lindsay said...

I remember reading Call of the Wild. I was so taken but the story I couldn't but it down and the only way I got to sleep at night was when one of my parents would take the book away.

Julia Buckley said...

I loved "To Build a Fire," and Mark's book reminded me of that story, but I never read THE CALL OF THE WILD. Your post makes me think I should, Lindsay!

Mark Stevens said...

It's pretty amazing to read a whole book told from the P.O.V. of Buck but it's been a long time since I've read it.

Sandra Parshall said...

When I read The Call of the Wild I lost my heart to wolves forever. To this day, the howling of wolves is a deeply thrilling sound that makes me feel connected to a wild world that barely exists anymore.

Julia Buckley said...

You would love the GAME OF THRONES novels. Wolves are central characters in this multi-tomed series, and often the human characters have psychic connections with them.

In addition, they are Direwolves--a supposedly extinct prehistoric animal, much more giant than today's wolf, and which George RR Martin reinvigorates for his sort-of-Middle-Ages story.

Chrisiivv said...

When I read The Call of the Wild I lost my heart to wolves forever. To this day, the howling of wolves is a deeply thrilling sound that makes me feel connected to a wild world that barely exists anymore.

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