Taking the reader’s breath away: Books with Altitude

Author Diane Winger plays it safe with proper gear on the
Via Ferrata route in Telluride, Colorado

Some accidents in the mountains can be avoided with planning, observation, and experience. But nature has ways of fooling us. In my novel, Rockfall, an earth-shattering avalanche of boulders crashes down across a popular hiking trail. Three hikers are missing; two others witnessed the horrifying event. The story then follows the survivors and the families of the victims as they each deal with the tragedy in their own, unique and quite different ways.

Oh, and I should mention that one person actually survived the deluge of rock. Unfortunately, no one, including the rescuers, believes anyone could have lived.

As the author of this story, I was horrified and saddened when something quite similar occurred right here in my home state of Colorado while I was in the process of writing the book. While we experience rock slides that damage and destroy some of our high roads winding through the Rocky Mountains, it’s quite rare for a slide to occur in the backcountry where hikers happen to be walking at the time.

One character (I won’t reveal her name, as that would be a spoiler for the story) finds herself injured, alone, and lost. Her story is drawn from a personal experience, albeit one that was far less severe. Some years ago I was climbing “highpoints.” My husband and I were on a quest to reach the highest spot in each of the 50 United States. At the top of Boundary Peak, the highest mountain in Nevada, he and a friend chose to cross over to another peak joined to Boundary by a ridge while I descended to our camp. I got lost and didn’t see another human for 23 hours. Some of the emotions I felt and those of my poor husband inspired the experiences of the book’s characters.

After I published my first novel, Faces, featuring a character with prosopagnosia (sometimes called “face blindness”), those who know me personally asked if I was writing about myself, since I actually have that somewhat rare condition. The short answer is: “no.” Okay, let’s go with “a little.” After all, writers often draw from our own experiences. In Faces, my protagonist (Jessica) often goes rock climbing. I’m a rock climber. All the details in the book about specific rock climbs are real. What happens to her is not. In Rockfall, I’ve already told you that I was once lost in the mountains. I even had an experience in a lightning storm that inspired a scene in the book. But beyond that, the character’s story and mine diverge sharply.

And then there’s my third novel, Duplicity, where Jessica and a few other characters from Faces make a repeat appearance. Here’s the seed: I’ve enjoyed going on cross-country ski excursions with a group of women to a lovely backcountry winter hut in Colorado for several years. The trips have always been delightful. But what if…? Sorry, I can’t tell you that part yet. I can disclose that several of the ski scenes are close to the real thing.

I’ve been a writer for many years, but my earlier works were nonfiction, ranging from technical computer programming articles to outdoor adventure guidebooks co-authored with my husband, Charlie. My changeover to writing fiction again has brought me great pleasure. I loved writing stories as I grew up, but didn’t pursue writing fiction very often after completing college. I start with a seed from a personal experience and let my imagination flow. The completed book is often far different from the story I originally conceived. The characters seem to take on lives of their own and surprise me with the directions they take the story.

What’s in the future for me? I’ve just completed the first draft of a novel with a working title of Secrets and Memories. It’s a profile of two damaged people, grandmother and grandchild, who have each faced moral dilemmas and made irreversible life choices. Their passion for the outdoors and love for each other helps them build bridges of trust and hope during a period of time when their lives are thrown together. Stay tuned.

As a reader, I delight in becoming submerged in a world of characters and situations created by an author. As an author, I enjoy letting my mind explore a multitude of possibilities in how I build my characters and what happens in their lives. I hope to offer a world of excitement and new perspectives to my readers, taking the imagination to new heights. The predominant theme of what I write continues to be … Books with Altitude.


Leave a Reply