The idea for Wild Within came because I took an exercise class with a gregarious instructor and a nervous ex-wife. The background is a little complicated. The instructor knew I’d written a memoir, knew a woman in class who had a fiction-writing son and ex-husband, and this all led to my attending a father-son book reading at a local bookstore. Which I did mostly to support the ex-wife.
But during the question and answer, the son emphasized that fiction writers need to find experts to inform them about their chosen subjects. You need, for example, to find a professional football player to give you the inside scoop if you want one of your characters to play pro football. I left the bookstore inspired to try my hand at writing fiction. “But that business about finding an expert to match my interests…who has the time?” I thought. So I decided to flip his advice on its ear. Instead of finding an expert to match my interests, I would match my interests to the expertise of the most easily available person.
My husband, Ron Strickland, is a nationally-known long distance hiker, one of only two living founders of a national scenic trail. He has hiked numerous long trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail. I arrived home that evening and, ta da, I had my expert. Now all I needed was a premise, plot, and some characters.
I wanted to write a romance with suspense, so I quizzed Ron about isolated sections of trails. We settled on a particular section of the Pacific Crest Trail in California. I wanted a female main character, so I asked him about women he met on the trail and the reasons they gave for hiking alone. This led to the premise: “What happens when a woman hiking alone in memory of her brother meets a killer on a section of trail where there’s only one direction for both of them to go?” The characters and plot gradually took shape in my mind and on paper. Lone Star, the romantic lead, was one of the first I developed.
Looking back, the best piece of advice Ron gave me was to write a very detailed outline. But I still had a problem keeping track of where all the characters were along the trail at various time points. I eventually drew a map of the major peaks and populated it with stick figures. I moved them back and forth so I could keep straight who was ahead of whom.
I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve been on a long-distance trail. But spending months with my head buried in Pacific Crest Trail guides and grilling Ron on the details of hiking in the desert and the mountains, in snow and in rain made a part of me want to get out there and hike. Now if I could just get his bear story out of my head.
About the Author
Christine Hartmann grew up in Ohio and Delaware and loves traveling to exotic, romantic settings. After a college semester in Kathmandu, her first three “real” jobs were all in northern Japan, where she lived for almost 10 years. She currently splits her career between her daytime occupation (improving the quality of veterans’ nursing home care) and her nights/weekend avocation (writing both fiction and non-fiction books). Her husband Ron Strickland is a well-known long-distance hiker and trail guide writer and the founder of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. Christine loves reading, pilates, bicycling, and snorkeling, and health foods that taste like they’re bad for you. You will often find her at a keyboard, a German shepherd at her side, and Ron whispering sweet edits over her shoulder.