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The Wayfinder was my first published novel, 2000 Greenwillow/Harpercollins. I remember where I was when I heard the news that someone wanted to publish this manuscript. I was with my oldest daughter, Sara, at a local mall. I had to use a pay phone to call the editor back, Standing there in the hallway, near the mall office, the pay phone was noisy.
Why a Wayfinder? A Pleasant Mountain Hike
It started when we got lost in the mountains of New Mexico at 10,000 feet elevation. The day began as a simple hike in the mountains for about eight members of my family, about 4-5 adults and 4-5 kids. We planned to walk to a snow-fed lake, eat a picnic lunch and hike over the mountains to another parking lot.
It was a beautiful day, clear with puffy clouds. The walk to the lake was easy, even if it climbed. The lake was cold, the picnic lunch great. When we left the lake, we expected 30 minutes to an hour walk to the parking lot on the opposite side of the mountain.
At that elevation, on June 17, there was till snow under the trees. As we walked, bits of snow fell into my boots making my socks wet. We came upon beautiful alpine meadows with wildflowers in full bloom. We scared a porcupine.
One valley had a narrow ditch running through it that was full of ice-cold water. You could easily jump over it. Yet when we thrust a stick in it to discover how deep it was, we couldn’t touch the bottom. It must have been over ten feet deep. I kept thinking of how dangerous that would be at night. You’d be walking along and suddenly boom, you’d be over your head in water.
We came to a post in the ground. At it’s feet lay several trail signs. Apparently, the snow had knocked the signs off and they hadn’t been replaced. We tried positioning the signs on the post, but we had no idea which way they should point.
We were lost.
Not only that, but the sky had darkened, clouds blocking out the sun. We couldn’t tell our direction from the sun at all. At this point, two things would’ve helped. A compass or a map.
My brother, the smartest man I know, had a map. It was in his car, back at the original parking lot. I had a compass, but it was back home in a drawer.
We were truly lost.
From Bad to Worse
Could things get worse? Oh, yes.
It started to hail. Not small hailstones, but marble sized bits of ice. My husband pulled out his one rain poncho and stretched it out for the eight of us to huddle beneath. The hail stopped, and we hurried along the trail that we “thought” was right.
At one point, my husband ran (at 10,000 feet elevation) back to the signpost, in hopes of better clues, and ran back to us. He learned nothing new and we still didn’t know if we were on the right trail.
It hailed on us again.
We came to another valley where the ground was spongy from snowmelt. I bounced up and down, looking at a line of posts. It was hopeful that there were signs of people—someone had set those posts in a straight line. We continued on and finally came to the edge of the mountain where we could look out and see the path below us. Within 15-20 minutes we were safe at our car.
Lost? How do We FIND Our Way?
The mountain hike and getting lost made we wonder about how we find our way around. How do we navigate? It turns out that this varies widely.
For example, people who live on an island only need two directions: toward the sea or away from the sea. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest only had two directions: upriver or downriver.
If navigating or finding our way is negotiable, then it’s up for grabs as a fantastical element. I created a special skill of FINDING. Those with the skill could Find anything: a lost ring, the best fruit in a market, a buried treasure, or someone in a deep fog.
Relaunch and a New Heartland Fantasy
I’m thrilled that THE WAYFINDER is relaunching tomorrow! But I’m also thrilled that in July, a new Heartland story will launch.
Creating the Heartland, the landscape, political climate, traditions, and so on is part of the fun of writing fantasy. But it takes a long time!
That’s why there are so many trilogies and series in fantastical worlds. After spending time creating a special world, it’s hard to abandon it for other stories.
THE FALCONER skips a generation and focuses on Winchal Eldras’s granddaugher, Brittney Eldras. She has trained a gyrfalcon, the largest and most noble of the hawks, and comes striding out of the north just in time to save the Heartland from the vicious Zendi invaders from the south.