Tag Archive for Blood Mountain excerpt

Two Quick Excerpts from BLOOD MOUNTAIN, Plus Words of Advice from Kurt Vonnegut

This year, I’ve been using an idea lifted from Kurt Vonnegut as an opening point in my middle-grade presentations. In his “Rules for Writers,” Vonnegut advises, “No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

Most books follow that dictum consciously or not. I know that I certainly put it into practice in Blood Mountain. I do terrible things to those kids.

In these two short excerpts, we’ll meet Carter and Grace as they get a little deeper into the story (for a previous excerpt, click here). In “Bog,” taken from the end of Chapter 30, we find Carter traveling alone. Rangers advise hikers of three cardinal rules should they find themselves lost in the wilderness: “Stay put, stay dry, stay warm.” In this scene, Carter is failing, and fighting, spectacularly. He doesn’t have much choice.

In the next excerpt, we briefly visit with Grace, injured and alone on DAY 4, and get a glimpse into her spirit and toughness.

 

 

from chapter

30

 

[Bog]

Plowing forward, Carter takes a hard hit from an overhanging branch. The blow staggers him, knocks him to his knees. He stays on all fours, woozy. He touches his head, his fingers come back wet and red. He sits back, resting on one arm, dazed, holding the shirtsleeve of his outer wrist against the wound. The shirt becomes wet with blood. Streaks trickle down the left side of his face. He gathers himself, continues the descent. He trips on roots, skidders on slick surfaces and falls against jagged rocks, slicing his fingers. Carter finds that his legs no longer work properly. A bloody gash forms on his left knee, bleeding into his boot. Each blow, each misstep drains something vital out of him. Slowly his energy leaks away, deflated like a forgotten birthday balloon.

Despite all this, Carter remains determined to plunge forward. He walks unquestioningly into a wall of dense vegetation. The summer-tangle of branches grope like sinister arms. Hellish snags claw at his flesh, rip his shirt.

Carter keeps fighting, keeps moving forward.

Bog all around him.

He longs for firm footing, a dry fire.

Twilight drops down like a quivering leaf. The bugs gather in swarms. For the first half hour, Carter slaps at them, waves his hands, rubs his arms and legs, scratches furiously, even howls out loud; mosquitoes, gorged with his blood, explode when slapped on his forearms and legs. Reinforcements come to take their place. In desperation, Carter smears black ooze all over his skin and face, gets it in his mouth and ears. Eventually, he surrenders. His tender face reduced to a swollen welt, blistered and raw. Black flies take turns tormenting him. They dive and bite and veer away. His eyelids swell, his left eye nearly shut.

He weaves, falls, despairs, rises again.

He cannot stop here.

He cannot die.

Carter Taylor is eleven years old and he feels his life wavering on some great precipice.

Grace, his feverish mind recalls.

In the relative openness of the bog, he easily sees the stars in the velvet sky. When did it become night? When in the world have there ever been so many pinpricks of light?

He feels cold to the core.

Shivering, wet, bone-tired.

He keeps walking, staggering, reeling through the reeds, bumping into dead, bare, nutrient-starved trees.

His boots fill with water. He finds himself leaning against a dead tree. He pauses to rest for a moment, a minute, an hour. He doesn’t remember. His mind blank, a void. Fear slaps him awake. Instinct yanks at his collar, shakes him. If he stays in this grievous bog, he won’t live to see the morning. It is the one clear thought in his muddled mind. Can’t stay here.

The temperature drops.

He blunders into the black.

He steps and his foot does not sink.

Another step. The ground holds.

Another, and another.

Carter hangs his head, drops to his knees, begins to crawl, feels the firm earth under his hands.

He’s made it through.

So tired, so tired.

Carter stumbles another 75 yards, losing his hat in the process. He collapses, curls into a ball beneath a weeping willow that has taken root in the rot. He does not wonder at the way the graceful giant’s branches sweep downward, or how its long, slender leaves resemble tears of tree-sorrow and tree-remorse. How did it come to grow so sad? He does not wonder at all. Just knows in his bones. The cold presses against him. He shivers in anguish. His body begins to shake convulsively. He rolls and looks to the sky.

I am not lost, he thinks. The world is lost.

I am right here. I am right here. And there is the moon, right where it is supposed to be.

 

 

from chapter

35

 

[Grace]

 

Light is coming and with it a new day.

Grace watches unmoving as the dark woods gradually take on space, contour, color, dimension. The shapes of tree trunks, movement in the branches, squirrels chittering and birds with their insistent, I’m here, I’m here, I’m here!

The trees come alive with birds and their words.

Today springs from yesterday, the dream of tomorrow becomes the new now, and inside Grace’s chest an ember still glows. Call it hope. Call it fierce will. Grace is determined to live. Somehow. Some way. She is alone and injured, her infection blackening, one girl in the vastness of a mountain wilderness. Somewhere, she hopes, Carter is okay. He never should have left. A terrible decision. Grace begins to feel that tug of negativity, her thoughts going down a dark path, but she fights against them in the same way a falling figure claws against gravity. She senses that negative thinking will not sustain her here. Carter will find a way, she resolves. My job is to survive.

Grace closes her eyes and prays. It has never seemed to do much good in the past. She isn’t, honestly, all that sure. But prayer is a meeting of soul and intention. Her prayer does not require answers. Grace has never understood how some people claim to talk with God, or how He answered their prayers. This new morning, Grace does not expect a reply. It is enough to think the words, to bring unity of spirit and mind, the meeting of wish and desire –- like a corked bottle with a rolled up note inside, floating in a great, unpeopled sea.

Sending the note is enough.

I am here.

I have survived so far.

I would love with all my heart to see another day.

BLOOD MOUNTAIN, Excerpt: “They are lost, but are they alone?”

How do you share excerpts of a book without giving anything away? You don’t include the really good parts, I guess. Oh well! Here’s two super-short early chapters (most chapters are much longer than these two, but almost all 67 chapters come in under four pages each), just as Grace and Carter are beginning to get the sense that something’s amiss.

I spent a fair amount of time researching “lost” experiences, including analysis by experts of the common mistakes hikers make in those situations. A ranger I worked with, who advised me throughout the writing process, talked about the three directives: “Stay put, stay warm, stay dry.” 

Folks who get themselves seriously lost tend to miss signs, get distracted, keep going. They are often goal oriented — they push themselves and don’t listen to their bodies. Fear and weariness begin to cloud their decisions. And then, suddenly, there they are: nowhere. Later in the book I explore the qualities that survivors tend to possess, the attitudes and actions that keep them alive while others in similar situations don’t make it. We see that most clearly in Grace, who, like the song, is amazing.

 

 

7

 

[Hold Up]

 

The day gets colder, dampness clings to the air, but Grace and Carter don’t notice. Sitka, of course, does –- it’s as plain as the nose on her face. She has no way to communicate this knowledge. But she assumes they know it, too.

“Remember what Dad would say whenever we got bad grades, or did something wrong?” Grace asks Carter.

The boy laughs. “Let’s walk and talk,” he says.

“Yeah,” Grace laughs. “There was nothing worse than getting that text from Dad. ‘We need to have a walk and talk.’”

Carter smiles at his sister. “And every single time, we took the exact same walk.”

“Past the Hart’s house, around the block, and up the driveway,” Grace said.

Carter puts a hand on Grace’s right shoulder. In a deep, fatherly voice he says, “I’m glad we had this chance to talk.”

Both of them snort out loud, their voices carrying across the humps and cols of the saddleback ridge. They come to a spot that makes Carter stop. The trail seems to be vanishing before his eyes. The trees lean in, a breeze kicks up.

“Um, hold up,” he says. “Shouldn’t we be, like, there by now?”

 

8

 

[Unworried]

 

They weren’t worried yet. Not quite to the point of worry, exactly, but getting there. Their senses strain. They think harder, look closer, run calculations in their heads, assign blame, and then, suddenly, their bodies speak: hunger, thirst, weariness, and the first hint of fear.

Fear is a chemical that rushes through the veins like a flash flood after a heavy rain. Suddenly, the dam bursts and it’s on top of you. A wild, rising torrent. Fear changes everything, especially the way the brain works. The brain sends out chemical signals to various body systems. Adrenaline brings blood to the skin’s surface. The body begins to sweat. The heart palpitates rapidly. Muscles tighten. Breathing picks up.

“What do you think?” Carter asks

Grace’s mouth shuts. She doesn’t want to look at her brother, doesn’t want him to see the expression she wears on her face. She turns, searching in all directions for something, anything, a clue.

Nothing. Not a thing.

The sameness of the forest.

They have wandered off the trail but don’t realize it yet.  “Keep going a little farther, I guess.” Grace points. “Bushwhack to that rise? Maybe we can see something.”

It looks to the untrained eye to be twenty minutes away. A little down, a little up, and you’re there.

Ninety minutes later, they make it, dead tired.

And the view tells them nothing.

The sudden fog obscures the details.

 

BLOOD MOUNTAIN will be published on October 10th by Macmillan. It has already been named a Junior Library Guild Selection. 230 pages, grades 4-up.

One Step Closer to . . . BLOOD MOUNTAIN

It’s always exciting when a package arrives from my editor, Liz. A padded envelope filled with 6-7 ARCs. Advance Reader’s Copies. And so we move in fits and bursts toward that seemingly impossible day . . . a real book. October, 2019. 

It’s going to happen. And on this day, holding an ARC in my hands, it feels more real than ever.

Here’s the briefest of samples from page 30, at the end of DAY ONE:

They lie down, huddle close, sharing the small emergency blanket. Head to head, toe to toe. The ground is, amazingly, not terrible. Sitka moves off to a nearby spot, curls up. After a few minutes, at Grace’s invitation, the tired dog presses into them for warmth.

A crack of thunder makes the earth shake. The rain comes down harder, but at least they are somewhat protected. A few giants of the woods fall in the night, great branches crashing to the ground. Grace reaches out of hold Carter’s hand.

“I’m glad we have the knife,” she whispers. “Try to sleep.”

Carter is too exhausted to answer. He gives a soft moan. In his heart, he feels that it’s going to be bad. Something awful, something terrible, is going to happen. And there’s nothing he can do about it. He lies awake, staring into the darkness. He senses a twitch in Grace’s leg. His sister has fallen asleep.