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.
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?”
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.