In April of 2009, I was contacted via email by a guy named Travis Thompson. Travis had a story to tell. A BIG story. A loooooong story. A fascinating story, really, about a Mormon kid who made good despite having an extermination order on his head, witnessing his uncle's violent death, surviving the death of his own beloved 5-year-old daughter, and experiencing the inherently risky life of a 19th-century adventurer on the American frontier.
This pioneer's name was Perry A. Burgess, and if you're at all familiar with Steamboat Springs, you've heard of him, or at least his last name. It permeates that town. Maybe you've ridden his ski lift, or attended gatherings in one of his meeting rooms. Perhaps you've visited the Tread of Pioneers museum (which just happens to sit on the site that was once his backyard) or strolled along Burgess Promenade, which enjoys views of Burgess Creek. Seriously. The dude is everywhere.
So Travis asks me if I'd be interested in writing Perry's story. Only a fool would have declined that offer, and come August, Travis and his wife Becky were seated at my kitchen table, along with--literally--a suitcase of research and books and pamphlets and photos and well, stuff.
Initially, Travis tried to write Perry's story himself. He got to page 25 and realized this was not an undertaking for a novice. Travis is a whiz-bang IT guy; he is a technical systems god. Which makes him intelligent. Which allowed him to realize that he needed a professional writer. That he chose me was sheer luck. But when he and Becky arrived at the house, I greeted them believing the information he had shared with me already in an email: He had written those 25 pages and figured he needed another 50 or so.
After a couple hours pass and Travis is exuberantly explaining all the tangents of Perry's life story (Travis could not sit; he stood and paced, sat and fidgeted), it dawns on me that this will most definitely not be a 75-page manuscript. And boy, was I spot-on with that prophecy. The final book, published in late October 2010, was 540 pages.
Yes, that's right: 540 pages.
Beyond the Land of Gold: The Life & Times of Perry A. Burgess took more than a year of my life to research and write. Travis would send me outlines of what he thought each chapter might look like. Now, I use the term "outlines" loosely, because in my book, an outline is just that: a vague guideline. Travis's outlines were sometimes 13 typed pages long, single-spaced. I'm not kidding.
Both of us were learning as we went along. I don't think Travis had any idea how this book would take over his life, and I had to learn how to write using a process far different from the one I used to write any of my previously published books. I guess, at the end of the day, Travis and I weren't just developing a book; we were building a relationship.
Creating a book or building a relationship...either is a monumental endeavor. Try doing both simultaneously. Oh, and I should mention that while this was going on, I was extricating myself from a 12-year relationship with my daughters' dad. It was not a smooth ending. Toss into the mix the reappearance of a high school boyfriend who, 28 years later, was even more intriguing and wonderful than he was at age 16, and you can imagine the emotional rollercoaster I was riding. And there's the fact that I watched as my first-born child graduated high school, went off to college, and turned 18 (in that order); it was almost more than I could bear. All the while, my focus was on keeping life as drama-free as possible for my 3 kids who remained at home. It was no easy task. Most days, I felt hugely inadequate in one way or another.
All things considered, 2010 was both one of the worst and the absolute best of my 46 years. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Because I am immensely proud of Beyond the Land of Gold. Just last night, we found out that it is a finalist in the 2011 Colorado Independent Publishers Association Evvy & Technical Awards. They haven't yet announced the finalists for the content/editorial awards in Biography, Memoir, or History (all of which we entered), but the book has made it to the final round in Cover Design, Illustration, and Printing. I am honored, and await word on the finalist selection for the other 3 categories.
Since last fall, I've traveled to Boulder, Steamboat Springs and Craig, where Travis and I made presentations about the book...our audiences were gracious and enthusiastic. We've had book signings in Denver and Cheyenne, and have another planned for May in Longmont. Beyond the Land of Gold is carried by the Tattered Cover bookstore, and believe me, that's not an easy venue to get into for lesser-known writers or publishers. We're hoping to travel this summer--Utah, Montana--to further promote the Mormon and gold rush aspects of the book. In short, the book has allowed me to broaden my horizons as a professional, to visit places I might otherwise never see, meet people I wouldn't otherwise get to know.
But it has also enriched my personal life. I've gotten to know Travis and Becky Thompson, two wonderful people who recognized the value in what they had and have taken great pains to bring Perry's story to light. While it was me who put the pieces together to provide a comprehensive and clear picture, it was the Thompsons' relentless pursuit of information that made the writing possible. They put more than 10 years of their lives into this story. That's impressive. And the resulting book provides a heretofore missing piece of American Frontier history. To have made 2 new friends on the road to publishing a book? Priceless.
I remain vigilant in my dedication to creating a stable and secure home for my children. There have been some bumps in the road, but nothing we haven't been able to steer around or just completely jump over. I'm one of those lucky moms who has kids who know they will be just fine no matter where they land. I do have two teenagers in the house, however, so...well, I am often outwitted and always outnumbered. I am one tough cookie, though, and I will survive.
As for the high school boyfriend, well, let's just say I love being older and wiser. I love that he never let go of the idea of me. And I love him.
So yeah. I wrote a book.
(To learn more about the book or to purchase a copy, please visit www.burgessdiary.com.)