I am happy to welcome Gordon Rottman back to the blog. Thanks for returning Gordon and giving the readers information on your new book Tears of the River.
Why I wrote Tears of the River.
I think most young adult writers are familiar with or at least heard of Gary Paulsen’s classic Hatchet (1987). It’s on most middle schools’ reading lists and has sold millions. 13-year old Brian is the lone survivor of an aircraft crash in the wilds of Canada. With the off-route aircraft sunk in a lake, searchers fail to find him. He survives with only a hatchet, his basic camping knowledge, and common sense.
There’s a similar lesser known novel, Terry Hokenson’s The Winter Road (2006). A similar story, it follows 17-year old Willa who also is lost in Canada after a winter-storm plane crash. Both of these young people are saddled with problems at home (who isn’t?), but have a degree of self-confidence and some experience. Brian stays put and is eventually found. Willa chooses to walk out to salvation.
I was a survival instructor in the Army, among other things, an Explorer Scout advisor, and have a daughter who found herself in a survival situation in Mexico. I based Tears of the River’s story on several premises. Survivors do not always find themselves alone, but with a small group. Survivors have no idea what’s going to happen within the next few minutes much less what situations will arise over the coming days—when that sinks in, it’s quit disorienting. They are totally on their own, and somebody has to be the leader.
15-year old Karen Herber has her own problems back at home, nothing overwhelming, just typical teen issues. Events soon push those aside. What troubles her most is that at Outward Bound School her leadership skills were criticized. She didn’t believe in spoon-feeding her charges and expected them to take care of themselves.
Karen Day 1—all excited over the adventure of a medical mission.
Stranded in a remote Nicaraguan village by a hurricane, on the way back to the rest of the group, a bridge collapses and Karen’s the only one who makes it out of the van. Her four companions perish. Walking back to the tiny village she discovers it’s buried under a mudslide. She finds a very vulnerable 6-year old girl and a 44-year old woman with both arms broken. Karen has to do everything for her, to include helping her when nature calls. Searching the crumpled van for backpacks and food, she finds Jay, a concussed 17-year old who she’s not particularly fond of, is still alive. He’s disoriented and uncooperative. Karen speaks high school Spanish and there are cultural issues and misunderstandings. The woman can’t conceive that a young American girl would be an experienced backpacker and canoeist. Karen’s skeptical of the woman’s superstitions and appalled by her poor sanitation.
Karen Day 4—things are not going well and one challenge after another confronts her.
Karen, the reluctant leader, has a lot to contend with along with making life-or-death decisions. Is anyone coming for them? The bridges are out and the gorges flooded. They can’t walk far because of injuries and she has good reason to believe the rest of the group in a far village may have been lost or evacuated. If they wait for help, run out their little food, and can’t walk out, they’re doomed. They can walk as far as a river where they find a boat. It’s 150 winding river miles to the mysterious Mosquito Coast and a town. They have no idea what terrors and obstacles await them.
Karen’s awash with self-doubt, she makes mistakes, she misjudges, but she finds her inner strength. After a terrorizing encounter with refugee bandits, Karen came to a realization:
“No matter how rattled she was, how wasted she felt, she clearly saw the new reality. Karen had undergone a transformation at some fundamental level. She would never be safe again, she would always be hungry, she must always be on guard, she must always think ahead. She vowed to do whatever she had to do to bring out her crew.”
Karen Day 10—she’s had about as much of this as she can take, along with a forehead injury, and doubts her own sanity.
Adversity strengthens the spirit, but one must also possess skills and knowledge to prevail in her environment, be it a Nicaraguan rainforest or high school hallways. Karen realized that getting her crew through this would take more than mere trail-skills; it required a certain morale quality. She’d have to be there for the others to help them persevere. They may have to do the same for her. All this and Jay turns out to be a pretty decent guy. In spite of the dangers and difficulties, perhaps because of them, Karen and Jay’s relationship develops.
The book’s goal is to provide what I hope will be a favorable role model. A girl with problems like anyone else, but strives to be self-sufficient. I simply feel that any teen should make an effort to become more self-confident and learn useful skills from changing a tire to giving CPR to how to fish. They may never need it, but that’s of no matter. It gives them broader life experiences. The more you know about a broad range of subjects, the better decisions you can make the more in-depth your imagination will be. They learn more about themselves and perhaps it helps them find the preverbal “who am I?”
Tears of the River was released as an e-book by Taliesin Publishing on June 5.
Tears of the River blurb
Fifteen-year-old Karen Herber is exactly where she wants to be—in the Nicaraguan rainforest with a volunteer medical team. What she had not expected was a hurricane collapsing a bridge to wipe out her team and a mudslide burying a village. Only a Nicaraguan six-year-old girl and a forty-four-year-old woman with both arms broken survive the mudslide. Then she finds that Jaydon Bonner survived, a privileged, arrogant seventeen-year-old American tenderfoot. Academic and confidence concerns are already dragging Karen down and she was tagged a “weak leader” in Outward Bound School. Her doctor parents are pushing her into a medical career, of which she’s uncertain. Less than fluent in Spanish, but an experienced backpacker, the reluctant leader is challenged by Nature, animals, desperate men and her fellow survivors’ mistrust and cultural differences. Their only path to salvation is a risky boat trip down a rainforest river, 150 miles to the mysterious Mosquito Coast. Karen soon finds her companions’ experiences, so different from her own, invaluable with each deadly encounter forging a closer bond between them. Through all the danger, “Jay” is there and manages to come though.
Karen crept quietly up the game trail with a stick held upright to clear spider webs. A hundred paces from the camp she came upon a clearing and situated herself on its edge. She made sure she had clearance in the brush to throw. The air was dead. It wouldn’t carry her scent. She knew the odds were against a critter happening along, but animals moved in the morning seeking water and foraging—maybe. Hunters always talked about animals being scared off by human scent and activity, but she’d had many encounters of the closest kind with animals blundering into her and vice versa. They did just as dumb things as humans and were not always as alert as one expects.
Mosquitoes buzzed in the gray-green pre-dawn light. It was darker than usual, hazy; it must be overcast. Time passed. Before long the others would be up, making noise. That would scare off any prowling critters. As soon as she heard the crew stirring she’d go back. She should have told them last night to be quiet when they rose…and a twig snapped. Karen froze, if one could do that in this stifling hot, dead air.
There were rustling noises in the brush coming from the clearing’s far side. It increased, scrabbling noises, something pushing through the brush, and more than one. More feint leaf-crackling sounds. A lot more. They were all over. Karen suppressed the desire to back away or simply shout and set whatever they were to running. But the crew needed food. She’d wait and see. Really dangerous animals hunted alone. Herding animals were vegetarians, harmless and easy to spook, but the thought didn’t still her hammering heart.
The rustling grew louder. Some were behind her. She had to fight to keep from shouting. A dark shape materialized on the trail, emerging out of the gloom and blackness. It was bigger than she liked. There were odd rainforest mammals such as pacas, tayras, coatis, and others she wasn’t familiar with.
A dark shapeless four-legged something took form. She didn’t know what it was. No matter, if it was on four feet they could eat it. She was kneeling, her arm poised to throw with everything she had. She’d once read if your heart is strong, your thoughts are pure, your throw will be true, and the strike lethal…or some such Zen BS. Taking a breath, she flung giving it her all and heard the whisper of the spinning stick.
There was a momentary sense of fulfillment, her thoughts had been pure, but then the shape came at her with a high-pitched scream faster than the devil dogs. Dark shapes were darting in all directions crashing through the brush with squealing cries. Blood-chilled, she stood, ducked behind a tree, grabbed another stick. Why hadn’t she brought the spear? A streamlined pig-thing came at her, she threw the stick, missed, dodged.
A bigger one charged with a grunting squeal and her legs were cut out from under her, her head and shoulder hitting the tree. She tried to stand and her right leg crumpled taking her to the ground; no pain. Not yet anyway. It all happened so fast she didn’t have time to get scared.
Another darted in. All she saw were tiny angry eyes, bristling hair and tusks, and smelled a skunk-like musk. She rolled as it rocketed over, trampling her.
Karen pulled herself to her feet, took three adrenaline-fired running steps before her leg collapsed, slammed into another tree with a popping noise in her head, and fell into the mud.
Gordon Rottman lives outside of Houston, Texas, served in the Army for 26 years in a number of “exciting” units, and wrote war games for Green Berets for 11 years. He’s written over 120 military history books, but his interests have turned to adventurous young adult novels—influenced by a bunch of audacious kids, Westerns owing to his experiences on his wife’s family’s ranch in Mexico, and historical fiction focusing on how people really lived and thought—history does not need to be boring. His first Western novel is The Hardest Ride to be followed by more.
The Hardest Ride—A Western e-novel, Taliesin Publishing
Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award Winner- Best Western Novel
Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award Finalist- Best First Western Novel
Western Writers of America Spur Award Finalist- Best Traditional Western Novel