Today’s Tuesday Treat is brought to you by Gordon Rottman and his book
Tears of the River.
A few years ago our oldest granddaughter introduced me to Gary Paulsen’s classic Hatchet (1987). It’s on most middle schools’ reading lists and has sold millions. Thirteen-year old Brian is the lone survivor of an aircraft crash in the wilds of Canada. The pilot died of a heart attack in-flight. Brian manages to ditch the off-route aircraft in a lake where it sinks. Searchers fail to find him. He survives with only a hatchet, his basic camping knowledge, what he remembers from The Discovery Channel, and common sense. There’s a great deal of trial and error on his part. For example, he undertakes several efforts before he prefects a bow and arrows. There’s also odd encounters with wildlife, some dangerous.
There’s a similar lesser known novel, Terry Hokenson’s The Winter Road (2006). It follows 17-year old Willa who also is lost in Canada after a winter-storm plane crash, which she was flying herself. A Canadian-born girl, she had undergone survival training, but also deals with trial and error efforts to build winter shelters and construct fish traps.
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 after weeks alone, he is found by another plane. Willa chooses to walk out to salvation making her own “winter road” so to speak. Her challenge is to catch enough fish in the few distantly spaced ice-free spots along the river she follows.
I’d long wanted to write a survival story set in Nicaragua where I’d taken part in medical missions, some in remote areas. I needed a story and I didn’t want it to be similar to Hatchet or The Winter Road.
To give you an idea of Tears of the River’s story, here’s the 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.
I was an Army survival instructor, among other things, and an Explorer Scout advisor. I based Tears of the River’s story on several premises. Survivors do not always find themselves alone even though that’s one of the most common survival story premises, but rather with a small group. Survivors have no idea what’s going to happen within the next few minutes much less what situations will confront them over the coming days—when that sinks in, it’s quit disorienting. Whether alone or part of a small group, they are totally on their own. In a group somebody has to be the leader. Whether two people, four or more, it cannot be run like a democracy. There’s no vote taken and a common consensus not always possible.
Of course a small group gives a writer the opportunity for conflict, to develop group and individual relationships, and for even romance to blossom. I will say this, not to discourage romance writers; a survival situation provides little opportunity to nurture a romance. There’s too much tension, stress, and conflict, plus you’re scared, hungry, and tired. But what the heck, love can overcome any obstacle. For a romance to blossom under such conditions, I would think that could become quite an enduring relationship.
In a small group of survivors there will be a variety of personalities of course. Karen obviously finds herself in a challenging situation. She’s saddled with six-year-old Nicaraguan girl, Lomara, who constantly has to be looked after in a dangerous environment. Tía Ramona is a forty-four-year-old woman with both arms broken. Karen has to do everything for her from feeding her to helping her when nature calls. She’s in severe pain and her infected wounds are worsening. Jaydon Bonner, a seventeen-year old American has suffered a concussion and is initially unresponsive and uncooperative.
They have no means of communicating with the outside world from their remote location; have reason to believe no one’s left who knows where they even are. They can’t wait and see if someone will eventually come for them. They don’t have enough food. If they wait they’ll run out and have no food for a walkout. That would be impossible anyway with a little girl and a seriously injured woman. Karen absolutely does not want to be the leader. But, she has no choice.
Atop of all these problems, Karen speaks little Spanish, the old woman doesn’t trust her or understand that she possesses useful outdoor experience, and there are cultural misunderstandings. Diversity sometimes comes with its own problems.
The boat trip, and first they have to get to the boat, comes with its own dangers. Karen is at times overwhelmed with the hard decisions, personality complexities, and the constant dangers they encounter. She knows every decision is a life or death matter. She attempts to avoid mistakes, yet still makes them. The lack of food and trying to anticipate and think ahead, the pressure grinds Karen down. A bond grows within the diversified group, they become a family as they begin to understand one another and that they all rely on each other. They all have something to contribute.
Reluctant or not, Karen is a genuine leader. What motivates her? She wants to simply go home, she swears to bring out her people, and she admitted and accepted that there is one true reality; she has absolutely no choice but to drive on. They can’t simply stop, they can’t go back, they have to keeping going no matter what comes at them.
And so you won’t fret, there is a happy ending.
Tears of the River, Taliesin Publishing, is available as an e-book from Amazon and all other e-book retailers.
About Gordon. L. Rottman
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, The Hardest Ride, Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award Winner- Best Western Novel and Finalist- Best First Western Novel; and Western Writers of America Spur Award Finalist- Best Traditional Western Novel.