Yesterday I received a nice email from a reader named Colby. He talked about the detailed flora and fauna in THE PULLER, and how I’d been able to do so much research, and how he felt like he was there.
THE PULLER started as a short story, a long time ago. It was actually my first acceptance for any writing, ever. I was 24, and had been accepted into a Northwoods ghost anthology. Unfortunately, before the anthology could be published, the publisher was bought-out by a toy company.
Kind of a bummer.
At the time, this curbed my drive to be a writer, and I went on to do other things for a few years. But after some positive feedback in the non-fiction arena, I decided to brush off THE PULLER and turn it into a novel. I had a couple things going for me. First, I had years of experience hiking around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Along with that, I had an unbridled passion to tell this story. I had no doubts as to the location, character, and the concept. So I plunged into it. While much of my personal experience with the ecosystem was conveyed in the first draft, I had print outs of the flora and fauna of the U.P. at my side during the second revision. Beyond that, the manuscript received at least eight line edits. I cut 20,000 words before the book was accepted for publication.
At the time of acceptance, I’d been writing a lot of science fiction short stories, and had, in a way, veered away from THE PULLER’s style. This was a mistake, because the novel had heart. And in the end, readers pick up on that. They can feel the difference between being sincere, and a writer who’s just trying to impress other writers, like some out-of-touch 1980’s guitar wizard where the solo doesn’t fit the song.
And trust me, it’s all about the song.
There’s an old writing cliche called “write what you know”. This does apply, but I think it applies earlier on, rather than later on. Early, write what you know and are passionate about. The goal is to finish your work and find your voice. There’s no such thing as a novelist who didn’t finish a manuscript.
I knew a hell of a lot about the U.P. And so I poured that into my book, and worked hard to create what is known as “character as landscape” (or at least I hope I did).
The struggling moose herd is a real thing. The Huron Mountains are a real thing. Twenty Mile Bog is real, and so is the Black River. And in a way, the novel is a love letter to the U.P., the culture and the battered ecosystem.
I haven’t been back to the U.P. since 2009, and to the shack area since at least 1998. But it remains in my heart. And in a way, THE PULLER is me saying goodbye to my childhood.
I could write that this moment made me feel one with nature, soothing my soul for all eternity, making me question how and why the world exists, and my tiny and fragile place in it, and how "grateful" I am. But that would make me a pretentious (and bad) writer. The truth is, I was freezing my ass off and literally surrounded by moose. I wanted to get out of there for safety reasons… especially with grizzlies on the trails. Sometimes the curtains really are just blue.