ON CHOCORUA: The story behind the story

You’re the only one you need to prove something to.”

Sage advice. Difficult to live by.

It came from Jeremy Ford, best friend and hiking companion of Nathan Bartlett’s adored older brother, Neil. Nathan is the main character of On Chocorua, the first book of my new Trailblazer series. Jeremy offered this advice after college freshman Nathan had done an extremely foolish thing that had nearly ended his life.

Nathan’s first mountain. And mine.

Mount Chocorua

There’s a mountain in New Hampshire called Chocorua. It’s not terribly high—doesn’t even qualify for the four-thousand-foot club, which many hikers attempt to join. But it’s a special mountain. I know this, because—just like Nathan—I climbed it. And, just like Nathan, the first time I climbed it was for all the wrong reasons.

Jim Liberty Cabin; Summit of Mount Chocorua

All three of the books that will make up the Trailblazer series have personal meaning for me. I used to do a lot of mountain climbing, before an injury left me unable to claim any more peaks. 

Chocorua was my first. I went on to scale Madison, Liberty, Lafayette, Canon, Hight, and few other New Hampshire mountains. I struggled to the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine, the final peak on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve hiked in California, New Mexico, Acadia, Hawai’i, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. 

I’ll hike no more. But I still have the stories.

A hike without a mountain. A spiritual journey.

Na Pali Coast, Kaua’i

I experienced a spiritual bond with the universe on all my climbs. But the most affecting, the deepest connection, came to me on the island of Kaua’i. Even now, in my mind, I can plant my feet in the sand and on the rocks at Ke’e Beach on Kaua’i’s northwest corner, at the northern end of the Kalalau Trail. I hear the rush of the unpredictable, capricious ocean behind me as I gaze through the misty air down the Na Pali coast, where green-clad knife edges of land thrust from great heights and plunge into the surf. 

Hanakapi-ai Beach cairns

I remember the temptation of tiny Hanakapi’ai, a sliver of sand that descends into the sea so precipitously that people merely wading have been torn from the land by a sudden upwelling of waves and dragged helplessly down, down to depths from which there is no escape. Cairns on the sand, countless cairns, stand in place of the lost. “Don’t turn your back on the ocean” is printed on signs on most of Kaua’i’s beaches. It’s good advice. It speaks to the island’s mantra: “Things are born. Things die. In between, things are.”

In this land where life and death exist in harmonious conflict, Nathan will meet people who hiked along the Na Pali coast and then could not leave: the Kalalau outlaws.

Life and death on the precipice

Autumn blueberry bushes, Dorr Mountain, Acadia National Park

On Mount Desert Island in Maine, in Acadia National Park, the mountains are not especially high. But they have challenges and rewards of their own. As on Kaua’i, the land rises out of the ocean without providing much flat space for beaches. One beach is called Sand Beach because it’s the only sandy beach to be found. Here, though, the land is not covered in lush green, but in New England granite. The brilliant blue of the sky, the deep marine of the sea, the dark green of the pines all work together to take your breath away. In the fall, blueberry bushes clinging to granite outcroppings create crazed lines and patterns of brilliant orange and deep red, in startling contract to the grey-brown of the rock.

The Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park

One mountain I’ve climbed in Acadia, Champlain, has a trail ascending its western slope. At the top, I have looked down the eastern side of the mountain, over a terrifying descent known as the Precipice Trail, which has claimed the lives of several people who accepted its dare. Nathan will find himself here, on the precipice not only of the trail but also of his destiny. He will need to make a decision that will determine the direction his life will take. He will have to decide if the risk is worth it.

Through the character of Nathan Bartlett, my Trailblazer series will take you on a journey of life. Walk with us.

mountain trail.jpg

NAME THAT SERIES: Thanks for participating!

The good news: You had lots to say about your choice as well as about alternatives.

  • The bad news: Not everyone can win a free copy.

  • The weird news: The number of votes for each choice was exactly the same.

  • The surprising news: The series name will not be one of the choices I gave you to choose from, and I'm still giving copies away.

“NAME THAT SERIES” and win a free copy of the first book!

I’m close to completing the first of three books of a series featuring a young man named Nathan Bartlett. And I need your help to select a title for the series.

*** The first ten people who choose the series title that gets the most votes will receive a free digital copy (epub or mobi, your choice) of On Chocorua! ***

Trans girl uses girls’ bathroom. Sky falls.

Your average CINO (Christian In Name Only) digs into scripture just enough to figure out which verses actively conflict with their personal belief system. They disregard those, and what’s left is all true. And when one of the CINO's verses aligns powerfully with one of their phobias, and someone goes against it, all hell breaks loose and—well, the sky falls. This time, it fell on a 12-year-old girl.

Every life is a story. What's yours?

Each of us lives within a story: our families and other loved ones; our experiences; our successes and failures; our hopes and dreams. And all of that affects, and is affected by, who we are at our core.

Joe Biden wants to hear your stories. Do you want to share them with him?

SCOTUS to Gays: No cake, but you can eat some more s**t.

In the June 4, 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission), baker Jack Phillips has been exonerated for refusing to offer his professional services to all citizens equally. He now has permission to discriminate against gays. What else is new?

School kids ask: Am I the next to die?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... inalienable… This founding document for the rights of U.S. citizens tells us that the right to life is something that cannot be taken away.

And yet, in mass shooting after mass shooting, from Columbine to Sandy Hook to Orlando to Parkland and in far too many places in between, people claiming their right to bear arms are rendering the right to life moot.

The Smoking Gun

It took the U.S. a long time to force the tobacco industry to admit that their products were killing people and even longer to convince people that they would die from using tobacco. Some people still aren't convinced.

Guns in the wrong hands are more dangerous than cancer, so is it now the gun industry that has some 'splainin' to do? Well, it would do no good to put danger labels on guns. So we need to neutralize the virtual weapons the industry is using. And the primary weapon, wielded through the industry's proxy (the National Rifle Association), is money.

Denying Gay Couples Art

Cathy Miller of Tastries bakery in Bakersfield, CA can refuse to sell to anyone who displeases her, according to the California Superior Court, because it's "art," and that makes it free speech. According to this Feb. 7 Washington Post article, Judge David R. Lampe opined that “Miller is a practicing Christian and considers herself a woman of deep faith.”

Miller evidently claims to have faith in her God. But if that faith doesn't outweigh this commercial transaction in her own heart, it is paltry indeed. And she shouldn't look to the courts to strengthen it; she should look to her God.

Are you out of your mind? It's all about love!

There is a delightful podcast called WROTE, hosted by two great guys who write—and support writers of—LGBTQ literature. And they interviewed me!

The episode, "Are you out of your mind? It's all about love," was great fun to record. I just hope I don't sound as cray-cray to everyone else as I sound to myself. In my defense, Vance Bastian and S.A. Collins are very good at getting people to reveal their inner truths.

A.C.L.U. vs. the Spirit of the Law

The ACLU needs to get better at understanding law—not just the letter. It needs to understand the spirit.

As ex-ACLU board member Waldo Jaquith puts it: What’s legal and what’s right are sometimes different. 

Facebook Says: No Christian Cross Emoji

On June 9, in honor of Pride Month and not long after the death of the man who created the original LGBTQ Rainbow Flag (Gilbert Baker), Facebook introduced a rainbow flag emoji, available alongside the usual icons that appear for responses to posts and messages. I used it many times, myself. Before the month was out, a Facebook user began a movement to add another emoji to the list: a Christian cross.

Throwing Shade on the Women's Marches?

Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, likes to teach dog owners that preventing their dogs from focusing on trouble (a letter carrier, another dog, a trash truck) is to give her a sudden, physical distraction as soon as that focus seems likely. This might be a gentle push on her backside, or it might be a sharp tug-and-release on her leash.

After reading the January 24 New York Times article by Jenna Wortham, I think what I got was a less-than-gentle push on my backside. For sure, the tone of this article distracted me from the enthusiasm I have felt since leaving the Boston Women’s March.

This is war.

For over a decade, I've written novels about gay teens. I'm a cisgender, straight advocate, and I write these stories because I hate injustice, I hate fear-driven paranoia, and I'm distressed at the vulnerability of LGBTQ teens.

When I began writing, I was certain that I would not see marriage equality in my lifetime. I knew very little of the hell that trans individuals go through. I knew nothing at all about what intersex means.

And since I began writing, I have celebrated win after win after win for LGBTQ people.

Then came Trump.

Electoral College Needs an Appendectomy

Every day since the November 8, 2016 election, we’ve seen the number of citizens who cast their presidential vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump increase. That lead is now roughly TWO AND A HALF MILLION VOTES.