The Author as Bushwhacker

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Bushwhack: 1. To make one’s way through woods by cutting at undergrowth, branches, etc.

2. to fight as a bushwhacker; ambush.

(Random House College Dictionary, 1988)


In my adult life I’ve been a bushwhacker in two ways, first as a hiker and mountaineer, second as a writer, most recently of Remarkable Silence. In the former I pushed myself physically at the cost of one broken ankle, two frequently blistered feet, and too many tired muscles to count. Always enthusiastic at the start, by the time I covered the last false summit, the last blind turn in bear country, I’d force myself to analyze the situation through exhaustion that tempted me to give up, but led to the conclusion that I absolutely had to keep putting one foot in front of the other or let down my companions and miss the big finish.

Was it worth it? Every single time. Views of distant waterfalls, white as bridal veils, blue mountain lakes, or a hundred miles of spring prairie with Montana’s Sweet Grass Hills edging the horizon lifted me up, restoring me to a happy creature of the world of nature.

I’ve also been the writer as bushwhacker, starting with an idea of my destination, gearing up, finding a starting point that looks promising, and progressing with my critique group to forge a path through words, characters, and plot until I’m nearly at the summit. At this point the author becomes guerrilla-bushwhacker, working hard to ambush the reader with image and metaphor. Then come the rewrites and edits, the part I liken to putting one tired foot in front of the other until – the view opens up. The professional appearance of my published book releases the view I envisioned to my readers, the view that lifts me up, making me a happy creature of the world of literature. How I hope those who share it with me feel the same.

Karen Wills

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