My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today we welcome E.C. Ambrose to talk about how the power of hiking in the rain relates to Elisha Rex.
In addition to being a novelist, I am also an adventure guide, and it was this second career which led me to a surprising super-power, one which, as a child, I would never have dreamed of possessing: hiking in the rain.
One of the great joys of being a grown-up, and a self-employed one at that, is, in most cases, I can do whatever I want — or choose not to do it, and most of the time, it works out just fine. As a child, I had a great aversion to rain: I would hide in the toybox to avoid having to go out in the rain. But as an adventure guide, hiding in the toybox, no matter how appealing it sounds, is simply no longer an option. Adventure Camp doesn’t stay inside when it rains.
Writing the third book in an on-going series is a similar situation. For the first book, Elisha Barber, the audience has no expectations, but for the third one, Elisha Rex, they do. Where before I could choose to write, or not, to work on this project or another one, now I needed to focus, to do my best to provide a great experience for my audience, in spite of any other challenges that might come up. Like reaching the middle stretch of a long hike, I needed to maintain my stride, and make the summit of that third book worth the struggle for myself, and for my readers.
Here is my advice for hiking in the rain, for those who hate water. And for staying the course through writing a series.
Step 1: Prepare physically.
Research the trail. Take practice hikes to build up to the big one. Research and test good equipment — we’re not just walking to the mailbox, we’re crossing the Presidential Range of the White Mountains.
Get a good hat. It keeps off the sun; if I spray it with bug spray, it discourages insects; and, most importantly, it keeps the rain off my glasses so I can still see where to go. A decent outdoor hat is, in fact, the contemporary equivalent of a Douglas Adams towel (although I have thankfully not yet met the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal).
To write Elisha Rex, I first made sure my workspace was ready, that I had my materials — both to write about, and to write with. It takes time to make outlines and spreadsheets. I researched not only what to write, but also tested different approaches to the work — these are my training hikes. During the process of writing the series, I moved from being a pantser to being a plotter, and having the outline as a trail map was a huge help to avoid getting lost in the woods.
Step 2: Prepare mentally.
I’m going to be hiking. Yay! In the rain. Oh. To get through this, and still make sure my campers have fun, I look for magic moments: The mist swirling over that mossy stone. The way the water, at a certain velocity and temperature, forms beads that bounce along the surface of the lake. The throaty echo of new streams passing through cracks in stone. The way the high pine forest now smells like Christmas.
For Elisha Rex, I did what I could to eliminate excuses that might stand in my way. One of the special challenges of writing a series is maintaining enthusiasm for a project I’ve been working on for years. When I hit a hard patch, it’s easy to get distracted and think of many other things I’d rather do, shiny new ideas or characters I want to share adventures with. Focusing on the small joys of writing Elisha helped me to stay excited about this book. I also meditated on the moments in the book I was keenly excited to write — the “candy bar” scenes I hope my readers will enjoy as much as I did.
Step 3: Understand that the trail will change.
In the White Mountains, “hiking trail” is a synonym for “dry stream bed.” Unless it is raining, in which case, it is a synonym for “waterfall.” Some days, I cross the stream confidently, with a hiking stick for balance. Other days, I scoot myself ignominiously across a damp log, several feet above the spray, just praying to make it to the other side. Bilbo Baggins famously pointed out that adventures are not all pony rides in May sunshine, but that’s what makes the reward feel so much greater.
I thought I could relax in the middle of the series — after all, they’ve bought all five books, right? And yet … the editor who selected my book got a promotion — and I was shifted to a new editor. The cover art was severely delayed, and the format of the book itself was changed. At several points, in the writing and publishing process, the path I thought I could count on became a waterfall, unpredictable, powerful. I had to stay flexible to find my balance, and believe that I could make it.
Hiking in the rain, like writing the Dark Apostle series, binds my ambition to move higher with a need for preparation — learning the tools of the novelist, seeking out the joy, accepting the challenges that will come, and feeling confident of my ability to face them. Cultivating the power to hike in the rain has allowed me, as a novelist, to simply shoulder my burden, and — even while I hope the rain will pass — lower my hat into the storm and hike onward, to the summit of the novel, and still feel energized although I know I have several more peaks ahead.
E. C. Ambrose is the author of “The Dark Apostle” historical fantasy series about a medieval barber surgeon starting with Elisha Barber (DAW 2013), and continuing in Elisha Magus (2014) and Elisha Rex (2015). The author blogs about the intersections between history and fantasy at ecambrose.wordpress.com and can also be found at www.theDarkApostle.com, on twitter @ecambrose or facebook/ECAmbroseauthor. Published works include “The Romance of Ruins” in Clarkesworld, “Carver” in Fireside, and “Custom of the Sea,” winner of the Tenebris Press Flash Fiction Contest 2012. E. C. works as a climbing instructor and adventure guide in beautiful New Hampshire.