I’m going to tell you a story. A story about mountains, and hiking, and storytelling, and the search for some sort of direction. It’s the story of how I spent a summer in Yellowstone National Park and wrote a short story about a down-on-his-luck private detective with a serious drinking problem.
The summer of 2002 followed my graduation from college. My younger brother and I got jobs working for Xanterra, the concessions company that operates food service and gift shops in a bunch of the national parks. We were working as table bussers in the dining hall at Mammoth Hot Springs, at the north end of the park. It wasn’t a particularly difficult job; we had difficult shifts sometimes, and were often very busy, but it was simple and straightforward and didn’t require much in the way of thinking. In our downtime, we hiked, played basketball and soccer, and worked on writing songs. I also spent a significant amount of time reading; that was the summer I got into Terry Pratchett, reading almost a dozen of his Discworld novels over those few months.
When I was between books, I’d spend time writing. I had a Mead 5-Star five-subject spiral notebook, in which I wrote poems, songs, and a short story idea I’d come up with. The story, which I eventually called “Missing Person,” is barely recognizable as the same story that will be published in December as the full-fledged novel The Invisible Crown. The basic bones were the same: woman comes into the detective’s office, hires him to track down her missing husband, he goes through a series of misadventures until he discovers the missing man’s fate, and…well, telling anything more would be giving away the story. Eddie was still Eddie Hazzard, though he was less snarky and more a misogynist jackass. The story itself was more of a pastiche of noir cliches and was set in some undefined time in the past. The story wasn’t great, but there was something in it that I must have liked, because I kept coming back to it over the next decade.
I don’t know where that spiral notebook is now, which is kind of sad. I’d like to go back and re-read the original story, the handwritten kernel of a larger, more elaborate work that will finally see the light of day before the end of the year. Things have changed, but Eddie is still around, and he has lots of new adventures ahead of him in the coming years.