Writing | Rage | The High Alpinist's Survival Guide

"Mount Everest is not a beautiful place. It’s a treacherous fucking netherworld, littered with the dead." — Brian Turner

Story Origins

The High Alpinist's Survival Guide

When I'm asked how I come up with my stories, I often use "The High Alpinist's Survival Guide" to describe my process (something first sparks my imagination, I find a second idea to play off it, and then I look for a third idea to spin everything into a new direction). I was originally inspired / shocked / outraged while reading about the 1996 storm which killed eight people on Mount Everest--specifically the reports of people walking past a distressed climber and leaving him to die. I couldn't understand how anyone could callously ignore a person in distress. I realized I didn't fully understand the circumstances surrounding this event (I've never climbed Mount Everest myself), but surely, there had to be some explanation.

So I researched my ass off. I read and watched everything I could find about Everest. I spoke to climbers and people who've been there. While what I learned explained the situation, it didn't dissipate my disgust. I learned joining an expedition costs tens of thousands of dollars but typically doesn't require extensive high-altitude experience. I also learned that above 8,000 metres there isn't enough oxygen for humans to survive, so rescue attempts have little chance of success (and with inexperienced rescuers, the likely result will be their deaths as well). And finally, I learned there are dead bodies all over Everest (I've been told one in twenty climbers die during their summit attempt).

But I knew I didn't want to write a simple story about climbing Mount Everest or about people's seeming inhumanity (better, in my opinion, to read real-life accounts from people who've actually been there). I needed a second idea, and this is what I came up with: what if someone was climbing Everest specifically to bring down someone whom everyone else was walking past? While that seemed kind of cool to me, I knew it wasn't good enough. I needed a third idea to spin the story into a new direction. And the third idea which came to me was the climber's motivation. I won't share Brian's reasons for climbing Everest (it's a huge spoiler and is what the story is all about), but I will tell you it was enough for me to realize I had something worth developing and that I'd better get my butt in my writing chair and start typing.

Prairie Fire

This story was first published in Prairie Fire (Spring 2014--Volume 35, No. 1).




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