My decision to write a novel was, in many ways, a leap of faith.
This is not to say that I didn’t put a great deal of work into it. In fact, quite the contrary holds true. I wrote, and I revised, and then I revised some more. Then, fortified by the feedback of an editor whose work I trusted implicitly—the gifted writer and instructor, Caroline Leavitt—I revised anew. But the essential decision to step away from my job at a youth arts nonprofit and devote myself to the chancy craft of novel-writing—that was the leap.
When I was a child, I wrote all the time. The same held true through high school. But somewhere in the middle of my college career, I became discouraged by the hasty words of a creative writing teacher, and that, as they say, was that.
Oh, I didn’t stop writing. But instead of stories, I wrote other things: grants, marketing pieces, articles for local magazines. Nothing, in short, that held my heart. And I told myself that this was the way it needed to be, at least for now.
Then one day, years down the road, someone at the arts nonprofit where I worked made an offhand comment. I can’t remember the specifics now, but the gist is still perfectly clear: They thought of me as an arts administrator, not an artist.
I didn’t realize it then, but the die had been cast.
I had three choices, as I saw it: accept their verdict, which hadn’t been meant unkindly, merely as a statement of fact; sulk; or prove them wrong.
That night I went home and made a commitment to building up my freelance editing and writing career, so that I’d have the ability to step away from my day job. I spent some time doing just that, and when I could support myself, I committed to writing the book that became The Memory Thief. I gave myself a year.
Mind you, I had no idea whether I could write a novel. More than that, I had no idea what I was doing. Rather than starting at the beginning and crafting the book in order, from A to Z, I wrote only those scenes that inspired me, terrified that otherwise I’d become overwhelmed and give up. But I never did, even when the right words were hard to come by and my characters’ motives elusive. It felt like my mind had been cooped up for years and I’d finally given it permission to roam free, to travel where it would. The words came and I let them, with a most peculiar sense of inevitable momentum. It was exhilarating, it was frightening, and it was, in a word, right.
The novel was done in nine months, copious research and all. I spent four months doing the first set of revisions, and revised a great deal more during the nine months that I spent searching for the agent—Felicia Eth—who would finally find The Memory Thief a home. And when it was all said and done, I realized that—somewhat inexplicably for a city girl—I’d written a book about high-altitude mountaineering, about love and loss, ghosts and mysteries.
I didn’t question my choice of subject matter when I was writing and revising, save to chastise myself for choosing something I knew so little about, a topic that required so much research on my part. But when the book came out and I began connecting with readers, their first question was often the same: Why mountaineering?
I had a flip answer for this, a surface answer. But when I delved a little deeper, I realized that The Memory Thief was really about following your dreams, no matter how much they might frighten you and no matter how great their power to break your heart. I hadn’t written about mountaineering at all—or rather, I had, but primarily as a metaphor—for a challenge issued by the self and answered the same way. I’d intended only to craft a work of fiction; but sitting in my office, holding the finished manuscript in my hands, I realized that I’d written my story into these pages—that, unseen and unbidden, my characters’ leap of faith had also been my own.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In Emily Colin’s exquisite debut novel THE MEMORY THIEF (Ballantine Trade Paperback Original; On-Sale August 21, 2012) one man’s vow to his wife sparks a remarkable journey that tests the pull of memory and reaffirms the bonds of love.
Deftly weaving together two strands of plot, THE MEMORY THIEF spins an unforgettable tale of love lost and found. Though she has lived with her husband Aidan’s adventure-seeking tendencies for the entirety of their relationship, Maddie has particularly strong reservations when Aidan tells her of his plans to summit Alaska’s Mount McKinley. When she eventually gives in to him, Aidan promises her, “I will come back to you.” Yet, late one night, she receives shocking news: Aidan has died in an avalanche. Confronted with grief, newfound single parenthood, and the realization that J.C., Aidan’s climbing partner and best friend, has been in love with her for years, Maddie must swim through her swirling emotions in a quest for understanding.
Across the country, Nicholas Sullivan awakes from a motorcycle accident. Unable to remember any part of his life to this point, he finds that his dreams are haunted by images of a beautiful woman and a young boy. Feeling as though these mysterious people may hold the answers to his own problems, Nicholas is driven to find them. Nicholas’s journey leads him to great discoveries—which not only change his life, but Maddie’s, too.
Poignant, yet ultimately triumphant, THE MEMORY THIEF is a unique and compelling love story that marks Emily Colin as a young author to watch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
EMILY COLIN is the Associate Director of the DREAMS Center For Arts Education, a nationally award-winning nonprofit dedicated to building creative, committed citizens through high-quality arts programming. Prior to DREAMS, she served as Editor-in-Chief of Coastal Carolina Press, and co-founder of Carolina Women’s Partnership. She also works closely with the North Carolina Arts Council. In Though Colin is not a mountain climber—she’s actually afraid of heights—she spent innumerable hours doing research for THE MEMORY THIEF: shadowing Outward Bound instructors as they scaled cliffs in Colorado’s Rifle Canyon, conducting reconnaissance missions in an indoor rock-climbing gym closer to home, and speaking with alpinists who took on Alaska’s Mt. McKinley—and lost. For more information, please visit the author’s website at www.emilycolin.com.