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One of the joys of writing is getting into the head of characters who are nothing like you. Each of the characters in Blackout Trail presented its own set of challenges to write.
Anna, the point-of-view character, is a medical doctor who’s worked in crisis zones around the world. That gave her a very different perspective from my own, and I actually did a lot of research into the experiences of international aid workers. Mark is a devoted father and husband. His quest to reunite his family is the engine that drives the story, but we only see him through Anna’s eyes. He’s not the most open about his doubts and struggles, so it was a challenge to find ways for that depth to shine through.
The most difficult character to get right was Mark’s daughter, Lily. In some ways, though, she was also the most fun. Often, kids in adventure stories can be either annoyingly precocious or non-stop trouble magnets. With Lily, I tried to find a balance so she felt like a real seven-year-old. She does get into trouble or throw a fit sometimes, but she also has moments of bravery and clever problem-solving. She’s also at the core of some of the more light-hearted and tender moments in the story, and I think she brings an important element of light and hope.
As the blackout causes planes to fall from the sky, Anna crosses paths with devoted father Mark Ryan in the chaos at the airport. Mark convinces Anna to travel with him and his seven-year-old daughter Lily to their family’s cabin in remote Maine. There Mark hopes to reunite with his wife, and find a safe refuge from a society on the brink of collapse.
Journeying across a thousand miles of backcountry trails, they will face a daily struggle against nature. Their biggest peril, though, may come from their fellow survivors. As Anna grows closer to Mark and Lily, she resolves to see them safely home. But can she hold onto her humanity in a world gone mad?
Read an Excerpt
I had just enough time to scoop Lily up and pull her to my chest before the wall of water hit us. I’d been knocked flat by ocean waves countless times before, but this was different. The wave hit low, sweeping my legs out from under me and then carrying us downstream. The shoreline zoomed by, branches and debris swirling all around us.
“Daddy!” Lily cried, squirming in search of Mark. I tightened my grip, fearful of seeing her swept away by the churning torrent of water. I couldn’t see him either. Hopefully he was just upstream from us, in my blind spot.
The creek didn’t seem that deep; I felt my leg smack against the rocky creek bed a few times. I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t get my feet planted. The fast-moving current just bowled me right over every time. Once, we went under and came up sputtering. I worried that our backpacks would sink us, but Lily’s was small and mine surprisingly buoyant.
Over the roaring of the creek, I heard Lily cry out in terror. It was a heart-wrenching sound, but at least it told me she wasn’t drowning. I scanned the shore for something that we might be able to grab onto, but nothing came within reach.
“Anna!” Lily’s shrill cry caused me to snap my eyes forward. A tree had fallen across the stream, and we hurtled towards it.
“Hold on!” Her arms wrapped around my neck so tightly it almost choked me. When we were nearly upon the tree, I twisted my body sideways, trying to shield Lily from the impact.
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