When Ray Anderson, EEE ’63, stared hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, he had no idea he would end up writing a book. But when a storm hit three weeks into the trip, the darkening sky made him feel threatened and left him wondering about the safety of a lone hiker. It started a series of “what ifs” that led to his first novel: The Trail.
“I had written a few short stories, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt I could stretch this idea and theme into a novel,” he recalls.
Within five weeks, Anderson had developed a fictional “Q&A” for the cat-and-mouse thriller: What if there’s a fugitive walking the trail, wanted for murder? What if he’s a psychopath who preys on
women? What is he drops 50 pounds, grows a beard and is unrecognizable?
Though fiction, the novel brings a sense of authenticity because the setting is based on notes Anderson kept during his six-month trip. An avid hiker—he has climbed 67 mountains throughout New England—he kept records of aspects such as weather (including a harsh snowstorm) and the various towns he stayed in.
“There are many nonfiction accounts of the Appalachian Trail, but there hadn’t been fiction where the antagonist takes the reader on the whole trail. It brings a real sense of reality and authenticity to the piece.”
With “authentic fiction” in mind, Anderson has plans for a four-book hiking series, the next taking place on California’s Pacific Crest Trail. His favorite part of writing is getting into the complicated minds of his characters. Fortunately for Anderson, the hikers he met on his actual hike up the Appalachian Trail were a far cry from the deranged antagonist in The Trail.
“We were strangers, but we had this kind of instant camaraderie and connection because we were working toward a common goal. It was a wonderful experience.”
Speaking of goals, Anderson has proven that he can successfully retire from a career in sales (most recently at Coca-Cola) and live life as an author. His advice for those pursuing a passion: “If it’s what you want to do, never give up and you will persevere.”
-KRISTEN L. WALSH