I spoke to a writers’ group in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after the publication at age twenty-six of my first book, a nonfiction guide to backpacking and camping in developing countries. I described the vagaries of finding an agent and publisher, and revealed to the audience my real dream as a writer. I told the group that while I was proud of my nonfiction debut, what I really wanted was to write and publish fiction.
I made clear in a know-it-all way—as twenty-somethings are wont to do—that while nonfiction was all well and good, I saw fiction as the only true form of writing.
An elderly woman in the crowd was kind enough to not put me on the spot during the Q&A se
ssion that followed my remarks. Instead, she confronted me afterward, face to face.
She told me she was writing a memoir about her family’s roots, and that she’d found her nonfiction work to be extremely challenging and wholly satisfying, even as she was aware that her manuscript—nearly complete after several years’ work—had little chance at publication. Why, she asked me in conclusion, was I disparaging the very type of writing I’d been so fortunate to have published?
I backpedaled clumsily and offered the woman my apologies.
In the years that followed, I poured myself into writing and publishing several more nonfiction books, one of which won the National Outdoor Book Award. I wrote each book with pride and enthusiasm, and always with the woman’s comments in mind.
But I always kept alive, in the back of my mind, the desire to write fiction.
Four years ago—twenty-five years after the publication of my first nonfiction book—Torrey House Press published my debut work of fiction, Canyon Sacrifice, book one in my National Park Mystery Series. I’ve written three more installments in the series since then, with book four, Yosemite Fall, scheduled for release by Torrey House in June 2018.
I have thoroughly enjoyed writing fiction these last five years—so much so, in fact, that I had assumed writing nonfiction was forever in my past. But when I ran across a fascinating, true-life historical tale while researching Yosemite Fall, I surprised myself by leaping at the chance to develop the story as a work of narrative nonfiction.
In returning to nonfiction after my mystery-writing stint, I’ve found tha
t the woman who confronted me thirty years ago knew what she was talking about. I’m relishing the challenge and satisfaction of writing nonfiction again.
Moreover, I’m leaning hard on everything I learned while writing my mysteries to make my new book as compelling and fully realized and many-layered as anything I’ve ever written.
After three decades as an author, it took my move from nonfiction to fiction and back again to recognize what the woman in Albuquerque tried to impress upon me at the very start of my career: it’s the writing itself that matters. When the question is fiction or nonfiction, the answer, I’ve finally learned, is both.
Scott Graham is the National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of the National Park Mystery Series for Torrey House Press. The fourth book in the series, Yosemite Fall, will be released in June 2018. Graham lives in Durango, Colorado. Visit him at scottfranklingraham.com.