Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Deep Survival -- Which Story Lives, Which Dies, and Why

Loreth gets dirt time learning to mantrack.

Please join us in welcoming Loreth Anne White, author of ten novels for Silhouette. For readers who haven't checked out her latest book, you're in for a treat! Her newest series, WILD COUNTRY all take place north of 60, in the last frontier of the very harshest terrain and weather. What would it take for the characters to survive in such a setting? This Canadian author is going to give you a little peek into how she develop heroes/heroines strong enough to thrive, while human enough to fall in
love. . . .

Thank you so much RWTD for inviting me here! It’s a pleasure to cruise with you all, top down.

I’ve decided to float my new writing tool here today, and would love to know what you think. If you stick with me, I’ll be giving it away, too.

In setting out to write MANHUNTER, my November ’08 release for Silhouette Romantic Suspense, I found myself once again turning to an all-time favorite book I discovered while researching an earlier project – DEEP SURVIVAL, WHO LIVES, WHO DIES, AND WHY, by Laurence Gonzales – and it struck me that while this book is about the universal stages a human needs to work through in order to survive against impossible odds, those stages also mirror the journey faced by our fictional heroes and heroines as they battle though the increasing conflict in a novel towards their own happy end, their own resolution, their own survival. Against impossible odds and villains.

firing a .3.3 as a mountie watches

Turns out my best writing book is not a writing book at all, but one about why people die. Or don’t. Because to survive in situations where most others will fail, our protagonists must essentially reach those same emotional benchmarks that Gonzales outlines in his book. And our protagonists must possess those same qualities inherent in a true survivor. They are what makes a hero.

For over three decades Gonzales, a journalist, had reporting on accidents, outdoor recreation accidents in particular. And in an effort to understand why some people lived, while others died, he found “an eerie uniformity” in the way people survive against seemingly impossible circumstances.

In his words, from his website: “Decades and sometimes centuries apart, separated by culture, geography, race, language, and tradition, the most successful survivors – those who practice what I call “deep survival” – go through the same patterns of thought and behavior, the same transformation and spiritual discovery, in the course of keeping themselves alive. Not only that but it doesn't seem to matter whether they are surviving being lost in the wilderness or battling cancer, whether they're struggling through divorce or facing a business catastrophe – the strategies remain the same.”

He goes on to say that: “Survival should be thought of as a journey, a vision quest of the sort that native Americans have had as a rite of passage for thousands of years. Once you're past the precipitating event – you're cast away at sea, or told you have cancer – you have been enrolled in one of the oldest schools in history. Here are a few things I've learned that can help you pass the final exam …”

Each incredible tale of survival that follows in Gonzales’ book is a story worth reading in itself, because whether lost at sea, or battling cancer, or trying to descend 12-thousand feet cliffs of ice in a wrap-around skirt with no underwear and a broken arm, they’re the stories of heroes and heroines who start out reluctant participants in their own adventure, but they must leave their ordinary worlds behind them, and answer that call to action (a la Joseph Campbell in his HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES) if they are to live. And find a happy resolution.

learning how to snug up to a shotgun

I’m not going to bog the blog down by working through the survival phases here, but suffice to say the book is worth reading, and the writing superb. However, for a quickie crash course in what it takes to live while others die, Gonzales does offer 12 tips here. He notes that no matter the disaster a survivor will need to work quickly through a range of initial emotions from denial of the situation, to anger, to bargaining, depression, and acceptance (very much like the stages described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her book ON DEATH AND DYING). And once a survivor/hero, has accepted that no deus ex machina is going to pluck him (or her) to safety, he must devise a strategy to get himself out. And so, we have story. A hero’s journey. A lesson in survival, and hope.

Qualities needed to survive might be surprising to some. They include the ability to use fear, and not be ruled by it. And to manage pain. A survivor will also need to tap into humor, and see spiritual beauty around him in spite of the life-and-death stakes. Interestingly, humility is also a survival quality. Because too much confidence (or too little fear) can get one killed – see what Gonzales says about “Rambo types” – the Navy Seals and Army Rangers who don’t always make good survival material. A survivor must also be prepared to do whatever is necessary, and to never, ever, give up while there is still life.

Most interesting to me is Gonzales’ find that usually someone lives because they are doing it for someone else. For love. For that family member waiting for them to come home.

But more than anything his work drives home to me that a good story – a story worth hearing and re-telling -- is essentially the rhythm of survival. And a good hero or heroine must journey through those phases to get to the happy end.

I suspect it’s why story has always resonated with us, whether told by a wild-eyed sangoma around dancing flame, or on the pages of a book, or stage, or silver screen. And as author Toni McGee Causey pointed out in her moving post here, its why we read. It’s why we write. Because it offers hope.

What do you think? Is this how you see story? Or not? And, just for fun, and because romantic suspense/adventure is my first love, what is that you love most about a good romantic suspense read? And, is there anything you’d like to see in a romantic suspense/adventure novel that you are just not finding at the moment? Please post a comment for a chance to win a singed copy of MANHUNTER. And because I love Gonzales’ book so much and find his lessons so valuable – both in writing and in life – and because I want to do my bit to save the publishing industry this season, I will also be giving away a shiny new copy of DEEP SURVIVAL – WHO LIVES, WHO DIES, AND WHY.

Have a safe, happy and healthy holiday season all!


Cindy Gerard said...

Loreth - Welcome to the convertible. What an interesting post. You've got me very interested in DEEP SURVIVAL. Sounds like a tool a writer shouldn't be without. Since I also write RS, I'll be anxious to read the comments today.

Betina Krahn said...

Loreth, welcome to RWTTD!! And what a contribution! this is fascinating to me because I've writtten a couple of adventure type romances and really loved the adventure in them. This sounds like a wonderful book-- a must read for people who write pulse-pounders!

And you're so right about the HOPE. that's ultimately the most important gift we can give our readers. And for those of us who are parents-- hope is the most important thing we can give our kids. That doesn't mean we should encourage them to do crazy potentially damaging things just because they want to. . . but that we should teach them (by example mostly) that hope never dies and that reality can and does form around a desire or an intention. Hope is the one thing we human can't live without. And in the Christian faith, that's what Christmas is all about-- hope that we and the rest of the world can survive, improve, and get better with each passing year.

Christie Ridgway said...

Loreth: Thanks for riding with us today. I am FASCINATED by the sound of that book. I've got to get it, even though I don't write romantic suspense kind of stories (and when I put a suspense element in my plot, I sweat bullets). However, my first love when beginning to read adult books was romantic suspense and I still escape to them often. One of my fave is the Karen Robards book where the hero starts off as a dead body in the morgue...can't remember the title. And aren't they handcuffed in that one too? I love a survival in the wild story (probably because it's nothing I could see myself doing!)

My Writer's Attic said...

I love to read RS but I haven't written one yet. Maybe I will, who knows. But I believe DEEP SURVIVAL could be great research for any genre. There's usually some form of survival (be it from death or dismemberment or simply surviving the real world) in every story. Even if I don't win it I'll be getting a copy of DEEP SURVIVAL. Thanks for the new research material...LOL

Maureen said...

That was a fascinating post. I enjoy romantic suspense stories because of the fast pace and to see the hero and heroine overcome the enemy, whoever or whatever that might be.

Kylie said...

Welcome, Loreth! For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure, be sure and pick up one of her books. She's a fabulous writer and her novels are every bit as intriguing as her post today!

Toni Anderson said...

Loreth, excellent post. I think this is a great way to view story, especially RS, and I'm going to have to search out this book. It also makes me think of some of my friends, especially old dive buddies--and I have to wonder if there's a genetic component in there too. Interesting thoughts.

BTW. MANHUNTER is a fabulous story :)

lois greiman said...

Thanks for joining us here at Riding, Loreth. I, too, am really fascinated...wondering if I'd be one of the dead ones or one of the live ones. :)

Romantic Suspense is a kick, isn't it? I always love to see a humor amidst the angst.

Keri Ford said...

Hi, Loreth. Interesting post. What am I missing in RS? UH?? Nothing really. My pot is full there!

I like to see a little action and want my heroine to be able to step up and make herself known, but smartly, during danger instead of hidig behind the hero the WHOLE time.

Loreth Anne White said...

Thank you all SO much for the warm welcome. It's truly a pleasure to be here!!

Bettina, you're so right about hope. I read a post on agent Nathan Bransford's blog not too long where he posed this question: (and I'm paraphrasing), if an oracle told you with 100 percent certainty (and this oracle is always 100 percent right) that you would, for a fact never ever be published in the future ... would you keep writing? . Think about that one ... if you were told you'd never, ever, succeed at something you were pursuing with raw passion, would you stop? If you were told you would not recover from your illness, would you stop fighting? We need that hope, that dream, to keep going, keep living, keep the world turning. Fascinating concept, really.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Welcome, Loreth! Thanks so much for the recommendation--I'm getting this book.

Do you think this applies to survival of species as well as the individual? How about the hero who sacrifices himself for someone else or for the greater good?

Did anyone see INTO THE WILD--movie or book? Based on a true story. I don't want to spoil anything, but I thought the most interesting aspect was the viewer/reader's expectation of survival no matter what you knew beforehand.

Loreth Anne White said...

Christie -- that's the fascinating thing about survival as put forward in Gonzales' book ... its not only about how we survive in outdoor situations ... it's about surviving cancer, a divorce, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, a tense family situation ... no matter the situation, survivors all seem to possess a certain set of rather surprising qualities.

Loreth Anne White said...

Hi Kathleen,

Interesting questions. And yes -- I both read and saw INTO THE WILD, Jon Krakauer (INTO THIN AIR)is one of my all-time favorite reads!! I wonder if the viewer expectation in approaching INTO THE WILD was/is more about what we have come to expect from 'story'. We expect it's going to follow a format and give us a happy end?

I don't want to give any spoilers either, but some circumstances are going to kill you no matter whether you have a survivor approach or not. We still don't really know what happened in that bus in the woods, and I guess all gotta die some day (bummer!). But as Gonzales' shows, it then becomes the journey that is important, and it becomes a spiritual one.

Loreth Anne White said...

The hero sacrificing himself for another or for the greater good is a really interesting one, Kathleen. From what I understand, there's a certain part of the brain that kicks in when faced with crisis, a part that defies/overrides the usual jockey of logic that tempers/analyzes basic impulse before allowing the body to act. This is the part that makes clever people do some very stupid things. I think it's also the part that makes a father, for example, sacrifice his life to save a child before he thinks of his own children and wife who will be certainly left without a father if he takes that action. Does that make sense? Often you'll hear a hero in a situation like this say that he didn't think -- he just acted.

But giving your life in a premeditated fashion for the greater good of a whole is, I suspect, something quite different. That's true hero/martyr stuff, driven by deep philosophical conviction of some kind. Perhaps this is more about survival of a species, or a tribe, or group. When the group operates as a cohesive whole?

You've got the gray matter working now ... :)

Virginia said...

I love the romantic suspense for the suspense. The not knowing whats going to happen next. They keep you on your toes. They are real page turners and you don't want to put them down.

Toni said...

Loreth, thanks for the wonderful compliment... but more important, thank you for reminding me about Gonzales' excellent book as a resource.

Loreth Anne White said...

It was an excellent reminder of why we write, and read, Toni.

I see some hyperlinks didn't come through in my post. Can't seem to post them here in comments either -- sorry about that.

Loreth Anne White said...

LOL, Lois -- I suspect I'd be one of the dead ones :-/

Loreth Anne White said...

I'm interested to hear what people want out of RS at the moment, too Cindy. Personally, when I read I love to be 'taken away' to the author's world. So a very real sense of setting is something I love as a reader.

I also love to read books with 'insider' information that feels real -- forensics, unusual professions.

And I do love foreign settings, although I suspect I am in the minority there.

PS -- Your latest are on my Christmas list!! Can't wait!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hi Loreth! Just saying on the record that I adore foreign settings too. Wish the editors would buy more of them!

Now, back to the question...I adore RS because of that breathless sense of OMGoshwhatsgonnahappen that an author can take you too, that gets you so involved in the moment that you ARE the hero or heroine. I particularly love RS more than just suspense because you get an HEA, even if the H/H go through absolute H*ll, whereas straight suspense doesn't always give you that. :> I bought Manhunter and it's on my TBR list, as a prezzie for finishing this week's pages. Cannot wait! :>

Thanks for the great research book too - if I don't win it, I'll be buying it!

BTW, have you looked in on the rasta pups lately? they're up and about on their feet and playing now. Grins.

Loreth Anne White said...

Yeah on the foreign settings, Jeanne.

And thanks so much for picking up MANHUNTER!

It's what I love about RS, too ... that absolute thrill when the balance is just right. Nothing beats it :)

PS -- whhaaa, I've lost the rasta puppy link. Sheesh, I was almost kicking my puppy addiction!! Darn you.

GunDiva said...

I'm going to have to get Gonzales' book - another one that is amazing is "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker.

I also have to tell you how excited I am to see pictures of you shooting. I think that it's a skill that every person should have, whether they believe in guns or not. Knowledge goes a long way in keeping people safe.

Jane said...

Hi Loreth,
I love the action and the drama in a romantic suspense. I love not knowing what's going to happen next and eventually finding out if the hero and heroine beat the clock/villain to save the world.

Helen Brenna said...

Hi, Loreth! Chiming in late here, but thanks so much for visiting with us today. Your post is fascinating and an entirely new way of looking at romance novels for me. Thanks so much for the insight.

Into the Wild was both an amazing book and movie. I loved both for different reasons. It was one of the very few stories with a "sad" ending that really didn't seem all that sad to me. Went out and got the Eddie Vedder soundtrack too.

I can see I'll have to check out this Deep Survival book.

Oh, and hey!! I write adventure in foreign settings!! It's my way of traveling. LOL

Olivia said...

Awesome post, Loreth! And yes, I do believe that hope, that visualization of possibilities is what makes us shape ourselves and our reality. I think people who 'don't make it', whether out of a crisis or in life in general can't get a good visual of that hope, or don't believe in it enough. I think it's ingenious of you to apply survival basics to the hero's journey and come up with such a fascinating combination. But then you also apply it in your books, and that's what makes them such compulsive reads!

ddurance said...

I like romantic suspense because it keep you on the edge of your seat, but the romance tones it down a bit. You know without a shadow of a doubt that the two main characters are going to survive.


catslady said...

I liked the comment about the humor - without that I don't think I could get through life. I've always liked some humor in my reading or shows. I truly feel sorry for those that take everything so serious, especially themselves. Everything is more enjoyable if you can smile about it!

Loreth Anne White said...

GunDiva, thank you for that tip re: THE GIFT OF FEAR. I went to look it up on Amazon, and now recall I'd heard about it a long time ago. It's something I'd definitely like to add to my library. It makes me think also of how you can read the warning signs in a dog, or a bear, and know if they are going to attack, or whether you should back off an leave the area at once.

I have a LOT yet to learn about guns and shooting. But I agree with your comment re: education helping to keep one safe. The Mountie instructor we had is a real expert. We were lucky to have him. He's not a hunter (although many of the women on the course were there because of some kind of hunting affiliation)but he's all about the knowledge and safety. I hail from an extremely violent country and was a little gun averse initially, but after that course, I'm definitely interested in doing more shooting/courses, and am on the lookout. Hey, I wasn't a bad shot! :)

Loreth Anne White said...

PS -- GunDiva -- I checked out the photos on your blog and I want your life :)

Loreth Anne White said...

Hi Jane -- yes, I love the ticking clock sensation in RS too. I'm a thriller addict :) But I do like the added element of romance stirred in with my thrills.

Loreth Anne White said...

Helen -- you're right. It wasn't the traditional happy ending but it didn't leave me dissatisfied either. It felt right for him. I know what you mean.

PS -- just been poking around your blog and LOVE the sound of your storylines and settings!

Loreth Anne White said...

Olivia!! Thank you!!

Loreth Anne White said...

That's a good point Deirdre -- as a reader you expect that HEA, but the ride is in how they get there, and how the villain/threat is defeated.

Which makes me think of how I chuckle when people say they don't read romance because you always know how it will end -- the hero and heroine will get together, often with the promise of living happily ever after. Well, it's the same as reading a mystery -- you *know* the detective/cop is going to solve the crime, right? :) I have yet to see the cop who throws up his hands at the end of the book and says, oh shoot, well that one got away. Hoo Boy, we'll never know whodunnit now. *VBG*

Loreth Anne White said...

Hey Catslady!! Good to 'see' you again.

So true about the humor. Gonzales notes that while it may seem counterintuitive, even in the worst circumstances, the survivors he interviewed still found a way to enjoy their journey, or to laugh at themselves in some way. Or even play.

This is what he says on his website where he gives the 12 tips (Sorry the hyperlinks didn't work in the post): "Survivors find something to enjoy, some way to play and laugh. Survival can be tedious, and waiting itself is an art. Elder found herself laughing out loud when she started to worry that someone might see up her skirt as she climbed" (She was strand when the small plane she was traveling crashed 12,000 feet up, and she was wearing high-heeled boots, and a wraparound skirt with no underwear. Plus she had broken her arm. She was the sole survivor).

And: "Even as Callahan's boat was sinking, he stopped to laugh at himself as he clutched a knife in his teeth like a pirate while trying to get into his life raft."

Estella said...

Interesting post.
I love romantic suspense, because there is usually a roller coaster ride to the HEA!

robynl said...

hi and welcome;
I love romantic suspense because you get 'two in one' so to speak. The romance and along with it the suspense, anticipation, excitement, etc.

traveler said...

Romantic suspense is my favorite genre. I become enthralled within the story and cannot escape. This means I am enjoying the book and cannot let go. The action, characters and setting just provide me with everything that is great.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Interesting discussion, Loreth. Some of the old "man can be destroyed but not defeated" stuff. Absolutely agree on INTO THE WILD being uplifting, mainly because the relationship aspect--the lives he touched--is what separates human survival from others.

Just heard some TV talking head say, "Make no mistake--all politics is story." True. Without story, the talking heads wouldn't have a job. So interesting, when you cogitate on it. Thanks for the neat topic!

Deborah said...

Hi, Loreth! Romantic suspense is one of my favorite genres. You have the suspense (mystery, thrill) which is exciting in its own right, but when you mix in the romance ,you really have an exciting story. The thrill of the hero and the heroine working together to defeat the villain just adds more spice to the story. The promise of a HEA and the knowledge the villain will be defeated gives the reader double satisfaction. Thanks for such an enjoyable post!

Loreth Anne White said...

Thanks so much for the input on RS everyone!

Loreth Anne White said...

LOL, Kathleen @ all politics is story. Too true. I dabble with being a political junkie from time to time -- and I guess it boils down to the intrigue, the story.

Loreth Anne White said...

Thank you to all from Riding with the Top Down for having me here, and for the very warm welcome. I met Cindy in San Fran this past RWA conference (although I met and fell in love with her books long before that), and boy Cindy, you are fun to be around! Kylie/Kim I met way back when I first found Silhouette Intimate Moments (now SRS) novels and began submitting to them. And Kim -- apart from being a fabulous writer -- is one of the warmest, most candid, and helpful authors out there. She doesn't mince her words either :). It's been an absolute pleasure knowing you along this road, Kim. And I do hope its a long one. And the rest of you I really do hope to get to know you all better, and soon!

I sound like a sap or what? But it's true.

It's also been a real pleasure meeting everyone else here, and seeing some old and familiar faces. I've enjoyed your comments!!

I'm not gone yet (don't get too excited :) ) ... still early on the Pacific Coast, and will check in again later.

Until then.

PS -- wish me luck, in addition to chatting here today, I started a puppy adoption process. And there's this little guy I want real bad ...

Laurie said...

That's my favorite Karen Robard's book too. It's called Walking After Midnight with Summer & ex cop-Steve (Frankenstein). Running for their lives through the mountains of TN . I like it when you're continually surprized by who the good vs bad guys are. I like it when people seek revenge and even when they face immense odds...that they over come the obstacles by faith and trial & error.
I read one of your stories awile back with a missing body that a journalist goes seeking to recover in the Canadian Rockies...Into White??Loved it!