Hi, Cynthia! Valerie Comer here. Welcome to the International Christian Fiction Writers Blog! On July 26, Ruth Ann Dell reviewed your novel They Almost Always Come Home. I downloaded this as a Kindle for iPhone edition and really enjoyed it, as I mentioned on my blog back in June. Thanks for being willing to answer some questions for me.
VC: Where did the spark come from for this novel?
CR: In the early 70s, while still in college, my husband Bill began annual (or even more frequent) trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota or the Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario for wilderness canoe trips with whatever buddy he could convince to go with him as far from civilization as possible.
In 1999, he almost didn't return from that summer's canoe trip. Two days into the trip with our middle son, 21-year-old Matt, Bill grew gravely ill. Normally grateful not to see other canoeists on their wilderness adventures, this time the men longed for someone to pass their camp and notice the SOS written in firepit charcoal on a yellow tarp. Far from cell phone coverage and without the technology of a satellite phone with which to communicate, Matt and Bill were forced to wait out the illness and pray it improved.
But Bill grew worse. After five days of failing health, my husband slipped close to the edge of eternity with his son helpless to do anything but watch and pray.
The few canoeists who passed their wilderness campsite on their way out of the park were handed scraps of paper with messages for the Provincial Park Rangers to send help.
But even after word got to the authorities, a float plane was unable to land near where Bill lay dying. Strong winds prevented rescue. Then, as if a Divine Hand reached to hold back the winds, they stilled just long enough for the plane to land and my husband to be airlifted to a small hospital.
Doctors say he was within an hour or two of breathing his last.
He's fully recovered, but our whole family was changed by that incident.
Years later, my writer-brain began to ask "what if" questions. What if a woman's husband didn't come home at all? And what if, unlike me, she wasn't at all sure she wanted him to come home? What kind of pain would have made their relationship so fragile, and what lengths would she go to in order to find out what happened to the two of them?
Many of the scene setting details and a few key plot points came from my husband's experiences in the wilderness or my own, on the rare times I accompanied him on his adventures beyond civilization.
While Bill thrives in that environment, I'm happier with at least a minimum of human comforts--beds, pillows, air conditioning, and bathrooms with doors among them. It was easy for me to identify with Libby's discomfort and insecurities about the wilderness.
Empathy rather than experience helped me identify with her heart pain.
VC: Oh, wow. I can only begin to imagine what that must have been like for your family! What diagnosis did the doctors come up with for Bill? And has he kept on wilderness camping?
CR: The final diagnosis was never confirmed. He's an insulin-dependent diabetic, so a situation like that becomes dangerous very quickly. He's been on several wilderness camping trips since then. He took a satellite phone with him and called in frequently!
VC: That certainly explains the character of Greg Holden. How about you? Have you ever been canoe camping?
CR: I have been to the Quetico Wilderness myself on three occasions, trying to love roughing it as much as he did.There's no denying the beauty and awe-inspiring, deep silence in the wilderness. Many of those wilderness trips' most shining moments became scenes in They Almost Always Come Home.
But branded in my mind are also the swarms of insects, the desperate hunt for "squaw wood" to keep the fire going, the moments of midnight panic when a wolf would howl or a twig would snap somewhere outside our tent.
On one trip, fat snowflakes fell on us as we set up camp. Not a good sign for a person like me who is wilderness-challenged and prefers a healthy list of amenities to a pioneering reenactment. I wore my ski cap the entire trip--day and night--to keep warm. I huddled as close as I dared to the fire and reflected on the differences between me and a husband who thrives in that kind of atmosphere. We agreed on many things--the invigoration of the cool, crisp air; the wonder of pressing ourselves harder than we thought we could to conquer stretches of water or torturous portages; the sound of a loon searching for its mate; the thrill of taking our supper from the lake to the fire to the "table" within minutes; the hidden treasures of wild blueberries and a cow moose with her little one...if you can call hundreds of pounds "little."
I learned a great deal about my husband's tenacity on those trips and about my vulnerabilities. On a currently-running commercial for a husband/wife survivor show, the woman said, "It's times like this I'm glad I'm married to a cave man." I chuckle over that scene. I feel the same way. Watching my husband's ingenuity, problem-solving skills, and appreciation for creation warmed my heart...even when the squaw wood ran out.
VC: What did writing this novel do for you? Was it hard to relive the experience, or was it a cathartic way of moving on?
CR: My experience with my husband was different from Libby's with Greg on so many levels. But writing it with authenticity caused me to dig past my surface reactions to some of the "dailies" of life and marriage. Some readers have already commented that the book challenged them to look at their husband through new eyes. It did that for me, too. My husband's differences, his dreams, his disappointments took on a new quality to me after getting this novel to print. I hope other readers are finding, as I have, that on both faith and relationship issues, the story keeps talking long after the book is closed.
They Almost Always Come Home is the story of Libby Holden, who would leave her husband...if she could find him. When Greg fails to return from a solo canoe trip to the Canadian wilderness, the authorities soon write off his disappearance as an unhappy husband's escape from an oatmeal marriage and unrewarding career. With the aid of Greg's father and Libby's best friend, Libby retraces Greg's path through the wilderness to find out what happened to her husband, her marriage, and her flagging faith.
The Canadian wilderness--like most places for adventure--is both strikingly beautiful and dangerous. In They Almost Always Come Home, it is the scene of a heart-gripping drama that explores friendship, grief, marriage, faithfulness, and faith as well as the wild woods and waters.
Interested in reading They Almost Always Come Home? Pay close attention! Cynthia Ruchti is offering TWO copies. One will be given to a reader, anywhere on Planet Earth, who leaves a valid email address. One will be given to a Canadian reader who will offer it to either his/her public or church library, or promise to ask their local Christian bookseller to carry Cynthia's novel.
If you'd like to put your name in the hat, please add your email address with your comment before Saturday, August 14, replacing @ with (at) and .com with (dot) com. Please specify whether you qualify for the second draw as well as the first!
"Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws."
Cynthia Ruchti is the current president of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), which she’s served in various volunteer capacities since shortly after she became a member in 2002. In her role as president of ACFW, Cynthia writes a monthly “From the President” column for ACFW’s Afictionado ezine.
Valerie Comer writes contemporary romance set in British Columbia, Canada, as well as fantasy set in uncharted dimensions. Her day job is split between flooring sales and writing. She lives on a small farm with her husband, an energetic dog, two psycho kittens, several hives of bees, and a herd of Herefords. One of her favorite vacations ever was a ten-day canoe camping trip around the Bowron Lakes Provincial Park near Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. She has never been to the Quetico, but now she wants to go. With a satellite phone.