Testing Your Mental and Physical Endurance

View of the Grand CanyonJust read an interesting article that reported more people were rescued at Grand Canyon National Park in 2014 than in any year since 2001. The Associated Press story reported that a half million dollars was spent on 324 search and rescue operations at Grand Canyon National Park in 2014. According to park officials the huge increase in rescues was due primarily to inexperienced and unprepared hikers attempting hikes that were beyond their physical capabilities.

Backcountry hiking is one of my passions. Technically speaking I’m more of a backpacking enthusiast than a day hiker. The Grand Canyon story interested me for that reason but also because it is one of my most favorite places to hike.

A couple of years ago I spent an entire summer hiking the Grand Canyon and the Kaibab National Forest that surrounds the park. There is so much to love about the Grand Canyon ― the scenery is amazing, the ruggedness and vastness of the canyons just defies human understanding. It’s almost impossible to get your mind around it. The canyons are really to be experienced not simply viewed and hiking is one of the best ways to do that.

It’s easy for me to understand why people get into trouble hiking the Grand Canyon. When you stand on the South Rim near the Bright Angel Trailhead you feel almost irresistibly drawn to start down Bright Angel to the Colorado River a mile below. For some people the allure of the descent simply overcomes common sense and some are prone to overestimate their abilities. Getting down is quite easy. Getting back up, not so much.

The first time I descended Bright Angel Trail and then started hiking back up to the South Rim I quickly realized that hiking the Grand Canyon is very different from most other hiking experiences. Returning to the rim from the bottom tests your physical and mental endurance to the maximum. It is so demanding in fact that even the most experienced and physically fit hikers emerge sore and fatigued. I think backcountry hiking at Grand Canyon is a great way to test your mettle and learn heaps about yourself and what you are capable of achieving.

Another thing that gets people new to the Grand Canyon into trouble is not understanding there are two distinct environments at Grand Canyon. There is the rim environment and the environment at the bottom of the canyon which are radically different. Due to the elevation summers on the rim are typically quite pleasant and mild. Once you descend to the bottom of the canyon however, the environment is more akin to what you would find in Phoenix than say in Flagstaff with regard to temperatures. The heat can be brutal with temperatures that can range from 106-112 F (41-45 C) during the day with overnight lows only falling to around 80 F (27 C).

Here are a few tips I’d offer to anyone planning a Grand Canyon hike:

  • Realistically access your physical and mental abilities. Confidence is great, over-confidence can be deadly.
  • Take the right equipment and wear the right clothing.
  • Know and respect the terrain.
  • Adequate water and food consumption are absolutely vital to safety during any Grand Canyon hike, particularly in summer.
  • Tell people when and where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • Be safe but above all enjoy yourself.

Have you visited the Grand Canyon? Ever made the trek down Bright Angel, the South Kaibab, Hermit, or the Grandview Trail? If so, I’d love it if you would share your experiences at the Grand Canyon in a comment.

Wanderlust

Map of the worldEver thought about moving to a different country? I’m not speaking of going for a holiday but a permanent relocation, establishing residency abroad.

After leaving the military in my early thirties, by design I chose a profession that was not only something I wanted to do for a living but that I also knew would allow me to retire early with a pension. Twenty years later that became a reality. I relocated to the town where I grew up but hadn’t lived in since I graduated from high school. The first couple of years I stayed busy building the house I now live in, something I’d always wanted to do. After the house was finished I spent some time traveling. On a trip to Europe it first occurred to me that it might really be fun and interesting to try living in a different country. I then started do do some serious research on moving abroad.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my own country and have always taken pride in being an American. I just think it would be very interesting to live in another country and become immersed in another culture. I can’t see a circumstance where I’d ever wish to give up my American citizenship but of course you can become a legal resident of another country without having to do that.

When I first began thinking seriously about moving abroad Belize was the first country I considered and researched. Belize does offer several advantages for the American ex-pat. Except in some of the more exclusive areas, the cost of living is considerably less by U.S. standards. It’s on the Caribbean which means lots of sunshine and beach time. The people are friendly. In addition, since Belize  (formerly British Honduras) is a former British colony, English is the official language which renders it unnecessary to learn a different language.

As I continued researching countries I thought I might like living in, I eventually settled on Ecuador. The weather, the people, access to quality and affordable health care, the stable government, the beautiful scenery, and a low cost of living were the things I found most appealing. It’s a Spanish speaking country but I think learning Spanish would be an enjoyable part of learning about the culture.

There are of course heaps of places in Europe I’d love living but my modest pension wouldn’t be sufficient in any of the places there I find most appealing because the cost of living is actually higher than here in the U.S.

I had gone as far as to start planning a month-long visit to Ecuador to learn more about the country firsthand but just months before I planned to go I met a woman and we began a relationship so my focus sort of shifted away from moving abroad for a time. The relationship didn’t last in the end, although we remain close friends. After we parted I again started thinking about investigating a relocation to Ecuador but as luck would have it, I met my current partner and once again a relationship became my priority.

I’m happy to say that I’m exceedingly confident that this relationship will stand the test of time. Still, my current relationship doesn’t mean I will have to suppress my wanderlust. My partner lives in New Zealand at the moment although we are making plans for her to relocate here. That is her preference because she is quite keen to try living here in America. I expect however that as time goes by we will likely split time between the U.S. and New Zealand which is great as far as I’m concerned because New Zealand is such a beautiful country filled with some of the most gracious and friendly people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

My partner also loves to travel as much as I do. We already have a rough outline of places we want to visit together in the near future. Our last holiday was spent in Hawaii and she has already proven herself a fabulously fun travel partner. I know we will have fun wherever we end up.

How about you? Ever had the urge to move abroad? Or perhaps you have already done it. In either case, I’d love to hear about it and hope you will share you thoughts about living abroad in a comment.

My Approach to Writing a Detective Novel

Image of Raymond Chandler
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Most contemporary authors I expect are influenced by writers of the past. Without a doubt, the author I have been most influenced by is the legendary crime novelist Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), known for his influential detective novels like The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

Chandler didn’t invent the detective novel but arguably he certainly transformed hard-boiled detective fiction. Even though he wrote only seven novels in his lifetime, Chandler is perhaps second only to Dashiell Hammett as the most important writer in the genre. I think a 1945 article published in The Atlantic magazine says it best. “To the writing of his detective stories Raymond Chandler brings the experience and the skepticism of a newspaper reporter, the narrative gifts of a born storyteller, and a mastery of pungent American dialogue.”

To influence means to have an important effect on someone or something. If someone influences someone else, they are changing a person or thing in an indirect but important way. That is what I speak of when I say that Chandler influences me as a writer.

That doesn’t mean of course that I strive to copy his writing style. I’m working on establishing my own. In addition Chandler lived in a different era. If you read a Chandler novel today you will find the language quite dated because our language is in a constant state of change. Words and manners of speaking popular in Chandler’s day are out of fashion and antiquated by modern standards of usage. But I do try to emulate Chandler’s philosophies in writing crime fiction. Chandler made that very easy to do by leaving behind his ten commandments for writing a detective novel:

1. It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.

2. It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.

3. It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.

4. It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.

5. It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.

6. It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.

7. The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.

8. It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.

9. It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law…. If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.

10. It must be honest with the reader.

(Source: “Raymond Chandler.” Open Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2015)

I realize that readers have limited dollars to spend on books as well as limited time in which to read. Understandably book buyers want assurance that a book they are considering purchasing is a quality book worth their hard-earned money and time. Obviously a new or unknown author in this genre has no reputation and thus little credibility with those who enjoy crime fiction novels.

I feel one of the best ways to build credibility with potential readers is give them some insight into my philosophies and approach to writing. If you enjoy a good detective novel and decide to give me a chance by reading Come What May, you can be sure I have kept Chandler’s ten commandments firmly in my mind while writing it. My goal is that those who read it will consider it both money and time well spent.

The Deliberate Author

Image of notebook and penReading the author interviews at Goodreads is something I enjoy. Quite often in interviews of famous book authors you find examples of “the unintentional author,” someone who never had a plan or sometimes even any inkling that he or she would write a book. Then some catalyst came along that motivated them to write one or write several.

It didn’t happen that way for me. I purposefully chose to write. I even intentionally chose a profession quite early in life on the basis that it would allow me to retire early so that I would have the time to write.

I’d wanted to write a book since my childhood, mostly I think because my love for books instilled within me a deep admiration for authors. When you admire someone it is quite natural I think to desire to emulate them, to be like them, to in a sense be one of them. To this day, a good many of the people I truly admire are book authors. A few of them I even think of as friends even though I’ve never met them or even corresponded with them and perhaps never will.

Curiously it is far easier to identify the things that didn’t trigger within me the desire to write than the things that did. As an example, I’ve never had any intention to earn a substantial income from writing books. I’ve never had the ambition to become a famous author. Perhaps that is because I’ve always been more of a pragmatist than an idealist. While I like to think I can tell a reasonably good story, I’ve never had any illusion that I possess the talent and skill of a Steinbeck, a Faulkner, or a Hemingway. Not at all.

When I published my first book I had an ambition to sell a few hundred copies when I started, and then – when I sold the first thousand copies I was beyond thrilled. I never really expected to make any real money from it. But that part of it was just a bonus. What I found most meaningful was discovering that a good number of people were interested in reading something I’d written. That is what really motivated me to want to keep writing.

Perhaps I write for the same reasons that people like to read books. Recently I saw a poll that asked the question, “Why do you read books?” The top three reasons given were:

  • to learn something new,
  • to be entertained, delighted, and enchanted, and
  • to momentarily escape from reality.

American journalist, critic, and essayist Joe Queenan has written, “If you have read 6,000 books in your lifetime, or even 600, it’s probably because at some level you find ‘reality’ a bit of a disappointment.” That sentiment seems to square with the results from the poll I mentioned. It seems likely then that one reason I write books is because within the pages of a fictional story I too find temporary escape from a “reality” I find a bit of a disappointment.

Image of author at Pearl Harbor HI

A Welcome from Larry Darter

Hello and welcome. I’m Larry Darter, a crime fiction writer and this is my official blog. I also have a website which you may visit by clicking this link or by typing www.larrydarter.com into your web browser.

You may be wondering why I have both a blog and a website. Good question. Actually there are a couple of reasons. I’ll begin with a confession. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a web page designer. While I did manage to create a website that actually works, I wasn’t able to include a blog on the website as I had originally intended. Since I wanted to have a blog I was forced to create this one. I am learning more all the time about web page design and management. So who knows? Perhaps one day I will learn how to incorporate a blog as a page on my official website and this one will become unnecessary. But in the mean time I have somewhere to post my thoughts.

Another reason I have both a website and a blog is that I intend for each to serve a different purpose. My website is my official presence as an author on the web. It serves primarily as a repository of all things related to my writing. There you can find information about my books, book excerpts, and information such as newsworthy items and scheduled events related to my books. By visiting my website you can also subscribe to my monthly newsletter which I hope you will do. While the website will be primarily static and won’t change much from month to month, my blog will have regular infusions of new information since I plan to publish new posts here regularly.

While my website, as websites often are, is somewhat formal I want my blog to be completely informal. I want this space to be a cozy place where we can connect and hopefully become friends. While I may choose to write about my books here from time to time, that will not be the focus. Instead if you are interested, this blog will be the place where you can learn more about me as a person rather than as an author. For example you may learn here about my friends and family, You may have the opportunity to read about things like my other interests aside from writing and my vacations. I plan to write here about what I’m reading and perhaps you will discover here books by other authors that you might enjoy reading.

Just like on my website, I have provided a “Contact” page here that you can access from the site menu. You can contact me through this blog just as easily as you can by visiting my website. Whether you have a question that you can’t find the answer to here or on my website site or would just like to comment on my writing, I’d love to hear from you. You may also have your say by leaving your thoughts in the comment section at the end of any post here. You will also be able to read the comments of others and my responses where applicable. I encourage you to comment on my posts because I hope to connect with those who spend time reading the things I write. By commenting you will transform the posts into a dialogue and in my opinion a dialogue is always better than a monologue. I hope you’ll enjoy this blog! Thanks for visiting and thanks for reading..