Safekeeping: a rant that became a novel, by Karen Hesse
September 11, 2012 | Comments: None Yet - Post a Comment
I’m usually fairly apolitical. I’m aware of the news but most of my work is historical and I spend more time gazing back into the past than I spend dwelling on the present or projecting into the future. Studying history is my preferred way of understanding the here and now, and of gathering a sense of where we might be headed tomorrow.
But the emergence of a certain party several years ago slapped me out of my apolitical stupor. I am no expert on the Constitution, but it seemed to me that certain members of this party held an understanding of that document even more flawed than my own. They appeared to believe whole-heartedly in what they were saying, but what they were saying often seemed closer to fiction than fact.
I suppose normal people, when they’re really concerned about something, talk with a clergyperson, or a psychiatrist, or they go to the gym. I write books.
But it was a long journey to find that story. And I mean that literally. In Safekeeping, the narrator walks about 250 miles. To understand in my bones what that might feel like, I, too, walked those miles. I didn’t walk them all, but I walked plenty of them, with my camera in hand, decked out in a borrowed pair of rain pants, my rain slicker, and an orange reflective vest. I was a sight to see plodding along the road, but it was the only way to survive through what turned out to be an incredibly rainy and foggy spring.
My husband would drop me off and then drive several miles ahead, waiting for me to catch up to him. He scouted out where the road was freakishly dicey, where the shoulders were impossibly narrow, where the intersections were strangely maniacal, where the fog was impenetrably thick, where the trucks had barely room enough for their own rigs, let alone space to make room for a soggy, solitary walker. My husband would then chauffeur me past the most terrifying places. For Safekeeping, more than for any other book I’ve written, I truly walked the character’s walk.
Though several friends expressed an interest in accompanying me at least part of the way, only two, writer, Liza Ketchum, and librarian, Sandra King, walked with me for short stretches of my long hike. Their company changed the way I thought about the walk and the way I wrote about it.
The photographs I took along the way weave in and out of the finished narrative and when I look back at them they summon up every dripping mile. I ruined a camera, a pair of hiking boots, and my appetite for walking in the rain. But in the end I don’t regret a single step.
Safekeeping is the story of a girl, Radley, who just wants to get home to her parents in Vermont. While she was volunteering abroad, the American People’s Party took power; the new president was assassinated; and the government cracked down on citizens. Travel restrictions are worse than ever, and when her plane finally lands in New Hampshire, Radley’s parents aren’t there.
Exhausted; her phone dead; her credit cards worthless: Radley starts walking.
Safekeeping is on sale September 18!