BEHIND THE BOOK
A CONVERSATION WITH ERIK RASCHKE
author of To the Mountain: a Novel
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Erik Raschke received an MA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York. His first novel, The Book of Samuel (St. Martin's Press, 2009) was translated into Italian and nominated for the prestigious Printz award. His short stories and essays have been published in, among others, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, Hazlitt, De Volkskrant, and Guernica. His short story, "Winch" (Portland Review), was nominated for the the 2018 Best American Short Stories.
As a reporter in the early nineties for The Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph, Erik covered the bombings, shootings, and assassinations that marked the end of The Troubles. Later, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia and a certified New York public school working with lower-income students in the upper-Manhattan/Bronx area. He became a dual Dutch and American citizen in 2013. He lives in Amsterdam with his wife and three boys and teaches writing at The University of Amsterdam.
In Raschke's forthcoming novel To the Mountain, eleven-year-old Marshall vanishes from a remote juvenile detention center. His father, Jace, ascends the mountain to find his autistic child in this tale of sacrifice, hope, and the bond between father and son.
So far, what’s been the most surprising (and/or difficult, and/or enjoyable) part about writing your book?
I’ve always made a concerted effort to read stories to my kids. However, this time I read my novel To the Mountain aloud to my son. It wasn’t like reading Dr. Seuss. I had something at stake. He had something at stake, especially since the main character is based on him. What if he didn’t like the book or was upset by what I wrote? Luckily, he wasn’t. He really enjoyed it.
Tell us about your dream book launch party.
The Tattered Cover was the nexus of western literature when I was growing up. They suggested all sorts of new books for me to read and I saw all sorts of famous writers reading there. When my first novel came out, I did a reading at the Tattered Cover in Denver. All my old friends from high school were there. My English and journalism teachers were there. Then, I got to read in front of everyone. It was kind of a dream come true. I would love to have a book launch party there!
Describe one of your favorite places. What makes this place special to you?
One of my favorite places is the San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where much of To the Mountain is set. I took my family camping there last year and since they’ve lived most of their lives in the Netherlands, they’re not used to real camping. At one point, the battery in our car died. They were all freaking out, thinking we were going to die. We hadn’t seen anyone for days. My son and I hiked for a while and eventually ran into a hunter who got his truck and jumped our car. I think that made quite an impression on my boys. Also, one of my favorite family photos is all of us stuck in the mud in Glen Canyon wilderness. It had rained all afternoon and the canyons were pouring out trees, cows, boulders. The roads themselves were like the Green River, wide and silty. We were in the middle of nowhere and had to camp until the mud dried. For two days, my kids played in waist-high mud. It was like something out of the '90s Woodstock.
What are you most looking forward to in 2020?
A lot of things. My two youngest boys are going to higher level schools. They’re getting older now, so my wife and I have a bit more time for ourselves… a bit. I’m working on my next novel. After thirteen years, my son is finally reading and retaining information, so I’m really excited to see how that progresses. After years of being told as a parent that your child might never read, never retain information, there’s nothing better than, with the right teachers and methods, to see that he’s suddenly learning! Like so many parents in my situation, my biggest worry is what would happen if I could no longer care for my son. What are the options? A horrible institution, a relative cares for him, or he lives on the street like so many mentally disabled people. Learning how to read and get an education is just one step closer for my son having his own happiness and independence.
"Imagining Edward Abbey, floating down a river while missing out on his induction to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, is the exact vague, moral compass that I try to follow."
Why Torrey House?
I wanted to shift away from the big publishing model and go with a house that was relatable as well as passionate about books. I also know there is a large contingent of loyal readers down in that part of the southwest. In addition, Torrey House is dedicated to environmental conservation and I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Edward Abbey, more precisely his memoirish The Fool’s Progress. I read everything Abbey wrote, often twice. It wasn’t just Abbey’s environmentalism that attracted me, but his orneriness that represents something emblematic about the West. Even though I moved to New York and now live in Europe, I often reflect on a letter Abbey wrote to Irving Howe. Abbey had been invited to be inducted to the Academy of Arts and Letters, but demurred with: “I appreciate the intended honor, but will not be able to attend the awards ceremony on May 20th: I’m figuring on going down a river in Idaho that week. Besides, to tell the truth, I think these prizes are for little boys. You can give my $5000 prize to someone else. I don’t want it or really need it.” Even though his river trip really wasn’t until July, imagining Edward Abbey, floating down a river, while missing out on his induction to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, is the exact vague, moral compass that I try to follow.
Favorite Torrey House titles?
I’ve read books by Linda Hogan. I have several Torrey House books on my list including Monarchs of the Northeast Kingdom and The Plume Hunter. A book not published by Torrey House Press, that has made an impression on me, is William Eastlake’s Lyric of the Circle Heart.
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