As far as I know, we all experience “first love” and ultimately we all “come of age,” yet these subjects have become so cliched, that they are very difficult for writers to tackle with any hope of getting it right. We know in spades what it’s like to experience what our elders in a other era used to call “puppy love,” telling us it was immature, part of growing up (like falling off a bike), and ultimately wouldn’t matter.
We all know the territory, don’t we: the love that seems both fresh and infinite that for reasons unknown collapses without warning as thought it never happened. But we never forget and we could easily bore young people with our stories about it, but just in telling old secrets about long-gone moments, we would appear to be discounting what people in high school and college are feeling right now.
There’s always something heroic about the risks of first love, yet when it comes to fiction, we can hardly turn a boy-meets-girl story in a college geography class into and epic of star-crossed lovers such as Romeo and Juliette. It strikes me odd that such a common occurrence as first love boils down to something each of us must suffer alone when we experience its collapsing.
The world seems to end for us and while it’s ending, we’re mostly silent. From time to time, I read a short story or a novel where the author gets it right. I’ve tried to get it right–but the words never seem to match the experience. Perhaps they can’t because we’ve all been there and have our own stories to tell (should we ever dare) about what it was like.
Based on a true story (kind of)
That said, Mountain Song has kernels of truth in it. I’ve obscured them because the real life characters, one of whom was me, were two people who had a summer romance while working at a resort hotel. By itself, that doesn’t make for a compelling novel because we took long walks in the moonlight and stole guarded kisses while on duty, and there’s just so much that can be said about that.
Plus, the characters had to be very different than their real-life counterparts. Otherwise, one has to worry about libel and invasion of privacy. So, in Mountain Song, the characters’ diverse backgrounds provided the framework for the story. Bottom line, as was true in real life, the two main characters were poles apart in terms of upbringing, home towns, and lifetime goals. But neither of us had the bizarre, flawed upbringings of the characters representing us in the novel.
The people who knew me then, said the true story ruined me. It did for a while. Then I recovered (mostly). If you’ve read everything I’ve ever written about Glacier National Park (and heaven help you if you have), then you’ll know I’ve tried twice before to tell this story. The first time was in an experimental novel that made Finnegans Wake look like an easy read. The second time, I had a publisher who wanted the book turned into commercial fiction. That didn’t work.
I’m not sure whether I’ve gotten it right yet because, truth be told–and it can’t be–I’m not a fan of sentimentality, worse yet novels where the protagonist comes across as a whiner with a “poor me” attitude because, well, nobody likes reading that schlock and one way or another we’ve all had a wedding ring ready and waiting in our pocket for the right moment when things fell apart.