Novels with Climbing


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Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - May 5, 2009 - 04:09am PT
I have completed a novel that in part orbits around climbing. The work has been edited, copy-edited and at present a couple of advanced reviews are being written. What I don't have is an agent or publisher. To stir an agent's or a publisher's interest, I thought I'd now guage the level of interest on this site. Besides a sexy cover, what would prompt you to buy a novel with climbing at its core? Do you think that mountain literature has an inherently narrow appeal or can it extend into a broader readership? Non-fiction dominates what is written about climbing. Why is this? Would you welcome a balancing of the scales to some degree? Past threads have covered favorite climbing stories; what would you like to see in future mountain fiction?

Berkeley, CA
May 5, 2009 - 04:29am PT
guage -> gauge

Following is a nutjob-approved checklist for good fiction. Heed it at your own peril. Please circle one (Yes or No) for each line:
Y/N : The book offers some meaning/message/insight/opportunities for reflection independent of the physical setting, the events, or the action sequences. In other words, are you just narrating a story or do you have something to say?
Y/N : Writing style and word usage is pleasing to read or enhances the mood of the story
Y/N : Plot is engaging to climbers and non-climbers alike
Y/N : Believable characters show strengths and weaknesses
Y/N : Climbing sequences and language are sufficiently accurate to keep a climber from guffawing, but basic enough to hold a non-climber's attention. For example, no Cliffhanger bolt-guns, but no need to offer a beginning aid course in climbing sequence descriptions.

In other words, make it a good book independent of the climbing; the climbing part is just scenery and action, or an opportunity for a metaphor, or a foil for man-vs-nature, or....

It's late; I'm going to bed. Burp.

Big Wall climber
San Luis Obispo CA
May 5, 2009 - 04:36am PT
Climbers don't want to read your book, because they've lived it.

I get your idea for a book. There is more than one book. You can record a random exchange in the C4 parking lot, and turn that into a whole movie.

My guess is, an outside guy wanting cheap insides, you are not the guy who does this sort of thing effectively.

You'd have to be on-site to get the best material. And live the life.

You either live it, or come off as a fake-oh.

You either play the hard crack climb, as it lays, or you aren't even on the score card.

100%, or be a lame-ass poser.

Camp 4 action: it's as good as it gets, for material. Live there, absconding from the Rangers, and get close into the vibe, there.

The Vibe.

Outlaw climbers are attuned to the Vibe.

This is the way a good journalist plays this card.

Anything else is just an affront to the guys in the Valley.

and, nobody gets hurt . . . . .

Social climber
wuz real!
May 5, 2009 - 05:39am PT
The proof is in the reading, can I get a copy?
Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
May 5, 2009 - 06:37am PT
Whoa Tom, as much as it may seem otherwise when you are there, the world's climbing actually extends beyond the Valley, though I understand much of your... thoughts(?). To make it sound real you have to live

"Anything else is just an affront to the guys in the Valley."

moving on...

I'd have to say for an end of the night post, Nutjob's on the right track, and brings up some worthy points.

Besides climbers on this site, we also have climbers that are published writers, so it will be interesting to hear (read) their thoughts on this.

Good luck with the book and maybe post an excerpt or two to give us a flavor of your work.



Big Wall climber
Calgary, Alberta
May 5, 2009 - 08:36am PT
I must have read a totally different post then Tom.
I never saw where Mark Rodell said, "I'm writing a book about climbers and climbing in the Valley.."

The one I read said "I have completed a novel that in part orbits around climbing."

Interesting though.. that all the bums in Camp4 are *gods* and there's not a poser among them.

Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 5, 2009 - 08:46am PT
Thank you all for your input. I was an active climber from 71 - 93. While working in Nepal I contracted a virus that took out my left eye. Since then I have put aside serious climbs. I was a climber of no importance. Not to worry; climbing was and is an important part of my life. I write now. I wrote when I was young and now work on it hard. Again, I am a writer of no importance. However, the novel that I have just finished is important to me and I believe will interest others, climbers and the lay.
The reason for my post is simply to discuss, with climbers, how fictional depictions of climbing and climbers have and could inform us about the human condition.
I am interested in what writings that have included climbing have enriched the understanding of the climbing game and of living. I am interested in what fictional accounts of climbing have left a reader with a feeling that the sport was lessened and made small and what was lacking.
This is not at all to promote a project. I will publish this darn thing somehow. I am in the midst of this project and feel that the novel is somehow getting less important due to the rings one must jump through to be read. I am just wondering what climbers want to read about reguarding what they do and what writing about climbing can and could bring to light.

Trad climber
May 5, 2009 - 11:02am PT
Hey Mark,

Keep it up, man! I'm a climber, and I'm always interested in how novelists portray climbing. Sometimes they even get it pretty right. (And sometimes...well, you know... Vertical Limit type stuff, and all that.)

But I think your post is great, that you're asking good questions, and that nutjob's input is pretty much the same thing I'd say, too. Stay encouraged, and keep plugging away until someone pays attention. Post up when that happens, okay? All the best.

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
May 5, 2009 - 11:37am PT
I assume you realize climbing isn't a hook for the general reader. Is it too late to substitute sex for the climbing scenes? They're both about 'sending', right?

Seriously, best of luck, this is a tough climate to get a book published in.

Trad climber
South Beach, FL
May 5, 2009 - 11:59am PT
Here's an unsolicited lead on an agent for you. Her name is Taryn Fagerness, she climbs hard and will at the very least give your manuscript the attention it deserves . Send a cover letter to her c/o the Sandra Djykstra (sp) agency. She is on the web. Mention climbing in your cover letter.

Good luck!

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
May 5, 2009 - 11:59am PT
You should do OK if it has bolt guns.
John Moosie

Beautiful California
May 5, 2009 - 12:00pm PT
I like books that give you a sense of a place, with believable characters. There are many places in the world that I won't get to visit, or if I do, it will be for a short time and so I wont get the full affect. So I appreciate learning about a place through a good story.

Part of the reason I enjoyed "Into Thin Air" is that it took me to a place that I will not be going to, at least in this lifetime. The ice field was amazing. ( Yes, I understand that many thought the book was self serving to the author, but I still enjoyed it. I can look past those types of things to some extent. )

Mountain climber
The Deep Woods
May 5, 2009 - 12:10pm PT
There are plenty of novels with climbing in them. Mountain and rock both. Take, for instance, Jeff Long (The Wall, Angels of Light) or Kim Stanley Robinson (Green Mars [the novella, not the novel] or Escape from Kathmandu) or even novels ABOUT climbing like Daniel Duane's Lighting Out or Looking for Mo. Or hell, even the Eiger Sanction.

Writing a book with climbing is basically a ticket to fail unless you're a good writer. Some of the passages in Jeff Long's books are just weird, like when the climbers are halfway up Half Dome in Angels of Light and start climbing a band of sandstone ?!

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
May 5, 2009 - 01:43pm PT
A good book has sex, intrigue, gets you involved in the charecters and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Kyle mills did this fairly well in a few of his books bhut it was dissapointing that he potrayed us a bunch of hard drug users. While many of us smoke and dring I have yet to meet a tweaker who was a serious climber.

The other thing that really bother me about his books was how much he dumbed down the climbing for the non climbing reader. That approach just makes it sound dumb. Keep it real and put a glossery in the back of the book so the reader can look up the words they don't know. Ever read a war story that has the hero fireing a shoulder held tube style anti armor rocket? hell NO! He cuts loose with a LAWS or an RPG and if you don't know what that is you look it up in the glossary. Same thing should hold true for biners and slopers etc..

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
May 5, 2009 - 01:44pm PT
Here's one I liked - check out "A Soldier of the Great War" by Mark Helprin. It's historical fiction about an Italian guy who enlisted in the Army and was sent into the Alps to fight in WWI. There is a great scene where he gets hoisted up into a hole they carved high up in a cliff for a lookout. They had two ropes hanging down to him, with a loop in the end of each, one for each foot. As he lifted one foot, the guy above would crank up on the rope a half meter or so. He'd stand up on that one, and repeat with the other rope and foot. All the way up!

Barcelona, Spain
May 5, 2009 - 01:49pm PT
[pontificate]A good novel needs to have someone's life change in some way.[/pontificate] Climbing can change your life, but I think that the only people that really understand that are climbers. So it's probably a pretty hard sell. Solo Faces by James Salter is not too bad, in a pseudo-Hemingway vein. I liked better some of his other novels that have no climbing, for example, Light Years.

For a page turner, the Eiger Sanction wasn't bad. There must be plenty of room for more of that sort of thing.


Social climber
No Ut
May 5, 2009 - 01:56pm PT
I've read Mark's novel. It's really well written. Mark is no poser...he's the real deal, as climber and writer. He'll find a publisher, and with a good editor his book will find a broad, receptive audience. Some of you posters are going to be embarassed by the assumptions you've made.

Follow up with the agent suggested in an earlier post, Mark. You'll get this puppy to fly, yet!



somewhere fairly insignificant
May 5, 2009 - 03:31pm PT
The Naked and the Dead has some good, desperate summit-fever climbing, and Mailer was no climber (and mainly a cook when he was in the army).
Captain...or Skully

Social climber
North of the Owyhees
May 5, 2009 - 04:19pm PT
I was just about to mention that one!

Social climber
Echo Parque, Los Angeles, CA
May 5, 2009 - 04:22pm PT
In Dan Simmons's "Hyperion" series -- 3rd or 4th book, I forget -- a lot of time is spent on a planet where people are living on mostly vertical rock. Lots of climbing-related action (and some paragliding too) that reads as though Simmons knows what he's talking about. Added bonus of it being some of the best science fiction I've read.
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 5, 2009 - 04:41pm PT
I like the suck up idea, Sully, and Piton, I won't forget to add a bolt gun. But perhaps I will first follow up on some other leads and ideas first. And I don't know if I can squeeze in any more sex, but I'll try.
The Naked and the Dead has climbing? I'll read it. I met Mailer here in Bangkok. Wish I had known, but I can see him on a wall with a BFH. And I loved A soldier of the Great War; in part because the climbing did not overshadow the story and the characters. Mark Helprin must be a climber. In his novel Winter's Tale, there is great comic climber who rolls onto a train that's going over Donner Pass.
But couldn't we use a Melville or a Dana...Two Years Before the Captain.
And of allegory. I read The Hunger Artist once in El Cap meadow next to turons and a scattering of dirtbags.
Of myth. Sisphus released from his endless task, yet cruel as the Gods are, they give him the desire to climb before they depart. Elated he begins his tick list only to find he cannot rest, in whatever he sees is a climb and is filled with ambition to ascend, even a pebble.
Is Sometimes a Great Notion about logging?
Normal people in ordinary settings.
Years ago, I read the short story: The Worlds Greatest Climber. Later in an AAJ, I believe, there was a passage, a belayer, bored, is looking at the granite before him and this belayer starts to notice these beautiful tiny red bugs. Climbing seems to allow us to see the upmost in nature. Cimbers often intentionally place them self in beautiful places. This too is part of our storyline.

Trad climber
Newark, DE
May 5, 2009 - 04:48pm PT
Maybe you could just ask this guy:

Seriously though, I have read them all. Great works of fiction they aren't, but they are all centered on climbing and a climber/protagonist and have sold pretty well.

Let's see, climbing, action, sex, yep that should do it.


A long way from where I started
May 5, 2009 - 04:55pm PT
I guess I should chime in here, because I know it can be done.

Parts of my first novel "orbited around climbing" and like you, I wondered if that would cause problems. In the end, I did find a publisher and the book was quite successful. It was the first runner-up for the Boardman-Tasker prize in the UK (1991?), and was shortlisted for a best first novel award in my native Canada. It was initially published in hardcover, but subsequently appeared as a paperback, was anthologized, has been serialized (in a Japanese magazine), and was also published in translation in five foreign languages. Never became widely available in the US, but did well enough in the rest of the world.

As to what would prompt someone to buy your book, well, there's no simple answer to that other than "because they think it will be a good story." And what one person believes will be a good story, the next person will believe likely to be garbage. Best advice I can give you is to leave the marketing mostly to your publisher (unless you think your publisher is doing something really wrong). And on that subject, don't try to tell your publisher that your work doesn't need editing -- that you've already had it edited. That will be an instant ticket to rejection.

And finally, on the subject of rejection: You will be rejected. Get prepared for it now. But don't give up when it happens. The world is full of wildly successful books that were rejected by sixteen agents or publishers before finally being picked up by the seventeenth.

Go for it!

And just to show I ain't joshing you, here's a scan of one of my proudest possessions:


Berkeley, CA
May 5, 2009 - 04:58pm PT
Fiction is a powerful platform for sharing some ideas, life lessons, and "wisdom" we accumulate in life. It lets you cut through the red tape of citing references, proving your viewpoints, and so on. Instead, you can focus on transmitting whatever your gut tells you, talk about bigger and more important issues, and the reader can decide for themselves how meaningful or important it is. And sometimes, you don't even have to have a specific point or pass a judgment... it is enough to share what you have and let others draw their own conclusions or make their own reflections that hold importance for them. Maybe the better books do a good job of just being a mirror for a reader's introspection.

But not every book has to test the foundations of your basic beliefs. Sometimes light and fluffy is good. It's a matter of taste, of mood, and consistency. It's nice for the first paragraph to broadcast what will be demanded of the reader... but sometimes it is also nice to be taken by surprise!

But really the space of good writing is so bewilderingly huge that nobody can wrap their mind around it. We can try to fit it all into categories that make it easier to discuss, but there will always be stellar exceptions that break whatever rules or guidelines or categories we create. This is where creativity and the human spirit shine through. Thank goodness we ain't all robots.

Berkeley, CA
May 5, 2009 - 05:03pm PT
Mark, just based on what little of your writing I have read in this forum thread, I like the way you think. The things you would call to the attention of a reader, seems like it would make for a good read.

Social climber
Vancouver, Canada
May 5, 2009 - 06:30pm PT
Mark , here are my answers to yer questions. Like Jello & Ghost I also write but , unlike Jeff & David ( who write real words ) , I draw cartoons. Some folks think what I do is funny; others think....ahh.....different.

So you asked a coupl'a questions:
" Besides a sexy cover, what would prompt you to buy a novel with climbing at its core? "

I don't like sexy covers. I think they're dumb. I want a cover that fits the novel ( like David's above - the plane crashed into the snow speaks to a major event in his story - which, btw, is excellent ) If it'sa novel by an author I haven't read previously, I'd like to get an idea of how the writer writes. Jonathan Safran Foer ? Or John Irving? A pulled-out paragraph printed on the back .....a well baited hook as it were.... will get me to open my wallet & haul up the VISA card.
So will reading that other climber-writers ( like Jeff-Jello ) think it's a good book. A quote on the front cover "Fekkin' Great Rippin' Yarn" ( Jeff Lowe ) will also encourage me to open the dang thing up to get an idea of whut might lurk between the covers.

"Do you think that mountain literature has an inherently narrow appeal or can it extend into a broader readership?"

Good writing is all that is truely needed. Or if yer Dan Brown ( DaVinci Code ) you can get away with crap writing but have a killer story and a total cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. God I hated that book. :-D

" Non-fiction dominates what is written about climbing. Why is this? "

Climbers love to be the main character in their own story. They love reading about things they've done and people they would have loved to have known or love to have been.

"Would you welcome a balancing of the scales to some degree?"

Of course I would. But I can only vote by buying books I think are good. Publishers have to believe in the book & a lotta times those guys are only lookin' at their bottom line. Especially now !!! Just try getting a publisher to look atta book that is both funny and about climbing. Oh, no way... climbing is very serious !

" Past threads have covered favorite climbing stories; what would you like to see in future mountain fiction? "

I want David ( Ghost ) to write another novel.
I want another book from Brit writer Ed Douglas.
I want to see what Paul Pritchard ( ex-Pat Brit now living in Tassy ) would do with fiction.
I'd love to see more graphic novels like what ( sadly, now passed ) Canadian writer/illustrater Paul Dedi was working on.
I'd love to see what Jer Collins could do with words ( or a graphic novel )
I'd love to see Mike Kennedy & the New Alpinist publish books.
What about the wimmen writers ?
Does MountainFilm in Telluride do a book fest ? It would rock if they did. THe Banff Book Fest is , well........oh nevermind.

Other unsolicited advice? What Ghost said. Don't give up. Margaret Atwood said a good writer has two things : A thick skin & a strong neck.

Best of luck to you & I hope you could post an excerpt or two from your book.

And to you haters posting on this thread : Fcuk off.

Trad climber
May 5, 2009 - 06:43pm PT
Ghost: I just ordered a copy of Deadly Vortex. Can't wait to read it!

A long way from where I started
May 5, 2009 - 06:55pm PT
Ghost: I just ordered a copy of Deadly Vortex

You did? Is that piece of crap still for sale somewhere?

Actually, your post reminds me of another thing I should have mentioned to Mark, and that is that while best-selling writers like Stephen King and Dan Brown are probably treated like royalty by their publishers, you can expect to be treated like a piece of merchandise, with about as much say in what happens to your beloved story as a cow has about how she'll be cut up and packaged. Case in point is the title Mooser mentioned above. I called my story Vortex, but the publisher decided to add the word "Deadly." I thought that was incredibly stupid, but my opinion wasn't really something they considered in their decision.

Which is not to say I was unhappy with my publisher (Hodder & Stoughton in the UK). Just the opposite, in fact. They treated me very well and worked hard for me. But once I had signed on the line that was dotted, control was in their hands.


Trad climber
May 5, 2009 - 08:38pm PT
So...there's no deadliness involved? Dang!! I'm sending it back as soon as it arrives.

chica from chico, I don't claim to be a daisy
May 5, 2009 - 11:40pm PT
Mark, Good luck with your book.... Sorry -I missed connecting with you in Chico. ;-(
Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
May 6, 2009 - 02:10am PT
I knew this group would pull through and offer some fine advice and insight.

Tami- you crack me up.
and I think you've got some gems in your post (fer sur).

Graphic novels-bring 'em on, these are becoming certainly more popular and they're real fun change...

Seems I need to add to my "to read" list.
Alpinist-publish! Yeehaw if...
paul roehl

Boulder climber
May 6, 2009 - 02:37am PT
There really is no such a thing as "mountain literature" or "climbing literature."

There is only literature.

The only writer that uses climbing as a background structure and then delivers a profoundly aesthetic experience is James Salter. He is a remarkable master of style and prose and with a simple unexpected, seemingly tossed off sentence he can break your heart.

"Solo Faces" addresses climbing only peripherally yet communicates that experience beyond just a sweaty palm adventure story or a reportage of tragedy. Salter exposes the human sole for what it is and explores the grave and constant in human experience. And he does it with sentences that aspire to the quality of poetry.

A great novel is waiting to be written with American climbing, particularly Yosemite climbing as it's background. The subject is perfect because within it are the elements of beauty and the sublime that define all astonishing works of fiction.

Who's going to do it?


Social climber
May 6, 2009 - 03:00am PT
Ghost - Ditto on Vortex. Seems they have it listed on Amazon as Vortex or The Deadly Vortex.

Tami - please write a graphic novel. I have always thought that would be great

Mark - When you get it published please post up so we can all buy it. Just don't do to climbing what Clive Custler did to diving.

Didn't John Krakauer write a climbing fiction??
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 6, 2009 - 05:38am PT
It is over a hundred, it has got to be, and the humidity is equal. I just had six contact hours with my students and my house is being remodeled. The noise, the heat and your ideas. I going for a walk. I'll post up later tonight, but for now...yeah Tami it is all so serious and as I think I said, Solo Faces is a gem.

Not here
May 6, 2009 - 11:08am PT
As a person who hangs out in bookstores, I say if the book is good people will buy it. You do know that people buy regularly books on the civil war/world wars. Just because they never experienced these events doesn't mean they can't appreciate them. Climbing could have the same effect as being a facinating backdrop, a stimulating catalyst for a great story.
Wishing you all the luck and more,

Trad climber
berkeley, ca
May 6, 2009 - 11:24am PT
Good luck; I can't imagine many things harder than focusing a storyline on climbing, yet keeping the activity itself neither sacred nor profane.

It might be a worthy experiment to start w/ short fiction, if not not black comedy, as some small element of gallows humor (even implied) must imbue any climbing tale.
scuffy b

Bad Brothers' Bait and Switch Shop
May 6, 2009 - 06:58pm PT
Mark, you pose an interesting question, almost invisible in one
of your, posts:

Is Sometimes a Great Notion about logging?

Wildly guessing, ten pages out of 300? And of those ten, they
are 25% about logging? No, it's about people, as you say.
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 6, 2009 - 11:24pm PT
A few climbing lessons, Basic Rockcraft, and a fortunate meeting that led to a climbing partnership, these got me off the football team and into the mountains. Mountain Mag.,The White Spider, The Savage Arena and many more non-fictional texts inspired me and fueled my ambition - first my ambition to get better, later to be great. In C4 I made many friends but there were hindrances to me fully recognizing the full potential of these friendships: my insecurities, fears, envy, lust and swelling ambition. These also filtered my full appreciation of the grand places I was climbing. I'd brought these aspects of my personality to climbing and they weren't going to go away just because I rattled up some jam crack or moved up a grade. Still, climbing was fun, and I must have sensed good for me. I didn't drop it, and added skiing. Slowly the rough edges of some of these negative characteristics wore down a tad. Friendships widened and deepened. My appreciation of place and the achievements of others ran through my soul more freely. Would this have happened if I had stayed with football or taken up golf or had become a surfer? Perhaps.

I believe the novel is well suited to explore issues of living, and living includes living with ourselves, living with others and with the land and water. Climbing is living, nothing more or less. It can amplify but it cannot create.Climbing was an amplifier I played my life through. What is interesting about climbing is the same as what is interesting about living. Reading, writing, climbing, living - all means to the same end - understanding.

Trad climber
May 7, 2009 - 01:06pm PT
I climbed with Mark. Starting at 16, the car took us to the hallowed spots, breaking the hold of high-school, home and for me church. Weekends and summers got spent in places that spilled out like movie sets, Gone on a road trip aiming for a mountain epic every week, and eventually for whole months at a time. Mondays could barely get out of bed, so sore after the first grade 4 or the first off-width,

A whole other life, with different places, friends, jobs, values. Sometimes we pulled completely free, with no return tickets, for a while...till the rest of the world came back into focus, family, real work, the wider world. Yosemite and the Sierra, the center, would shift, becoming a provincial backwater in my mind. So then to go back, enroll in college or get a job and get back in the normal world. For me it was always that (and still is).

Mark can write stories about it, I seem to be forever stuck commuting between the two worlds.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
May 7, 2009 - 06:17pm PT
If Jello's impressed, I am too.

Go for it Mark.
I wanna read it too!!!!!
scuffy b

Bad Brothers' Bait and Switch Shop
May 8, 2009 - 11:26am PT
I find the last posts by Mark and by TomT worth rereading.

I suspect that climbing is more suited to the development Mark
speaks of than, say, football or bike racing.

It's been said before, Tom, but you might consider posting more


Double D

May 8, 2009 - 12:06pm PT
Mark, if Jello endorses it, what’s not to like? Sounds like you’re off to an awesome start.

Personally I always enjoy books and movies that make it “real” for me… especially when it comes to activities that I’ve nurtured in my own life. I always use the movie “Point Break” as an example of making something real. The audience lived through the frustration of learning how to surf. Those of us who do surf could totally relate in a way that re-surfaced the memories of what that struggle was like. Then they moved into the “I get it” phase, particularly in the moonlight surfing scene. It’s all about the connection made which, in that case was the waves and the rhythm of being in sync with that environment. The main story line carried the excitement but the honesty and transparency of the actual sport came across in a very powerful way to both surfers and I assume non-surfers.

It’s not enough to write about the excitement of a sport, you have to really get to the core of the elation experienced.

Or… you could just use a bolt-gun and get it over with! (-;


Trad climber
May 8, 2009 - 04:23pm PT
I like Double D's thought. I like to relive climbing decisions- when to run it out, when to bail, when to hunker down in a storm, when to press for the top. Those are adrenaline fed moments, vivid in my memory, relived hundreds of times. I'd like to read about those and their consequences-good and bad . Mark and I got caught half way up WF Leaning Tower when we were teens, in a full spring blizzard. We were pressing on, but it was stupid crazy, down jackets (before poly) soaked to the core, lighting strikes wrapping our heads in white light, watching an etrier flutter away, a pin dropped by a frozen half mitt, and finally we gave in, back-nailing (back-flailing), and after touching the bottom, straight away driving out of the valley, wipers struggling to show us the way home through the rain.
Captain...or Skully

Social climber
North of the Owyhees
May 8, 2009 - 04:29pm PT
Yowza, Tom.... I can see it all.

Hard right rudder, Ya scurvy dog, into the waves!

Social climber
flagstaff arizona
May 8, 2009 - 06:09pm PT
david roberts wrote a novella titled "like water and like wind", and to me it is still the gold standard for climbing fiction. it's just a breathtaking read.

but, having said that, my guess is that if i were not a climber "like water and like wind" would have seemed unremarkable enough.

writing a really good novel that realistically incorporates climbing and at the same time would be be of interest to a general it even possible?

james ramsey ullman wrote stuff like "the white tower", did these books ever make it beyond a climbing audience? i dunno/

Social climber
flagstaff arizona
May 8, 2009 - 06:20pm PT
ok, "banner in the sky" by ullman was, like, a runner-up for the the newbery award in 1955. the newbery is like the national book award or the pulitzer for children's books. so yeah, it's been done (in children's lit, anyway).


A long way from where I started
May 8, 2009 - 07:21pm PT
writing a really good novel that realistically incorporates climbing and at the same time would be be of interest to a general it even possible?

Dunno about the "good novel" and "realistic" part, but there are a few "successful" novels with climbing in them. "The Eiger Sanction" might be trash, but it sold a zillion copies and was made into a movie...
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 15, 2009 - 12:45am PT
Some that responded to this thread asked for an excerpt from my novel, A Stance of Wonder. My initial response to this was that you can’t tear off a patch of a painting to get a sense of the work. However, perhaps this is not as applicaable to a novel as to paintings.

I’ll try to copy and paste a small bit from the final chapter. I don’t want to give too much background of the story, nor do I want to summarize the novel. I started the thread to generate discussion around fictional works that have and could use climbing as a background or as an involvement of characters within a novel.

But another weekend is upon us and perhaps you may enjoy a short bit of my writing to fire you up for a couple of days in the crags.

The narrator has linked up with the main character, Conrad Flowers, after a long separation. Both are now deep into middle age. Years earlier Conrad lost and eye and was disfigured in a climbing accident. He put down climbing but has now decided to give it another go. Walter is Conrad’s uncle and Glory, Walter’s love interest.

From Chapter Fourteen

Conrad called the day after I’d seen him at S.F. Peaks and asked me to meet him in Yosemite on the weekend. I wanted to talk but he said we’d have time later. Friday afternoon, after teaching, I got in my new 2002 Ford Everest and drove alone to the Park. The rolling hills that separate the coast and the Central Valley were green but turning tawny and the wild poppies were blooming orange. I turned up the music high, played Santana and the Dead and time rolled back. The ropes in the back were new. I’d bought Conrad a harness as a gift and I was on an adventure again. The rote work of classes, grading and student issues were sixty miles behind, a mile more every minute. I was getting younger. I stopped for gas and bought a thirty-two-ounce soda and a big bag of sunflower seeds and munched my way across the valley and was on the road leading to the park by late afternoon and I pressed to make it before sundown to see the last light on El Cap.
Conrad said to meet him in Climber’s Camp but when I roared through El Portal and past Glory’s shop, I saw Conrad’s truck. It took me a minute to decide to turn around. I thought maybe Conrad wanted private time with Glory and Walter but decided that I also wanted to see them. Glory had often confided in me about her concerns over Conrad and Walter was always a surprise. I wonder what he’d be like deep into old age.
When I entered the shop it was empty. There was nobody at the counter. Anyone could have come in and walked away with the store. I went back out and walked around back past old wooden window frames, a cracked toilet and a pile of used lumber. I heard Conrad and Glory in disagreement, then Walter.
I heard Walter,“It’s my project, you two. You’ll do it like I say.”
I turned the corner and stood looking at the three. Conrad and Glory were sitting at a picnic table and Walter was standing on a chair with a video camera filming. He was filming Conrad and Glory making arrangements. There were seven baskets on the table filled with flowers: one filled just with dandelions, another filled with California poppies, one of oleander blossoms. One basket held lupine and one of yarrow; another held purple thistle blooms and a basket of red clover buds.
Conrad saw me, called “Good, I hoped you’d see the truck. Come here and put your hands to this.”
Glory got up and using a walker shuffled a couple of steps toward me. I stepped forward and hugged her. Walter called her back, told her to get to work. Without turning the camera away from the table, he told me to sit down and watch and pick up what they were doing. They were sticking the stems of the flowers though large, boatlike false hellebore leaves, the long leaves cupping the blossoms. About a hundred of these flowered boats rested to the side, some held only one kind of flower, others were an assortment and this was the cause of Glory and Conrad’s disagreement. Conrad, in Glory’s mind, was using too many different assortments.
Conrad said, “When they float by, the colors are going to blend and who knows what hues will result.”
“Yeah,” said Glory, “it’ll be a mess.”
“Trust it,” said Walter. “Let it work itself out.”
Walter was filming the whole process. He and Glory had gone out and collected the flowers and this had been recorded and after the boats were ready they were going to release them in the Merced and film the releases, film them releasing themselves from the calm rotation of the eddy below the deck and then film them shooting through the gaps between boulders and when they got caught in the turbulence of rapids.
“So Conrad, you climbing again?” asked Glory.
“I am.”
“Why?” asked Walter. “Thought it was over.”
“It was, but I see it different now.”
Then I said, “It’s safer now. People put in a lot more bolts and the bolts are a lot closer together. Long falls are pretty much in the past. It’s called Sport Climbing.”
Conrad said while smiling, “Oh, I’m not going to be doing that. I’m going for understanding. What the rock or mountain gives up I’ll use. I’m going to try not to impose.”
“Sure, if there is a crack, well, you use it. But if there is nothing, then you have to knock something in,” I said.
“Nope. That’s my point, find out what is there.”
“But that would limit the climbing.”
“It would also open it up.”
Then Glory told us to stop yammering about stuff neither Walter or her were interested in, but Walter said there were common points. He said he was still learning what pigments would allow.
“Besides,” said Conrad, “the danger is very important.”
I understood what Conrad was saying but resisted it. I did not want dying to be part of climbing. I wanted the feeling of accomplishment, wanted the views and fellowship, but then, I questioned if I could have those without the risk.
We made the leaf ships and talk turned to age. Walter was into his eighties and Glory seventy. Conrad asked Walter if he was still going back and forth from Bishop to Glory’s.
“I still am an Eastside man but living in this canyon has focused my work. I get more out of little things, but I still need expanse. I have stopped going up to the Palisades, too many people. I go to the Whites now. I found a camp where there are bristlecone pines and I can view more than a hundred miles of the Sierra. It’s different. It’s dry, few lakes and because I’m up so high, the nights are cold. I see sunsets, not rises, but it fits. Old men don’t need as much water. Maybe I am turning into a mummy.”
“You have always been a dry old goat,” said Glory. “Now that the light is gone, can I make dinner?”
“I’m taking you out, and if you guys want, I’ll feed you too. Cedar Lodge, okay?”
“No, that’s okay,” I said.
“No, let’s feast,” said Conrad. “We got a climb tomorrow.”
I have a copy of the film Walter made of the flower boats. I play it and listen to the water sounds and marvel at the random play, circling at first, hundreds of them bunched in the spiral of the eddy they start from, looking like a single large spinning blossom. I watch how one or a group release into the major current.
When I watch this I sometimes think of a time when I was seven or eight and in a summer recreation program. The directors had had us fill out index cards with our names and address and we put a stamp on the card and tied the card to a helium-filled balloon and released them. We had a map and when a card was returned we would mark where it was found. The map filled without my card being returned. Watching Walter’s film brings back the hope that my card might yet be returned and reach me.
The next day Conrad and I drove into the park. I followed Conrad’s truck, his teepee poles in a rack on top of his truck. He pulled over in the turnout that was below Cathedral Rocks. He wanted to climb Braille Book.
“What do you think, good choice for a one-eyed man?” he asked.
I had done the route before and knew it was not too difficult, that there were many places to set cams or nuts. It was long and never really easy but it was far up a canyon so the hike would be tiring and the descent, equally taxing, especially considering my fitness. But I was excited to be climbing with Conrad and excited to touch real rock again. I’d only climbed in gyms for the past years and found fun in packing food and water. Conrad brought apples and oranges, celery and carrots. I brought a can of sardines and three quarts of water. We left our trucks at eight and it was still nearly cold. We found the faint trail that wanders up the canyon. The density of the forest blocked all the noise of the cars that looped around the valley floor and I could hear our footfalls, my breathing. Conrad walked a steady pace and, as years before, talked little. We startled a doe, and it cracked through dry branches as it ran from us. I put my hand on a tree and brought it back sticky with fragrant pine sap and this hovered around me all day.
At the base of the climb we roped up and Conrad led the first pitch. He did it quickly and only put four nuts into the crack, going thirty feet between placements and yet I was unconcerned; he climbed without effort, body away from the rock, always with three points on the rock while reaching with a hand or stepping up with a foot. Came my turn and I surprised myself with my speed, finding rhythm easily. After three rope lengths we rested on a small ledge.
“You know,” said Conrad, “when I told Walter that I should have visited, he said twenty-eight years isn’t such a long time. What do you think?”
I said, “He has a point if you are eighty.”
“I don’t know if you have to be eighty for it to make sense. You can do an awful lot in a year, and nothing over ten. Time might not make much sense.”
“I guess.”
“He said he wanted to sign over his land to me.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him to will it to an art department, give to a school.”
“Wouldn’t be easy. It is hard to give stuff away.”
“Yeah, crazy, huh. That doesn’t make sense either.”
It was a fine day of climbing. I had forgotten how I loved the whole deal. When we topped out we coiled the ropes, ate the last of the food and started down. Conrad took off his eye patch and it showed up as a clean zone on an otherwise dirty face. He asked me if I had time to climb the next day, Sunday, and I said sure and then he asked me if I wanted to try a new line.
“I felt pretty good today,” I said, “but I don’t know if I am up for putting up a new line.”
“It wouldn’t have to be hard,” he said. “I think I know of something we could try.”
Camp was cleaner than years before, organized and controlled. Better and newer cars were in the lot. I found an empty parking space next to Kris’s van. He hadn’t left the bounds of the Park in more than fifteen years, climbing most every day, reading in his van at night, making money when film crews came in, moving gear and rigging lights to vertical faces. Conrad found a space nearby and walked over.
“Hey Kris, how have you been?”
“Conrad, you back?”
“Just day-tripping now. Place the same?”
“It’s still rock and climbers. I solo a lot now. Lots of us are.”
“Going alone?”
“Not always. Sometimes a couple of us will go out but leave the ropes in the cars. I mean, friends are important. There are us and traditionalists and the rock gymnasts—the sports climbers. There’s room for all. Some guys are up on walls more than they are down here, twenty five days out of a month, up. So some things are the same and some aren’t.”
“That’s wild, twenty-five out of thirty.” said Conrad.
“You know, the Nose, what you wanted, was freed.”
“By who? When?”
“Lynn Hill, and she came back and did it in a day. Nobody else has come close, only her. Ninety three when she did it first.”
“It’s like that sometimes. Someone will second it but I’m glad someone got it, and it’s good that it is still a rare thing,” said Conrad. “Kris, climbing tomorrow?”
“Braille Book.”
“We did it today.”
“Want to do it again, sans cord?”
I heard this and jumped in right away and said no. Conrad and I were both out of the grove.
“It’d be a new route, wouldn’t it?” Conrad said.
“We did it today and you know we didn’t have any problems. We can do it.”
I looked at him and was angry. I had hoped that the years would have brought him down. I had wanted him to see as I did, to feel and fear as I. But here he was, willing and wanting to climb, again, a step or more, much more ahead of me. Climbing the Braille Book had me believe we were level and now, even with so much time having passed, Conrad was confident in a way I may never know.
“F*#k you,” I said. “I’ll see you around. I’m going for a drink.”
Conrad found me at nine. I was in the Mountain Room Bar, working my third whiskey sour, talking with some climbers who had found jobs in the park. Our talk was all in the past tense, past lives of the people we’d once been. Conrad found me and asked to talk outside. The guys I’d been talking with knew Conrad, remembered him and asked him to sit but he asked me again to come out. And I sat for a minute.
Conrad started. “Kris and I are leaving tomorrow morning at eight. You should come with us. We both want you to go.”
“Why do you always have to raise the bar, Conrad? No rope, Christ, it’s ten pitches, fifteen-hundred feet and all I have to do is get tired, and I will, get tired and misstep or panic and I’m gone. I am afraid just talking about it. Aren’t you?”
“No, and you don’t have to be either. I got tired of being tired of death. You could do that climb fifty times with a rope and never fall, never need it, right?”
“So, what’s your point?”
“You don’t believe in yourself, doubt yourself, even against the evidence.”
“Conrad, it’s a stupid game you’re pushing. You think everyone should climb without ropes? Get rid of all protection? You want to see me back off.”
“Not true. I’m saying each case is different. And this is for me too. I want this. I need the edge and I am not going to get it through doing tougher and tougher climbs, gymnastically more difficult routes. I can’t do that but I still can get closer to understanding.
“Climbing is not just about the moves. It is not just summits. I heard Walter say yesterday that a river is not defined by water. Climbing is the same. I think that the rope today blocked some of the experience, got in the way of us understanding the rock and the wind. And it got in the way of me understanding and knowing you, blocked me knowing my movements. All of it. And I am curious to go back and do it with you, with Kris and without a rope. I want to get it, to experience fully. I wonder about it.”
“Conrad, goddamn it, do you think I can do it?”
“I know you can, but there is no lock on living long.”

Three in a line, walking, maybe heard the same doe. Seemed hotter, the trail steeper and longer. Told myself I could back off at the base. They’d be cool, not tell, but I, now over forty, know I crucify myself most cruelly and others don’t hammer in the nails. Told myself it’d be a good way to go. Fall. I drank some water and Conrad joked, said I used to do this and then try to deal for his water ration. Three old guys going up and then we were at the base and my mood turned. I told Kris he didn’t know what I was going through, that he had lived in the Valley so long and climbed so long and for so many days, years, he had no idea of what I was going to do. He said I was right.
I went first. I had to. I was going to get ill if I did not move and so I took off and then after twenty feet of going too fast I slowed and ten more feet, rested on a small ledge. The moves were all clear and easy to see. Holds were solid. I moved with care and concentration and heard Kris and Conrad below. They were climbing and I took heart in this and continued to the first belay ledge where we could all sit or stand.
In the movies they say don’t look down. Whatever you do, don’t look down. But I wanted to and did. Yes, it did stir up reluctance and fear, but it backed off. The higher I went, the more I understood my climbing, what I could do and how to move. I felt my weight clearly and knew how hard I was squeezing a hold, how hard I was pinching. I never was aware of that before. I relaxed a little, didn’t use myself up.
I recognized holds from the day before, but definition was heightened. I continued to go first, Conrad next, then Kris. We said little, nothing about how to move, no suggestions. No. Conrad noticed the sound of the cliff swallows jetting by and said he only remembered hearing them in shady places. I said I could remember the taste of the carrots we’d eaten yesterday but it was like I was eating them right then.
We went pretty fast. Kris said we should rest, that soloing is almost always faster and there’s time to pause and check things out. When climbing with ropes the person who belays has this time, and it is meditative and relaxing. This day we sat on top of a big block wedged into the long corner we were ascending, an open book, tilted to eighty-plus degrees. We were in the shade and opposite were the Cathedral Spires. They were in full sun, striking, vertical arrows of granite. Conrad said he heard music. I didn’t and don’t think Kris did either but we kept it to ourselves. Kris told a story of soloing with Tommy Smit and Smit he said, his emotions ran out like water out a hydrant. First he was laughing and then yelling and laughing again, spat anger like the devil, all the while Smit kept climbing. Kris said they ran down the descent trail at a full sprint and it was scarier than the climb, afraid he’d smack or tumble but he said he felt protected by Smit’s energy, said Smit jumped over a five-foot-high boulder in a bound.
Conrad, holding a small pebble in one hand and pouring a smidge of water over it said, “So much depends upon lichen on a pebble, wet colors jumping beside calm white quartz.”
I said, “What?”
“Ideas spring from things, said a poet,” said Conrad. “The William Williams guy.”
It was crazy-ass sh#t that I heard on that block with Conrad and Kris, three-quarters up, a thousand feet up by eleven in the morn. Unreal.
They waited for me to start and I did after half a peaceful hour. Panic drew a cut line on me after a hundred feet off the block. The corner opened up and the route moved out onto the open wall. It wasn’t that the climbing got harder, only different and once this fear flared, I had to stop. Big air, just space down to the trees and the gravel at the base and I had it in my mind for a bit, that if I moved any way, up or sideways, I was going to fall. I was there for two minutes when I heard Conrad say, “Just one move up. Just that in mind, okay?”
I did move that one move, set my foot on a hold and pulling, stepped up. Then the next handhold looked bigger and I took hold of it and saw where to put a foot and I was again climbing. We moved out of the shadow and it was warm and the top was soon to be and I was almost sad that it had passed so fast.
On the next ledge I let Kris and Conrad get ahead of me and when they topped out and called down to me that I had only fifty more feet, I told them to shut up and get the hell going, I wanted them down the trail. I wanted to be alone at the top but they were there at the lip and saw my tears. Three old guys at the top of a rock, most of the day left and I, for one, thinking better of myself and them and the Park that I had known for years. Conrad was no longer my hero

Social climber
May 15, 2009 - 01:22am PT
hey there mark, say... i am a writer, but not on climbing..

i write the jake smith ranch series..

seizures, head injury and tongue loss issues... and about fraternal twins, and realtionships in overcoming...

no one wanted to publish my books, (ficiton)... but i eventually found and i will not give up...

until i can ever find a publisher, i just make my own, and try to advertise them... at least, it is a start for me, even if it goes nowhere...

i know i am supposed to keep the project alive and i have more stories to write, so i do so....

god bless and best wishes... keep on looking to publish your work... if you want to, you can also do an make your own store front, or, even pay for isbn, then and get it on

Trad climber
Mill Valley, CA
May 15, 2009 - 01:48am PT
I still own "Banner in the Sky" from when I was a child. I loved that book and read it so many times that I could still tell you the exact plot line. A great climbing book. And I was a little non-athletic geeky girl back in the days I loved and re-read that book. (Maybe a seed planted that led me to eventually tying in?)
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 15, 2009 - 02:13am PT
Sorry about the page layout. When I copied it onto this site, the indentations and other things came out different than how it is in the manuscript.


Trad climber
May 19, 2009 - 04:47pm PT
So, Ghost...I'm about a quarter of the way through your book - (Deadly) Vortex - and I'm diggin' it. Dude, you're a good writer!

A long way from where I started
May 19, 2009 - 05:03pm PT
Thanks Tom.

Once you've finished it, and once I'm back from visiting my dad back on the prairies, let's go climbing.

Trad climber
May 19, 2009 - 05:07pm PT
Well. . . let's just say. . . Rodell's first book BLEW MY MIND. . . so this one's prolly gonna be pretty good, too.



Trad climber
May 19, 2009 - 05:11pm PT
Sounds great, David! Have a good visit.

Trad climber
May 19, 2009 - 05:43pm PT

I loved this excerpt! Made my hands sweat. The emotions and fears are very real. Very cerebral.

Yeah man.

(Edited out fever induced confusion, carry on.)

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
May 19, 2009 - 08:24pm PT
Book + climbing = GOOD.

Bring it on!!!

May 19, 2009 - 11:41pm PT
Ditto the good comments on Banner in the Sky. It was more than a climbing book. Like to see your work too Mark, if Jeff Lowe is impressed......
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Apr 16, 2012 - 03:25pm PT
Better late than never, as books tend to hang around for years. I just read a line from a Robert Graves book, White Goddess, to the effect that
THERE IS ONLY ONE STORY. He's being mystical about myth. Chase that cat around the block, says the Mouse.
Tony Bird

Northridge, CA
Apr 17, 2012 - 10:55am PT
Climbers don't want to read your book, because they've lived it.

yea, kinda my feelings too. nonclimbers get attracted to climbing because of their sorry, dull, inactive lives. climbers climb. there is some stuff to be read, of course, but when i pick up a novel, i have to be attracted to the story. the story is all. if you're gussying it up with sex and climbing to make it marketable, maybe you should be in marketing, not writing.

i was a tony hillerman addict, but as a climber i found his novel the fallen man particularly disappointing. it begins with a dead climber discovered on shiprock in new mexico, which is off limits to climbing. great start, but hillerman did not know or understand climbing, and it showed. sly stallone also looked like a climbing idiot in cliffhanger.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Apr 17, 2012 - 11:05am PT
Like I said; gotta have a bolt gun.

Trad climber
Ketchum, Idaho
Apr 17, 2012 - 04:46pm PT
I've read Mark's novel and it's really good. I recommend it.

Trad climber
Jun 28, 2012 - 10:29pm PT
For those of you who followed this thread, this is a plug for Mark Rodell's novel "A Stance of Wonder." It is available on Amazon. He has worked hard on it for a few years. He got critical help from several of you, persevered and self-published. I ordered the paper version, just got it today. Very cool cover- has comments on the back from Dick Dorworth, Doug Robinson, Jeff Lowe and some cool illustrations from Pat Ament. Story is set in my favorite places on earth - the Eastside and Yosemite and Thailand where Mark lives now. Lots of climbing and insights abut the life we love. This new novel covers a lot of territory.

Mark was my main climbing partner through the 60s and 70s. We were and are best friends. I was a church kid and Mark - well sometimes I had to drag him out of bed at 6 am Saturday after a long Friday night and stuff him and his gear in the back seat of my Malibu. Saturday mornings were rough, but later in the morning he was rearing to go. He paid attention to the beauty of the places and people we encountered - his writing will take you there. Every Monday we dragged in to Los Gatos High from another epic weekend in Yosemite, Pinnacles or the Leap, totally spent, in time to sleep in class. It was hard to explain to coaches (he -football, me - soccer) why we could barely walk much less sprint that day.

Mark has that artistic impulse, and always writes from experience. He is a master of description and dialogue; there are vivid, beautiful and haunting phrases and images from his first novel that visit me from time to time. That first book is about a brakeman and trains, written after Mark's 15 year career with Southern Pacific as a brakeman. Mark use to write poems when he was on a train; I still have a file full of them. When brakemen got bought out, Mark took the money and went back to college and grad school at Cornell. He left the states many years ago to teach English in Thailand and Nepal, and now teaches literature and writing at a Thai University. He has lead a full life, traveling, skiing, climbing and can tell us in meaningful ways how it unfolded.

Mountain climber
Seattle WA
Jun 29, 2012 - 01:54am PT
One of the better pieces of climbing fiction is a Japanese graphic novel I read in high school called kokou no hito about a fictional solo climber named Mori Buntarou. The Multi-volume story culminates in a solo style ascent of the (then) unexplored west face of K2. The story was, interesting to say the least, the author actually spent the time to learn about climbing and it had a decent story line.

Credit: laughingman

Bootleg editions can be found on the net...

Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 29, 2012 - 08:15pm PT
Wow, I have not seen this thread in a long time. Reading all the posts again brings back a lot of memories. Three years ago I reached out to this group. Thank you again for your words.

The novel, A Stance of Wonder, is now available at Amazon books as a paperback. Putting it into a correct ebook format and then into a reasonable paperback format was tough for me. I may need to tinker with it again but for now, it is there. Cheers Taco folk.
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 29, 2012 - 08:23pm PT
Correction: I went to Syracuse not Cornell.
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 20, 2013 - 12:09am PT
My novel, A Stance of Wonder, has been on the market for a year now. Happy Anniversary. Thanks to all who have support this effort. Cheers all.
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