• Jan Redford

A pre-publication interview about my memoir: Which actor should play ME in the movie?!

What is the working title of your book?

End of the Rope is the title of the memoir I’ve completed, but the working title was Leaving Limbo. I’ve also had several wacky titles: Between a Rock and a Hard Man, Taking Life By The Balls, Staggering Upward. You can see why they didn’t stick.


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve always managed to find trouble, even in the most innocuous of places or situations. Most of my adventures are more fun to write about than to live through, so I started a series of light, funny stories about climbing rescues, whitewater kayaking near-death experiences, and other risky outdoor epics. But the more I wrote, the deeper I went, until I found myself getting closer and closer to the why, through my explorations of the what. So my short stories eventually evolved into a longer narrative. Two, in fact.


What genre does your book fall under?

Narrative non-fiction or memoir. Though it began as a climbing memoir it has developed into a narrative about a woman who confronts her fear both in the mountains and in relationships to finally take control of her life.


Which actor would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

How do you choose an actor to play yourself? I first thought of Ellen Page for my younger narrator because she’s my height, 5’2”, dark-haired, tomboyish and child-like, but everyone I polled thought it had to be someone tougher. So I thought, maybe Winona Ryder? Kristen Stewart? Hmmmm….. Can I come back and change my mind?

For the narrator’s husband, it really should be a younger Robert Redford – there’s a strong physical resemblance in real life. But if I had to go with someone younger, it’d be Aaron Eckhart: good looking, blond, wiry, flinty, remote, a bit broody…. I could see him as a logger; he’d look cute in grey Stanfields and orange suspenders.


What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Soon after her boyfriend’s death in an avalanche, a feisty young climber gets pregnant with a hard-edged Himalayan alpinist and entangled in a tumultuous marriage that threatens to stifle her spirit unless she can find a way back to herself.


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

In early October, I queried a Toronto agent who read the first chapter and requested the whole manuscript. I take that as a good sign, but I’m still waiting. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll keep sending out queries – I’m just at the beginning of that process – but I won’t self-publish.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

That’s complicated. I crafted my first chapter, The Pink Wedding Dress, back in 2007. I wrote a few chapters from that point forward, then backwards to events that led up to the wedding. That was with UBC and The Writing Studio at SFU. A few people read it and thought my depiction of my ex-in-laws was ripe for a lawsuit, so I dropped the wedding chapter all together.


It’s safe to say I was close to “finished” the first draft after working with Betsy Warland in her Manuscript Intensive in 2009. But in 2010 I went to Banff Wired and wrote backwards again, adding several childhood chapters. In 2011, still struggling with structure, I went to Banff Mountain Writing, where it was suggested I take the childhood chapters out. So I set them aside and decided I would have two books, a coming-of-age memoir, (working title: Mountains From Molehills) and a “climbing” memoir: End of the Rope.


A few months ago I submitted End of the Rope to Random House, where two editors read the whole manuscript. Apparently they did like it, but they suggested I combine the two manuscripts, the young narrator and the older narrator, and resubmit. Which puts me back where I started.

Now I think I’ll just stick my head in the oven….


What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard, Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston, In Zainsville by Jo Ann Beard, The Turquoise Years by M.A.C. Farrant.


Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In part, incongruity in my life. I’ve always been involved in seemingly tough, high-risk activities: climbing, whitewater kayaking, ski touring, mountain biking. In my twenties, I tried to out-tough everyone: burping, farting, swearing, chewing tobacco, but my façade usually crumbled in a relationship because on the inside, I was soft and mushy, a scared little girl looking for protection. It boiled down to a lack of trust in myself, both on the rock and in relationships, which resulted in my not being there for myself. I gave up on myself. Needed an external protector. This often landed me in dangerous situations.

I felt compelled to explore the origins of my lack of self-trust, to get down on paper my attempts at integrating the tough chick and the scared little girl, the masculine with the feminine.

I see this incongruity as a universal problem, mostly for women. I wish I could say books like The Cinderella Complex are outdated, but unfortunately they are not. It seems many seemingly strong, independent women still feel that if they wait long enough, they’ll be rescued. Reading other women’s stories – short stories, self-help books, biographies, memoirs, novels – has been indispensable in my journey back to myself.


I really relate to this quote by Tristine Rainer in Your Life As Story:

"The unconscious story that has driven your life is now made conscious and you choose another."


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Here are the last paragraphs from a personal essay I wrote as I struggled with privacy issues in non-fiction. It took a long time for me to claim my right to tell my story, a story that’s entwined with my former husband’s. I still struggle with this issue. Probably always will.


…I know she [my daughter] watches me and thinks exactly what I did about my mother when I was growing up: “I’m never going to be like that.” So far she isn’t, but I wasn’t like my mother at first either. I drank, smoked cigarettes and dope, cursed, refused to shave my legs, chewed tobacco, and got into high-risk sports like rock climbing and whitewater kayaking. But then I got pregnant, married a drinker just like my dad, and tried to stifle my stories. Just like my mother. I didn’t have her history to guide me because she, too, was worried about what other people would think.

So when things got really bad in my marriage, when all I wanted was for my husband to leave physical bruises so I could leave, I went to other women for stories. I wasn’t looking for pretty stories. I wanted to hear messy, ugly, honest secrets. I wanted to hear from women who sometimes felt they would smother their kids if they didn’t shut up, who fantasized about their husband getting squished under a tree at work, who felt ill when they felt his breath on their neck in the middle of the night. Brave women like Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, Anne Lamott. Women who got out in spite of their fear. Or never got in.

Maybe, as other women have passed along their stories, I can pass along mine. Tristine Rainer says, “…yours may be the words that relieve another’s isolation, that open a door to understanding, that influence the course of another’s path.” Maybe in sharing my message, I can apply it to my own life: Don’t wait for permission: to grow, to leave, to speak, to write your story. Don’t hinge your life on approval. It’ll never come.

Sometimes I play that little head game with myself, the “what’s the worst that could happen” scenario (trying not to think of that author whose ex-husband committed suicide). Really, the worst that could happen is: I could piss off my ex-husband, receive a few nasty emails and phone calls, feel a tad self-conscious when I go back to my hometown. But it’s unlikely anyone’s going to kill themselves.

At the rate I’m going, there’s a chance that everyone in my book will be dead before I finish this manuscript anyway, but just in case, I’m ready to use all the standard tricks. For sure I’ll change character names, and maybe place names. Write a full-page disclaimer. When I’m feeling particularly gutless, I consider disguising my ex-husband with a mustache, creating composite characters, using a pseudonym, publishing as fiction. Even publishing posthumously. But what message would I be giving my kids?

I want to share my stories. I want to read them into a microphone. I want to see them in print. I want my kids to see them in print. I still don’t want my ex to see them in print, but if I allow him to sit on my shoulder and play critic, if I allow him to silence me, it’s as though I never got out. This is my story. In all its messy glory.

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