Today, Karin Salvalaggio shares what Montana means to her and her writing.
London is a particularly frenetic place to live so it’s not surprising my writing takes me someplace quiet. My novels are set in northern Montana where the vistas are endless and an afternoon’s hike can take you well out of reach of any and all human contact. Tinged with nostalgia, my memories of America’s wilderness are drawn from an idealized version of my childhood.
I have fond memories of warming myself next to crackling fires and the sweet smell of wood smoke at dawn — of waking cold-nosed and cocooned in sleeping bags, the family dog at my feet, my brothers still asleep and my parent’s soft morning voices right outside. I recall that sense of eagerness to be the first up and the first out to explore the nearby streams, fern choked valleys, and craggy outcrops. That feeling of endless possibilities offered up by America’s vast national parks has never deserted me. Nor has the fear.
When I was very young I loved reading folk tales and ghost stories. They were foremost in my mind as I set out with my brothers to explore the areas that bordered our campsites. These tales all featured dangerous forests where dark unspoken things could and did happen. With a spell, something sweet, or a bit of guile, archetypal villains ensnared unsuspecting innocents who wandered from the forest path. Those same dark woods continue to inspire and haunt me. Although my books are set in the very real state of Montana the towns of Collier, Wilmington Creek and Walleye Junction only exist in my imagination. Inhabited by independent-minded people, these isolated outposts butt up against the same forests that loomed so large in my childhood imagination. These are places where secrets can sit alongside hard truths. To get lost in America’s wilderness is to truly drop off the face of the earth. If it’s winter they may not find your body until spring. If it’s summer they may never find you at all. Out there, the odd archetypal villain is the least of your worries. There are good reasons why these places are uninhabited and uninhabitable. If the wildlife doesn’t get you the weather soon will.
Karin’s latest novel, Walleye Junction, is published by Minotaur.