Two local authors ﬁnd success in world of publishing
January 12, 2012
ASPEN – What Anne Gurchick did in September of 2005 made little sense. Gurchick, 48 at the time, had just finished treatment for breast cancer. She was still weak and underweight. Her hair had been replaced by fuzz. She dreaded flying and didn’t love heat and humidity – it was just a year earlier that she made her dream relocation from Texas to the Roaring Fork Valley. So why was she getting on a tiny prop plane headed for the Gulf Coast for a rescue mission in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a trip that would undoubtedly mean physical discomfort, frustration and logistics hassles, not to mention being witness to horrific devastation?
In fact, what Gurchick did in the late summer of 2005 made perfect sense. All her life, she had been one of those people magnetically attracted to animals. As a kid, she brought home strays and would keep a wary eye on dogs tied up outside the supermarket. After moving to Colorado, she became director of the nonprofit Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter and a partner in Aspen Wags to Riches, the shop inside the local shelter. Gurchick – along with fellow pet lovers Bland Nesbit, Jan Panico and Melinda Goldrich – had decided to help relieve the suffering of the animals in Southern Louisiana. In the process, Gurchick found her own pain diminishing, not the predominant presence it had been for several months.
“Up until Katrina, every day had been a cancer day – appointments, treatments, scheduling. It was cancer life,” said Gurchick, an Old Snowmass resident. “Then we decided to go to Katrina, and the cancer life went away. It was all about saving the animals, surviving the trip. I got saved from the cancer life. When you take yourself out of a stressful situation and help someone else, you save yourself.”
Gurchick was not a writer. In Texas she had owned a business that rented out office suites. But she wanted to share her story of the trip – the shabby motels; the chaos at the Lamar Dixon Exposition Center in Gonzales, La., where hundreds of abandoned dogs were being held; the journey back, topped by the night when Gurchick and her mates smuggled nine dogs into their motel room – and she wrote a manuscript under the title “Katrina Dogs.” A publisher suggested that the story was not just the dogs – it was also Gurchick and her health situation. Gurchick went back to her writing and after a five-year effort has completed “Saved: Cancer, Katrina Dogs and Me.”
“Saved,” published by Transformation Media Books, comes with a neat story arc. The tale begins with cancer – first the cancer scare faced by Gurchick’s Rottweiler, Hannah, and then Gurchick’s own cancer, and Gurchick, in tying the two episodes together, illuminates the link she has to animals. Then comes the trip to Louisiana and series of dreadful incidents – the dogs in overstuffed kennels; the overloaded humans trying but failing to care for them; Gurchick encountering an old flame, which heightens the self-
consciousness regarding her condition.
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The gloom lifts as Gurchick and her friends round up 18 dogs to bring back to Aspen. Nine of them wind up loose in the back of a minivan for the return trip.
“The journey back was hysterical – sneaking these nine dogs into one hotel room, then sneaking them out in the morning one by one, people looking at us like, ‘How many dogs do you have in there?'” said Gurchick, who has a book signing and conversation at 6 p.m. today at Explore Booksellers.
The uplifting epilogue has the rescuers finding homes for dogs and, in one instance, finding the pet’s original owner and transporting it back to Louisiana. No surprise, Gurchick adopts one of the Katrina dogs, Stryder, a Rottweiler/Shiba Inu mix.
“He definitely would have died,” she said. “There were so many animals at the facility that if any showed any sign of aggression, they’d be put down. He was in a kennel with a ‘Caution! Do Not Go Near!’ sign, sitting in his own feces, snarling. Then on the way back, he just turned around. I opened the kennel, and he was like, ‘Hi!'”
In Aspen, Gurchick tried to adopt Stryder out, but every time she gave him to a prospective owner, he would pull back toward Gurchick.
“Saved” finds Gurchick not only shaking off her cancer life but also deepening her devotion to animals.
“When you look in their eyes, I see souls,” she said. “I don’t just see dogs or animals. Their innocence, their unconditional love – how could you not be compassionate, and how could you not want to rescue them?”
ASPEN – Jade Baptiste, the heroine of “Aspen Haunt,” has much in common with her creator, Basaltine Amy Hawes. Both are attractive rock ‘n’ roll musicians with an offbeat sense of humor who relocate from Los Angeles to the Roaring Fork Valley. But perhaps of greater consequence, both have been surrounded by the shadow world of objects that move by themselves, occurrences too eerie to be chalked up to coincidence, and dark spirits that take up residence where they have not been invited.
Hawes, who has been playing music in the valley for 26 years, has a way with a story. She tells of an incident, when she was an L.A. teen, of playing with a Ouija board with her friends. That night she went to bed scared, and in the middle of the night she woke to see a woman in a long, gray dress standing at the end of the bed, staring with a wicked smile. Around the woman’s head spun, in crazy circles, a black man’s gigantic head. Hawes’ clock had stopped. The candle she kept to ward off spirits was out. Terrified, Hawes had to will herself to move. She eventually made it to her mother’s room and told her mother about the ghostly vision. Hawes continued to watch the woman float down the hall, finally stopping at her mother’s door. The next day Hawes’ mother described the ghost just as Hawes had seen it. When they checked the basement, they saw the electric fuse to Hawes’ room had been rattled loose.
Hawes retells the story well, with an ear for detail – for instance, that though there was plenty of movement around her, she recalls a distinct silence. But when Hawes went to put her story to paper, something got lost in the translation. She had a promising introduction that captured her sardonic sensibility, about her lack of sympathy for characters in horror films who live in haunted houses but don’t have the smarts to get up and leave before the blood starts flowing.
“‘They deserve to die,’ I always say,” Hawes writes in the opening to “Aspen Haunt.” But the writing went south from there, and when a handful of New York agents turned down the chance to work with her, Hawes understood.
“I put in lines that didn’t move the story forward, that just showed what a clever writer I was. And the ending was weak,” Hawes said in one of her gentler self-criticisms.
But that was more than a decade ago, and it was her first stab at writing. In the years since, Hawes has written several short stories – one, “Eyes of the Seer,” was published in Aspen Sojourner magazine; another, “The Other Half,” was in an issue of Crimestalker. Just as instructive, she turned it up a notch as a reader, paying thorough attention to thrillers by Gerald Browne and Michael Gruber. In the summer of 2010 she returned to her first manuscript, believing there was a story there that deserved another shot. This time the result satisfied her, as she learned to employ portent in the narrative and how to make her writing less cluttered.
“If something doesn’t move the story forward, get rid of it,” she said. “If it’s just cute or clever, it’s not worth it. If it’s just poetic writing, I don’t need that.”
Hawes finished the manuscript in April, got positive feedback from friends, had her sister, Betts, create an appropriately chilling cover image and had several hundred copies printed. The result is a fast-paced story of quirky characters, mysterious happenings in hidden basements, a dead body and plenty of local color. (Hawes notes that the really scary stuff happens in Vail.) Hawes, who has three more novels in various states of completion, including two that feature Jade Baptiste, thinks she has found that place where writing flows effortlessly out of her.
“This time, the book just wrote itself,” Hawes, who has book events scheduled Friday at 11:30 a.m. at Clark’s Market and Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Explore Booksellers, both in Aspen, said of “Aspen Haunt,” “I’ll sometimes go back and read this and wonder where it came from.”