It really began with a fire that threatened to consume everything. More precisely it was a firing. And at its center: my wallet. Three days after my honeymoon, I was terminated. This development trailed the second dot-com bust and was years before the Sweet-Bejezus-Will-It-Ever-End-Recession of 2007.
I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands—and not by choice. A few years before that, things were very different. Like the rest of the country, I had a job, but very little free time. But I also had an idea lurking in the back corners of my brain.
Several miles into a hike, deep in the woods, I had been struck by their sheer enormity and how easy it might be to disappear in that terrain, forever. For some reason—I’ll never understand why—the weight of that realization just struck me like an electric bolt down a high tension wire. Out of nowhere, I said: “I’m going to write books about a guy who finds people who are missing in the woods.”
For some reason that claim, grandiose at it seemed, stuck with me. And when I got fired, as a lawyer might assert, I suddenly had motive and the opportunity. So I started writing.
From those pages came Mike Brody, the man you want when the one you love is missing. Through the endless rewrites, the eternal pitches to the agents and the near-altar offers of representation, to finally going direct and finding a publisher, it always came back to Mike Brody and the story I believe he wanted told. I kept pressing ahead for his sake. When I had doubts, even when the only “encouragement” arrived in the form of a rejection letter, I thought back to the beginning.
That day I had looked through the trees and saw them not as woods, but as another world.
The kind of world Mike and I want to keep disappearing in.
About Sam Hilliard
I was born in the Midwest in 1973. I was three weeks late and my mother had begun threatening to name me Valentine if I wasn’t born before February 14th. I made it under the wire with just minutes to spare.
I was baptized on five different occasions—once in the back of a speeding Dodge Satellite—before reaching the age of six months. The last was the official ceremony in a quiet Midwestern church. Those who had taken matters into their own hands had feared my father’s procrastination and daredevil driving would lead to my demise in a fiery car crash before he ever got around to dressing me in white and taking me to church.
My childhood after the first six months was somewhat more normal. Our brand of normal meant combining a mother who served books like they were warm cookies with a kid who had abysmal eyesight and even less athletic ability. The result was a slightly introverted boy who spent a lot of time inside reading, looking terribly pasty. Not saying that was me. Only that it was someone who looked a lot like me. But that did not last forever, and cleared up around age twenty-seven. I still avoid the sun, though.
My parents had the sort of jobs that required frequent moves. Those relocations happened often enough that I thought saying good-bye forever to friends was just something one did for fun.
Along the way we lived in Hannibal, MO, where Mark Twain wrote some of his finest work, plus a collection of towns in Missouri, Kansas, Southern California, Utah, New York, Maryland and New Jersey. Looking back, maybe we were actually in the witness protection program. Sorry, Mom and Dad, if I just blew your cover after all these years.
In high school, I earned the distinction of being the student who cared the least about being there, yet had the most anxiety ever recorded about doing well. That skill continues to work for me in life. Now I care so little about ever having attended that particular high school, I notified the alumni office of my death. To my knowledge, no one has ever convinced an alumni office to stop contacting them—or their parents—as quickly as I did.
Fortunately there was life after age eighteen. I played bass and drank a lot of beer. Changed majors in college a few times. Drank some more beer. Learned to take black and white photographs. Then one day, as a sophomore in college, I locked myself in the study lounge and came out with a ten page story. I hadn’t felt that alive in a very long time. I promptly drank some more beer and forgot about that for several more years.
About a year before finishing college, my family moved to Red Bank, New Jersey, which at the time was rated the hippest town in the Garden State. I worked in a convenience store and sold cigarettes to Kevin Smith. He wanted a carton of Marlboro Lights, and we only had six packs. At that moment I knew what kind of writer I wanted to be: the sort who never admitted he lived in New Jersey.
I graduated. I worked a bunch of jobs, got married and divorced. Suddenly I was back in that dorm study lounge, (OK, it was really an apartment) and somehow a book came out of it. Roughly one out of every four waking hours for the next two years was spent writing The Last Track. The feeling from college came back. That and a lot more empty beer bottles.
Now I live outside New York City with my girlfriend and an army of four cats—one feline under the legal limit. When I’m not jumping out of airplanes, I’m the Director of IT at an all-girl boarding school so I know about world class drama first-hand. It’s also the reason I study Krav Maga and Tai Chi.