I take great pride in seeing the students in my Seattle writing classes succeed. One of these students, Jeff Smoot, wrote the memoir, Hang Dog Days, which recently earned a runner up for the Banff Mountain Festival Book Award and the Boardman/ Tasker Award, two of the most prestigious prizes in mountaineering literature.
Jeff finished The Writer’s Workshop’s certificate program two years ago and began working on his memoir about sport climbing. Having published some 10 guidebooks, he had a lot of writing chops but needed some help with storytelling.
“I joined Nick O’Connell’s Certificate program in narrative writing as a refresher and to improve my storytelling so I could get a longstanding book project to the point I felt confident in pitching it,” he said at a talk for my Seattle writing class last Wednesday. “With Nick’s help and encouragement, it was accepted. In addition to achieving this goal, the course reignited my passion for writing.”
After writing the book, Jeff had to edit it before the Mountaineers Publishing Company would accept it. “I did my best to cut down the narrative and got it into the hands of a developmental editor who wanted to kill my babies,” he said. “Then it got into the hands of the copy editor and got cut down some more.”
Despite the pain of having some of his stories cut, he believes the process helped the book.
“It’s important to have a good editor,” he said. “You want someone who can debate. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but it made the book so much better. I used to hate editors, but I loved my editor.”
Hang Dog Days chronicles the difficult birth of sport climbing in America. It is rich with the vernacular of the sport, one of the techniques I emphasize in my Seattle writing classes. “Climbing went from being a traditional sport with the adventure of ascent, starting from bottom and going to the top,” he said. “If you went to the top and came down that wasn’t the way it was done. But youth rebelled against the old guard.”
The new technique of rap-bolting, inspecting and fixing a route while on rappel, caused a great deal of controversy in the insular world of climbing. “Some bad things happened,” he said. “I received death threats from some climbers I wrote about. The book is about my growing up climbing in that era and some of the characters I hung out with like Todd Skinner who was pushing the boundaries.” Skinner died in 2006 in a climbing accident. “He’s one of the best storytellers we had and he’s gone so I have to tell the story.”
To read an excerpt from the book, click the link to https://www.thewritersworkshopreview.net/article.cgi?article_id=97.