Message From The Author

Steve Ulfelder

Book Title: PURGATORY CHASM
Genre: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth, Hardboiled, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

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Author's Message

One key element in Purgatory Chasm, the idea of charging down a dangerous, rock-strewn slope as quickly as possible, is fun to discuss because it illustrates the chaotic, impossible-to-pin-down nature of inspiration. That is, it’s as good an answer as I can come up with to the “Where do you get your ideas?” question.

As a high school freshman, I took a class field trip to New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. We climbed the mountain (or part of it, I assume – hard to imagine we went all the way up) on a trail of boulders. The rocks were close enough to one another so that on the way up, at a walking pace, there wasn’t much challenge.

All that changed on the way down.

While the girls and chaperones walked sensibly downhill, a group of us boys took off running (we were 15 – what else would you expect?). Within a few steps, we were sprinting, leaping from rock to rock. We developed a self-sustaining momentum: you didn’t slow down because you couldn’t, as any effort to decelerate meant a guaranteed broken leg.

We flew down that mountain like nobody’s business. I can’t speak for the other guys, but I never forgot the experience, the thrill, the immediacy of that run. I guess I tucked it away wherever writers (or future writers) tuck away such things.

The memory lay dormant for a quarter-century or so. While thinking about ideas for my next book, I went for a run in an unfamiliar place and soon found myself cooking down a long, steep hill. As joggers know, there’s an instinct to tense your shoulders and brake a bit when descending such a hill. But on that day, for reasons I don’t know, I shoved my head forward, let off the brakes, and ran as fast as I could.

That’s when the Mount Washington memory came back. I knew I could make it work in a book, knew it could be a central part of a Conway Sax story (I’d already developed Conway in other manuscripts). All this popped into my head as I ran down a hill that was no more than 200 yards long.

Here’s the truly serendipitous part. As I began the book, I planned to set my rock-running scenes on Mount Washington. This would be unwieldy, as I would have to find an excuse to get my characters up there, far from their Massachusetts base.

One day my wife and kids came home and announced they’d had a ball climbing around in Purgatory Chasm. “What?” said I. Purgatory Chasm, it turned out, is an actual state park not 30 minutes from the central Massachusetts towns in which my characters live. Purgatory Chasm is also a canyon featuring a downhill slope covered by boulders of varying sizes.

Purgatory Chasm is also one hell of a cool name, and one hell of a cool title (if I may say so myself).

So a visit by my wife and kids to a state park I’d never heard of sealed the deal: Purgatory Chasm it was.

- Steve Ulfelder


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