It’s tough not to draw parallels between the effort that produced Jamie McGillen’s debut novel, and the lofty goal that looms over its protagonist.
McGillen, who was born in Juneau and now lives in Washington state, spent more than two years consumed by the creation of “In Sight of the Mountain,” which is a book about a young woman hellbent on summiting Mount Rainier. The book, which is set in the late 1800s, was published last month.
“It was hard,” McGillen told the Capital City Weekly in a phone interview, adding it was a drastic change from her usual poetry or essays. “With fiction, it’s more pulling out maps, putting up posters on your wall, putting up timelines, color coding characters. Trying to get all the complicated storylines and subplots figured out. You just feel like you’re on some kind of FBI raid. It’s super intense. It was all I was thinking about.”
She said “In Sight of the Mountain” came together in spurts of writing while her 2-year-old napped.
“It was the perfect time for me to have a little bit of time for myself and carve that out,” McGillen said.
She said she was inspired to write her novel after seeing a life-size poster depicting Faye Fuller, who was the first recorded woman of European descent to summit Mount Rainier.
“I was just staring at it thinking, ‘What would that have been like?’” McGillen said. “I wanted to tell her story, but I also didn’t want to take her story away from her.”
While Fuller makes a cameo in the book, “In Sight of the Mountain” is the story of Anna Gallagher, a young woman with mountaineering dreams living with the fallout of the Great Seattle Fire.
“The main character is basically struggling with the aftermath of that, and the pressures of getting married and financial strains, but what she really wants to do is summit Mount Rainier,” McGillen said. “In 1889, women aren’t mountaineers yet, and it’s a struggle for agency to be able to do that. As the pioneers were coming out and Seattle was more of a frontier town, it was really acceptable for women to be chopping down wood and building a cabin, but as it became more of a settled city and the population grew, it was like, ‘OK, go back to your place.’ It was weird for the women who watched their moms and grandmas do things that they were not allowed to do.”
McGillen said she classifies the book as young adult historical fiction, but some of the people who have responded most strongly to the book have been older reasons, and it wasn’t written specifically to cater to adolescents.
“My target audience is women,” McGillen said, “but the character is 19 years old, and I wanted her to be at that age because at that time, she probably should have been married at that point. If this story was now, she’d be like 27 and still living at her parents’ house.”
So far, the book has found readers in relatively niche markets.
“In Sight of the Mountain” was at No. 1 last week on the Amazon eBooks charts for “young adult books in libraries” and “19th-century historical fiction.” This week, it was still in the top 50 for teen and young adult historical fiction eBooks. As of Tuesday evening, it had a five-star rating based on feedback from four customers.
“I feel like the main audience will be women who pick it up locally at a bookstore here,” McGillen said. “So I’m planning to go to every book store that is visible from Mount Rainier and see if they’ll carry it. It’s only been out for three weeks, so we’ll see what happens, but it feels pretty good right now.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.