Adair McPherson, fresh from the Wild Acres Writers’ Workshop in her home state of North Carolina, is full of energy — again — for a very daunting task: getting her manuscript published. Finding an agent and getting “The Devil’s Footpath” published may be as difficult as getting the piece written — and that was no easy task.
For the past eight years, Davis resident McPherson has been writing and rewriting her book while at the same time navigating the demands that come from raising a family of five — four boys and a girl — with her husband, Greg.
“For three years I used to get up at 5:30 a.m. and write for an hour and a half — it was the only time no one wanted a piece of me,” she said.
During another period of time she rented office space downtown to use as her office and one year she drove to Winters daily to work in a friend’s quiet house. Sometimes she wrote at the library and sometimes she would just leave the house and sit in the car and write.
Finally she had a body of work, a story, that she could call finished.
“I think it’s a good story and I’m proud of it,” she said in a recent interview.
“The Devil’s Footpath” is an historical novel set in Sierra Valley, Calif., in 1864 and New Bern, N.C., in 1824. The story hinges on the life of Zipporah Hess Maury, a violinist who, unlike her namesake (Moses’ wife), cannot quietly endure her 40 years in the wilderness and disappear.
When the story begins, Zipporah is an old eccentric skirting the edges of Sierra Valley. Ranchers call her Wild Ramp Mary after the garland of onions she wears around her neck and she seems harmless enough until she steals a rancher’s baby. So isolated that she lives in an abandoned gold mine, she gropes toward human connection and a way home. Her’s is a cautionary tale.
“She has made a mistake, but she doesn’t know how to correct it,” McPherson said.
In fact, Zipporah needs to travel back East, back to the early days of her marriage, in order to reconnect.
McPherson graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, got her master’s at Utah State and then a Ph.D. in psychology. She intended to follow an academic career, but life got in the way. She married in 1981 and after three moves and five kids she realized that the academic life was not going to work for her.
“I wanted to figure out something to do on my own schedule and it seemed like writing might work,” she said.
But she would be the first to admit that it’s difficult to stay positive if no one is offering to publish your manuscript.
That’s why the writers’ workshop she attended in July was such a boon.
She respected those leading the workshop — like novelist Ron Rash — and appreciated the comments made when her novel was work-shopped.
“I learned that I was really close (to completion) and they helped me identify the areas that needed more work. I also learned that a little (western Carolina) dialect goes a long way and … that I brought my secondary characters to life quickly. My use of the third-person omniscient voice was seamless.”
McPherson said it was wonderful spending a week with writers talking about their craft.
“It just stirs the creative juices,” she said.
The next step?
“The same step that I have been taking for several years. I will be sending out new query letters to agents — I’m just going to keep on going and it’s heartening to have a group of people say that it’s good.”
She can be reached at [email protected].