Several years ago at a cocktail gathering in Hong Kong, I mentioned that I was going to Malaysia on vacation in a few months. The people I was with were seasoned TV executives who worked in the Pacific Rim and had traveled extensively throughout it. Without hesitation, they recommended that I climb Mt. Kinabalu. And I quickly became enamored with the idea.
Turns out, my journey up that mountain was one of the most foolhardy things I’ve ever done. But it’s also something that has informed the way I approach my writing – and as part of that my novel, THE JUICE, which is about to be published.
Consider that Mt. Kinabalu is the tallest peak in Malaysia and the Malay archipelago. It’s the 20th highest peak in the world, almost 14,000 feet of magnificence. It’s nestled in the rainforests of Borneo, hurtling up into the air well past the timberline. Hikers travel through several climate zones as they ascend toward its peak.
I was excited to learn that more than 5,000 species of plants have been identified on its slopes, along with 326 bird species and 100 different mammals. My husband at the time, Robin, is even more of a nature lover than I am. So he was game for the adventure.
The problem was, neither of us prepared for this climb. We marveled at our Malaysian guides, who walked up the steep steps carved into the side of Kinabalu in their bare feet. They didn’t seem to even break a sweat. The steps were far higher than those in a normal staircase. It was kind of like being on a Stairmaster for nine hours straight – and neither of us are Stairmaster sorts of people.
When we finally stopped in the late afternoon, we were only about two-thirds of the way up the mountain. Our guides took us to a lodge and advised us to have some food and get to bed early, because we’d begin the climb again about 3 in the morning.
Although I was thoroughly done in from the climb, getting to sleep in my top bunkbed was next to impossible. I was so excited. My muscles were a mess. Plus, the blanket that I’d been given had the reeking odor of countless sweating bodies.
Finally, we were roused, and we quickly pulled on our clothes, ready for the final stretch. Before long, we were using ropes to hoist ourselves up the side of the extremely vertical mountain, climbing in the dark past the last of the trees. The air became so thin that altitude sickness overwhelmed me. Not only was I nauseous, but I had to stop about every five steps to catch my breath. At that point, I was silently cursing my idiocy for suggesting we do the climb. Robin — who had been quite stoic and calm through the whole climb — was silently imagining what he would tell my mother if I fell to my death in the wilds of Borneo.
As the world became lighter, we could see a huge wave-shaped peak, just before us. But as we climbed it, we could tell that there was another rock wave just ahead of it. Then another and another. It seemed like we’d never get to the ultimate peak. Cranky doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. I secretly hated all the other climbers that were in front of us, in much more athletic shape and doing quite well.
But finally, just when it seemed I couldn’t take another step, we made it. I gazed at one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever seen. Far, far below the strips of clouds, reddened by the rising sun, was the sparkling sapphire sea, and studded throughout were emerald green islands, the archipelago. Every ache in my body was a small price to pay, just to see that splendor for a thin little sliver of my life.
It was actually much tougher to go down the side of the mountain, because of the impact on our knees as we climbed down those steep steps. And it took me a few days to recover physically from the ordeal. And in the end Mt. Kinabalu taught me a very important lesson — beyond the importance of preparing for that kind of excursion.
Most times, writing a piece of fiction requires countless revisions. Sometimes it takes years and years to perfect a film script or novel manuscript as best as one can and then get it in the hands of people who can actually produce or publish it. There always seems to be one more rocky peak to climb. Anguish can crop up again and again, as hopes that something will finally get made are squelched. I see this as much in my fellow writers as I do in myself, as we climb up our separate mountains.
When THE JUICE is released on Feb. 9 by Dragon Moon Press, it will be, for me, like reaching a splendid peak — regardless of how successful it proves to be. There are so many other mountains that I have yet to climb as a writer. And foolhardy as it may be to try and win the hearts of other people with the worlds I have created, I’ve always got my proverbial hiking boots on, ready to step into new imaginary realms.