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The Legend of Everett Ruess

Ruess, burro and Curly

What’s so special about this novel?

Before Cheryl Strayed (Wild), or a Christopher McCandles (Into the Wild), there was Everett Ruess.

This historical fiction novel will help you understand why his legend has persevered. Cheryl Strayed may have covered 1,100 miles, but she was only in the wilderness 3 months, Christopher McCandles didn’t survive 100 days in the wild. Everett Ruess traveled deep into the southwest, covering thousands of miles through canyons and deserts, and he did it for four years.

I would describe him as a cross between Walt Whitman and a young Indiana Jones. Eighty years after he vanished his disappearance remains one of the biggest mysteries of the southwest. All we have of Everett today is a collection of his letters called A Vagabond for Beauty, and some of his artwork, yet these fragments have inspired a huge cult following.

When I first read about Ruess I identified with him right away. I know what it’s like to be a starving artist and to feel this busy world doesn’t allow time for the worship of beauty. I’ve also been an adrenaline junky most of my life and crawled through jungles and ruins wherever I went. I’ve been to many of the places he visited, and scrambled through the brush until I was covered with scratches and exhausted, and the memory of it fills me with joy.

There are at least a dozen books written about Everett Ruess, but almost all are historical and try to prove what happened to him. I’m much more concerned with how he lived, not how he died, that’s why I prefer historical fiction. I used his letters as a compass and created scenes around them, then tried to pull out his poetic, descriptive language and color things in. I feel I’ve captured his experience. His nephew, Brian Ruess, wrote the introduction to the novel. In it, he said, “In this work of fiction… I saw Everett for the first time, as he might actually have been.”

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