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Driven to write

TORONTO, Ont. - A female truck driver stands in the freezing rain, watching as a wrecking crew winches her jackknifed rig out of a two-lane road. So begins Shadows of the Mountain, American truck driv...


ON THE ROAD: Fricker's novel is based on her experiences on the highway.
ON THE ROAD: Fricker's novel is based on her experiences on the highway.

TORONTO, Ont. – A female truck driver stands in the freezing rain, watching as a wrecking crew winches her jackknifed rig out of a two-lane road. So begins Shadows of the Mountain, American truck driver Julie Fricker’s first novel.

Fricker, 41, knows what she’s writing about. She’s been hauling loads for 11 years.

“I always knew I wanted to drive a truck, because my dad did,” Fricker says, adding her drive to write came later.

“I started out writing a few articles here and there, for free. I was just testing the waters. I never thought I could actually write well, I just did it because I had to.”

A high school dropout, Fricker drifted from job to job, until finally she ended up trucking.

“I joke that now I’m just a drifter who’s getting paid,” she laughs. “But the truth is, truck driving has been an incredibly healing experience for me.”

Writing too, started as therapy. Shadows of the Mountain is full of the fears, experiences and accidents, both good and bad, of Sarah Waters, a woman who has devoted her life to the road, and who has a lot in common with Fricker.

The story goes like this: Sarah Waters jackknifes her company’s 1993 Volvo conventional tractor-trailer on the two-lane street that runs through the centre of Sandisfield, Massachusetts. She gets fired as a result, and decides to take a much-needed vacation in Alaska, of all places.

A few strong friendships and a strikingly platonic romance with a local park ranger ensues.

So if you’re planning on skipping through to the sexy parts, forget it.

“I don’t believe in being a fly on the wall during private moments between two people,” Fricker says.

“I wanted to write an old-fashioned romance, where the relationship develops over time. Too many people end up getting divorced these days. Especially people in my line of work.”

Fricker speaks from her own experiences, much of which is shared by her Sarah Waters character.

“The book is definitely autobiographical,” Fricker admits.

In fact, the events of the novel are so close to events that took place in Fricker’s real life that the story changed as she was writing it.

“I originally wanted the main character to be really cynical all the way through, not someone who would end up forming a lasting attachment. But as I changed and met my husband, the character changed too,” says Fricker.

A long-standing loner, Sarah Waters learns to open up and form connections through a series of adventures and misadventures, including a near fatal accident at the story’s climax.

Grounded by a brain injury at the novel’s end, Sarah appears to be making up her mind to put down roots with her park ranger in Alaska.

Whether Sarah eventually resumes her life on the road will be revealed in book two, says Fricker.

“Right now, she can’t because the law here says you can’t drive with a brain injury,” Fricker explains, once again blurring the line between fact and fiction. “But the law could eventually change.”

Fricker herself continues to drive. So does her husband, but in a different truck.

“We drove team for a while but we drive each other crazy,” Fricker says.

“Now I haul two to three weeks at a time and I take a break whenever I want.”

The optional time off is courtesy of the carrier she works for, whose owner also makes an appearance in the novel.

“He’s a real sweetheart and that’s the way I portrayed him in the book,” Fricker says, adding one of these days she may give up trucking for good to become a writer full-time.

“The writing is starting to pull me the way driving used to 10 years ago,” she explains, adding that thanks to her book, she’s now a regular columnist for a States-side trucking magazine.

“Ten years ago, I couldn’t get away from it (driving), and I wouldn’t have given it up for anything else. Now it’s the same with writing. I think one of these days the writing may win.”

Writing while on the road can be problematic, Fricker says.

“Sometimes, while I was sitting at a diner with my laptop open and my earphones on, some driver would tap me on the shoulder and try to start a conversation,” she says.

Other encounters were more encouraging.

“One waitress cried while she was reading over my shoulder,” Fricker remembers.

Also problematic was learning the ins and outs of publishing, she says.

After receiving several refusal letters from literary agents, Fricker had the book edited by a University of Wisconsin graduate student, then self-published through Xlibris, a Philadelphia-based partner of Random House Ventures (a subsidiary of Random House Books).

“I’m hoping Random House picks up my contract for the next book,” says Fricker.

In the meantime, Fricker is selling Shadows of the Mountain from her Web site (www.shadowsofthemountain.com) and from the cab of whatever truck she happens to be driving.

Of the 720 copies printed since the book was first released in October 2002, she only has 250 more copies to sell.

“I sell them to people back at the office, other drivers, waitresses and whoever I happen to come across on the road,” Fricker says, adding she’s more than happy to do the selling herself.

“I’m the one who can do it best.”

Feedback among readers has so far been good, she says.

“I have fan mail. And one young guy even told me part of it made him cry.”

Fricker says women truckers who’ve read the book have told her it reflects their own experiences.

“So many women drivers have told me the story has touched them in some way,” Fricker says.

But what matters most to Fricker is putting out a positive message about truck drivers.

“I’ve seen so many stories, articles and movies about truck drivers being bad guys, you know, ignorant, disgusting and dangerous. But the truth is, most drivers have amazing qualities. I wanted to create a truck driver who embodied all of those qualities, a truck driver you could fall in love with.”

For further information about Shadows of the Mountain, or to contact Julie Fricker visit www.shadowsofthemountain.com


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