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Seattle Author’s New Novel Explores Alternative Origins of Modern Humans
Tuesday March 1, 2017
Charlie Sheldon, once a fisherman, port employee, and most recently a merchant sailor, has always been a serious hiker and a writer. His wanderings have given him maritime expertise, a knowledge of resource management, a passion for pre-recorded history, and a deep love of the Olympic National Park and the North Pacific coast. He blends these ideas together with a dose of magical realism in his new adventure and coming-of-age novel, Strong Heart – a tale about an ornery orphaned girl and a grandfather she never knew she had. Together they traverse Olympic National Park, meet ancient history, and discover a bond neither of them knew existed.
Strong Heart started out as a question. Mr. Sheldon, who had the privilege of working for over 20 years with several Puget Sound tribes dealing with treaty fishing issues, came to understand that most North American first peoples’ legends hold that they have always been here, since long before a passage across the Bering Land Bridge 12,000 to 15,000 years ago, as currently accepted scientific theory holds. Mr. Sheldon, who admits he is contrary, wondered, “Could those legends be true?’” The wisp of an idea began to form. He spent over two years researching ancient glacial, geological, and archeological events. “I didn’t know what I was doing the research for, not at first. I had this idea that something was there for a story, and I wanted to do a tale set in and also celebratory of Olympic National Park.”
One of the central characters in Strong Heart is 13-year-old Sarah Cooley, who finds herself alone in the world. “I wanted to write something that showed the power and strength of a young woman coming into her personhood, coming into her power through the adversity that she faces,” Mr. Sheldon says. “I wanted to write about a heroine, not a hero.”
Strong heart spans across generations as Sarah’s grandfather Tom is suddenly thrust together with a granddaughter he never knew he had. Sarah’s arrival challenges everything Tom knows, from his own failed relationship with his own daughter to the difference between reality and possibility. Their adventures in the Olympics bring them together in a way neither of them would have ever expected. “When they start their journey, they have no idea of what is about to happen.”
Strong heart also tackles complex social issues in balancing a region’s economic development needs with opposing desires for maintaining wilderness, cultural tradition, and heritage, a battle that sometimes becomes intense, even religious. Mr. Sheldon has negotiated through these challenging subjects throughout Puget Sound and the issues are ones most people living in the Pacific Northwest will recognize. The story forces the reader to weigh such issues along with the tale’s protagonists. “I think zealotry is the eighth deadly sin, and these days we see way too much on all sides,” Sheldon says.
The scope and majesty of Olympic National Park and the North Pacific Coast becomes a major character in itself. Mr. Sheldon’s descriptions capture the magnitude and breathtaking beauty, but also vividly describe some of the great dangers found in true wilderness. The journeys across land and sea are epic in scope and keep the reader fully engaged.
Mr. Sheldon’s love for the Pacific Northwest and his deep reverence for the area shines through each page. He spends a great deal of time in the Olympic National Park, and has hiked along many trails, far into the back country. Strong Heart is available from Iron Twine Press in print (March 17, 2017) and ebook form (February 15, 2017), and available from Stories Made Us Human as an audiobook through Amazon (February 22, 2017).