Sunday 15 January 2017

Erica Ferencik on research for The River at Night - Into the Woods and Off the Grid

TITLE: The River at Night
AUTHOR: Erica Ferencik
PUBLISHER: Raven Books

PUBLICATION DATE: January 12, 2017

Amazon - Goodreads

'A thought came to me that I couldn't force away: What we are wearing is how we'll be identified out in the wilderness.'

Win Allen doesn't want an adventure.

After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans.

Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air.

No phone coverage. No people.

No help.

Portrait of Billy: Into the Woods and Off the Grid
by Erica Ferencik

In December of 2012, in order to do research for my novel, The River at Night, I embarked on a nine-day trip to the hinterlands of Northern Maine, the storied Allagash Wilderness which sprawls out over 5,000 square miles of rivers, lakes, and forest. The plan was to interview people who had decided to leave traditional society behind.

I didn’t know a soul up there, so I called the chambers of commerce in towns from Orono to New Sweden to Fort Kent, as far north and west as you can go until the road ends and the forest begins, which is just past a little town called Dickey.

Everyone I spoke to on the phone said: well, these folks don’t want to be contacted. That’s why they live off the grid…but I do know someone who knows someone…soon I was able to line up half a dozen interviews with people who had decided to disappear. Armed with a reluctant blessing from my husband and a backpack filled with power bars, warm clothes and mace, I took off on the twelve hour drive from my home in Massachusetts.


There wasn’t a lot of eye contact when I shook Billy’s hand on the shoulder of the road at the 101st mile marker on Route 1, just north of Caribou, Maine. Along with his horse, Freedom, Billy and I stood next to my car on the desolate highway, arranging the saddle so I could climb on behind him. A full bearded, gruff looking man in his mid-50s, Billy had agreed to an interview only if he could take me to his place on horseback, an hour’s journey through the Maine woods in winter. After we shook hands he asked me if I was still up for this; I said I was.

I got on the horse behind him, wondering about my sanity. Billy had been described to me as a family patriarch who said goodbye to society thirty years previous, decades before off-the-grid was a “thing.” As we rode, my arms around this stranger’s waist, he didn’t talk much except to say that his wife didn’t like him a whole lot these days, having borne him five children, each a home birth, something he had insisted upon and she dreaded. Our boy’s nearly three years old and she’s still pissed about it, he said. He turned around and grinned at me, adding, but hey, maybe she still likes me. She hasn’t left me yet.

We rode through the woods on a path only he knew, coming up on a ridge that looked down on an empty looking valley. I felt like I had entered another century when I walked onto his land. His log home was painted black, and I saw no one around, just some sheep and sad looking dogs. I was fingering the small aerosol can of mace in my pocket, wondering if its time had come...but soon his wife came out to meet me; grey hair, grey-faced, grey man’s coat, smiling like she rarely did it. Billy showed me his vast collection of guns and knives, the smoking house where the meat hung, and the root cellar. His wife and two older daughters, one with a sixth finger, fixed me a lunch of eggs and bear meat, with some kind of wild potatoes. The younger kids played with plastic knives and guns. Billy told me he had enough food stocked to survive the end of the world, and that he had dug half a dozen bunkers in secret locations.

Before we left, he made me sign a piece of paper, the old fashioned carbon copy kind, that said I would not disclose any information about him, his family, or the location of his homestead. After I did so, he looked me in the eye long and hard, tore off and handed me my copy of the agreement, and swung back up on his horse.

We got back to my car just before dark.

The River at Night is out now in hardcover (£11.98) and currently just £1.49 for Kindle.

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