word craft


Story Behind the Story #14:
Devil’s Race

Years ago, when liv­ing in Penn­syl­va­nia, north of Philadel­phia, I was a mem­ber of a back-pack­ing club. We’d meet at a nature cen­ter ear­ly Sat­ur­day morn­ings, and returned Sun­day after­noons, hav­ing camped for the night. One of the places we liked to hike and camp was along the Appalachi­an Trail, in a state for­est park with the won­der­ful name, St. Antho­ny’s Wilderness.

St. Anthony's Wilderness

(Know­ing that St. Antho­ny is the saint you pray to for lost things, makes it an even bet­ter name.) At one time the area had been home to a string of forts built by colonists dur­ing the French and Indi­an War. There were also any num­ber of aban­doned homes, and even small vil­lages. Midst the trees you came upon many a lichen-cov­ered stone ruin. At one point there had been coal-min­ing in the area, so the trails were black earth. In hear­ing dis­tance was an army artillery fire-range, so as we hiked I some­times heard the boom­ing of dis­tant can­nons. An alto­geth­er strange but beau­ti­ful place.

St. Antho­ny’s Wilder­ness also con­tained an aban­doned 18th Cen­tu­ry ceme­tery, which was usu­al­ly the place we camped on Sat­ur­day nights. One of the old stones had a name chis­eled into it: John Proud.

Devil's RaceJohn Proud became the name of my hero in the ghost­ly tale, Dev­il’s Race, which is set in and about St. Antho­ny’s Wilder­ness. The title of the book I had cho­sen was St. Antho­ny’s Wilder­ness. This was vetoed by the edi­tor who chose Dev­il’s Race, which has noth­ing to do with the sto­ry. There is no dev­il in the sto­ry and the word “race,” is a rarely used word which means fast-mov­ing creek, such as the one briefly ref­er­enced in the story.

There is an old tra­di­tion in pub­lish­ing, a par­ty to cel­e­brate the pub­li­ca­tion of a book. In all my years I have had only one such par­ty. When my back-pack­ing pals learned about my book, they insist­ed we must have such a par­ty. So it was we all packed tiny bot­tles of cham­pagne in our back­packs and hiked up to that ceme­tery. There, next to the stone that cel­e­brat­ed the once real John Proud, my friends toast­ed me, my hero, and my book, Dev­il’s Race.

Bad title. Great party.

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