Empire of Bones
Stories have always been in my life. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t listening to a story or being read to. When I was two, my father read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to the family after dinner (the family at that point consisted of my mother, my older sister, and myself). My mother was fairly certain that I didn’t understand any of it. My father, however, pointed to scientific evidence: during the battle scenes, I always turned bright red and began sweating nervously in my high chair.
Once, while I was misbehaving in my bath (it only happened once), my older sister was commissioned to tell me a story. She began to recite the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe verbatim. Which should tell you how often we’d heard it.
At nights, my mother would compose stories for me (stories that she falsely insists were awful–mostly about a gentleman named Tiny Tim). I don’t remember any particular tale, but I do remember what they did to me, as I lay in bed, clutching Billy, my stuffed, hybrid monkey-bear, staring at the sloped ceiling in my room and listening to my mother’s voice and the washing machine chugging in the corner (yes, the washing machine was in my room). My father once wrote me a story, bound it in a blue folder, and read it to me. The story starred a young fellow who happened to share my name (Nathan), and who also happened to kill a goblin king with his baseball bat (something I still intend to do). I am extremely fond of that story, and I pay tribute to it with elements in both Leepike Ridge and 100 Cupboards (a character trapped underground, the handiness of baseball bats, a grub-eating wizard, and a couple other things that only my father and I will know about).
My grandfathers were both storytellers. Both were military men, and both lived through some truly strange experiences. Growing up in San Louis Obispo, my mom’s dad hunted small sharks with a modified garden hoe somewhere around the ripe old age of ten. He flew bombers in World War II and Korea, and I’ve watched old home movies of some of his bombing runs. I’ve also watched home movies of him sneaking onto the roof of the Vatican with his then eight-year-old son (my uncle Bob). To this day, when I’m with him, he can surprise me with new stories.
As for my dad’s dad, well, he was raised on a Nebraska farm. His parents (and, I believe, his older brother) had moved there in a covered wagon. But it was a posh covered wagon–rolling on cutting-edge rubber tires.
For as long as I remember, my grandfather has been traveling, returning, and telling stories. At a very early age, I announced to my parents that when I grew up, I was going to be like Grandpa and tell everyone about my trip. The only problem is that my trips haven’t been as interesting.
There’s a reason why I dedicated 100 Cupboards to my grandfathers. They both infused my (fantasy-drifting) imagination with a taste for real-world adventure. 100 Cupboards is what happens when those things are thoroughly blended together (along with milk and sugar).
I live in Idaho, and I love the west, the rolling hills and vast, empty places. I grew up here, playing in those fields, floating in creeks, climbing in old barn lofts, and sledding (contrary to wisdom and the instruction of my elders) across frozen ponds. After graduate school in Maryland, I moved back. I currently live one block from the hospital where I was born, the hospital where all my kids have been born (one even in the same room).
I should tell you about my wife. I first heard her name spoken (Heather Garaway) while visiting home during grad school. My brother-in-law had briefly met her (and a number of other people) while visiting Santa Cruz, California. When he said her name it had a rather strange effect on me. It didn’t make me starry-eyed or mushy-stomached. It made me nervous, like I needed to look over my shoulder because I was about to be hit by a bus. My life was going to change.
I like to think of myself as rational. But while a friend drove me back to the airport, I took him as a witness to my strange sensation. That was at the beginning of October. Back in Maryland, I had an e-mail waiting for me from her. A friend of hers was attending the same school I was and he needed a place to live. On Halloween, I met her (she was traveling to Ireland and had a layover in Maryland). Just after Thanksgiving, I asked her to marry me. She was a globe-trotting surfer (and had just surfed her first pro contest when we met). And she said yes because she loved stories (and apparently me), and she knew what all her favorite characters in books would have done. She moved inland for me, but the saltwater is still in her veins. We have four beautiful children and she will teach them all to surf.
Her hair smells like rain, and it clings to my face like Velcro when I kiss her.
I love stories. I love finding them. I love telling them. I’m doing my best to live them. I couldn’t be more grateful for the life I’ve been given.
A Penguin Random House Company