Amber J. Keyser is an evolutionary biologist-turned-writer, who gravitates to stories about heroes, scientists, and adventurers. She grew up, and still lives, in Oregon, where she and her family enjoy backpacking, fishing, and whitewater rafting.
Just as with her recreational pursuits, her books traverse many genres and styles — from shoes to sex to survival. She is the author of The Way Back from Broken, a young adult novel; Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes; co-author of Quartz Creek Ranch, a middle grade book series. The V-Word, an anthology of personal essays by women about first time sexual experiences, will be published in 2016.
"The Way Back from Broken is a book about survival on many levels — physical, emotional, mental," Keyser says of the her recently published novel that is earning high praise. "It is also a love song to my lost daughter, to the son I named after Shackleton, and to my younger daughter, a true adventurer."
Amber Keyser shares her perspective on survival, and offers three good works on the theme:
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
by Alfred Lansing
I fell in love with Sir Ernest Shackleton [the British explorer] when I was 28 years old. I’ve always had a thing for explorers from the Golden Age of Exploration, but “The Boss” was something special.
When his ship the Endurance was iced-in before he could make landfall on Antarctica, Shackleton organized ice futbol and variety shows to keep up moral. When the crushing ice sent the ship to the bottom of the sea, he formulated a plan to get his crew to shore. When they reached solid ground on the Antarctic peninsula and Shackleton knew that no one would ever find them, he crossed 800 miles of open ocean—the roughest in the world—in a life boat. When the life boat, crashed on the far side of South Georgia Island, he hiked over a tremendous mountain range to reach a whaling station and get a ship that could rescue his crew.
And you know what? He didn’t lose a single man. That was Shackleton. He was also my touchstone when I turned thirty and tragedy crushed me as completely as ice had crushed the Endurance.
After my daughter died, I often could not get up off of the floor. I stumbled through my days half in the grave, planning ways to get all the way there. My father begged me to think of what unknown blessings the future might hold, and I told him that he would have to carry the hope for me because I could not do it myself.
And there beside me was Shackleton, adrift in the brutal vastness of Antarctica, no phone, no satellite, starving and frostbitten. If anyone had an excuse to lie down on the ice and die, it was Shackleton, and yet . . .
The Return of the King
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Also with us in this pit of grief — a hole so deep that no light from above reached the bottom — was a hobbit, well-meaning but small, and with no significant skills of any use to anyone at all. From the pages of my favorite childhood book, The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins sat beside me, worrying the stump of his missing finger. If anyone had an excuse to lie down on the side of Mount Doom and get eaten by Nazgul, it was Frodo, and yet . . .
Both Frodo and Shackleton persisted without hope. They went on, not because they believed they would be successful, but because the act of trying was a moral choice, regardless of the chance of success.
And so . . . I got off the floor. I set aside my plans to end my life. I put one foot in front of the other, not because I believed I would be happy again, but because it was the right thing to do.
Because of Shackleton and Frodo.
Other words found me.
by Sheenagh Pugh
Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.
With this small blessing, I kept walking, kept living, kept trying. And I found my own words. Ten years after my daughter’s death, I began writing a novel about loss, grief, and the healing power of wilderness. It took five years and many tears to complete and yet here it is — born from the stubborn conviction of Shackleton, Frodo, and my truest self.