the book inside my story


T-Wall — near where I fell

Most people I tell my rock-climbing story are more impressed by my story than I am. Sure, I’ve got scars. There’s a white mark just above my lip that annoys me every day. And?

That’s why it always surprises me, though, when readers suggest I turn my story into a book. After re-reading my story this past January, my friend Vance sent me a message: “So, I just finished rereading your ‘How Not to Die‘ story, and I’m asking myself: How is this not a book? Or, at least, the beginnings of one? It is truly an amazing story, however you take it . . .”

In the past, I’ve always brushed such suggestions off. That’s what I did to Vance. “To be honest, I’ve already written nearly as much as I know to say about my rock-climbing accident. I have no idea how I’d turn it into a book . . .” is what I told him. And that was the truth. In “How to Not Die,” I’ve given the reader everything I can — from my perspective.

article.31719That’s when it dawned on me.

Something incredible about the fact that I’m now dating a man from Alabama who lives in Tennessee (who I met in Florida) is that he was in Chattanooga when I had my accident. He lives less than ten miles from where I fell. Some of his friends were part of the Walden’s Ridge Emergency Team who rescued me. See the guy in the gray sweatshirt in the middle of the first picture? article.31719.2That’s Freddy. In the second picture, the man on the far right is Titus. Jon sold Freddy the big orange flashlight that he’s carrying on his hip in the first picture. He’s worked as a rafting guide on the Ocoee River with Titus for years.

This past October, when I visited Jon in Chattanooga for the first time, we went back to the place where I fell. We found the gravel parking lot where my car had been broken into; we hiked the hill to the base of the mountain where my friend and I had started to climb. It was hunting season and looked a lot different than I’d remembered. The trees still had all of their leaves . . .


“Do not leave valuables in car.” Whoops.

But it’s gotten me to thinking. Maybe there is more of my story to tell. Maybe there is a way I can fill in the missing pieces. It was a long time ago now, but back in the day rescuers like Titus and Freddy told my parents: “99 percent the people we rescue make it. We did not think Jessica was going to make it.” Surely they can’t have completely forgotten a rescue as tricky as mine? There are of course my old physicians, too. I know Dr. Nowotarski (the orthopedist who did my shoulder surgery) still works at Erlanger . . .

I think I’ve found myself a new project now. One that may take me several years. (If I’m going to do this at all, I’m going to do it right.) . . .

And I have you, dear readers, to thank for it. So, thank you!




In search of T-Wall



T-Wall from afar



The Tennessee River



It was hunting season. If an 80-foot fall couldn’t kill me, I wasn’t worried about a stray bullet.



No, this is not the exact spot I fell . . . Or is it?



Rock-climbers are crazy.



Respect the Wall.


Images: Mine. All Rights Reserved.

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43 thoughts

  1. Perhaps God wants you to write the book to tell the rest of the world about the people He sent and what they did to save your life. Have you ever checked back on them to see how they are doing. Maybe some of them need you to help them now.
    Just sayin’.

    • That’s a valid point. I was young and sick and have no recollection of what any of these people did for me. I didn’t know their names. I only recently realized that some of my rescuers were Jon’s friends. That’s why I find it so interesting that, eleven years later, I met Jon and found a way to get in touch with them. Before, I had no idea where to begin.

    • Thank you, Sophia. I think it will be a big project long in coming. If I can get in touch with the people who helped with my rescue and then with my treatment in the hospital, and literally sit down with them for a few hours each to get their takes on the story, that would be a start. I really need to talk more with my friend who was with me when I fell, too. Once I’ve done all that, I can sit down and plot out the story. Where will I begin it? Whose perspectives will I use? I can’t only use my own since I remember so little myself. *That* is the weakness of my current story… But that’s why I envision a real book. Once I’ve done the research and writing part (which will be no small feat), I can look for publishers. That will be a project in itself. I’m not really interested in self-publishing, though. Unless I *really* build my blog and create a platform through it, I imagine a self-published book would just fall flat.

  2. Writing more about the experience then and how it is now shaping your life, that would be very cool. And you say it well: respect the wall, respect the fall. So far you have done it so well with your writing, might as well ‘bring it home.’

    • Exactly, Randall. And I’m thinking that by actually finding the records from Walden’s Ridge Emergency Services, and looking up some of my rescuers, and talking to some of the people who were involved with my treatment — all of that could fill in the blanks that are missing during the 3 and a half weeks I was “asleep.” *I* can only tell you second-hand what happened to me, really. And that’s when the fun would begin. Once I have all of that background information, I can plot out how I want to lay out my story. In “How To Not Die,” I started from the beginning and walked the reader straight through. That might not be the best way to do it in a book. With other people’s accounts, especially of the rescue, I can do a lot more with the story. It sounds like a big undertaking and a challenge, but I think it could be fun.

    • Thank you, Andrea! Now that I’ve put this out there, I hope I haven’t bit off more than I can chew! Like I said, though, this isn’t something I’ll get done overnight. This could take YEARS!

      (Like writing about your/our overseas experiences, right? There’s just so much to say, and so much cultural stuff beneath it all, it’s hard to know where to begin!)

      • No matter the time it takes I think you’ll do a fantastic job of it!
        You’re right, sometimes the more there is to say about something, the more difficult it becomes to say anything. I completely understand that sentiment! :)
        Write on, sister, it’s calling you for a reason!

  3. I have thought about doing the same thing and actually started on it. The problem I face is what angle to take? I have had a bit of an odd ball life…I could almost make several books.

    It will come to me at some point.

    So you should give it a go as well! And that is crazy that your boyfriend knows your rescuers. What are the odds?

    • That’s what I thought, too, Steve! Totally nuts. Chattanooga isn’t all that big, I guess…

      And, yeah, you should definitely tell your story. Like I mentioned in a few other comments and in my post, I don’t expect to be pumping this out any time soon. This will be something I’ll have to find time for “on the side.” Got to have a real job, too!

      But I would love to know more about your surfing competitions, etc.! And of course your own brush with death. Crazy.

      • It is funny. My manager is my old time work buddy. We are in the same boat. He was a performer and sang in a band and opened for a lot of big time acts. They even performed at the Apollo. …and here we are in a resort trying to fix a big mess.

        He can get it. Thankfully my circumstances were not ordinary with my surfing. Besides a few big industry types, no one knew much about me. So to the public at large, I was just this real good guy that they could not figure out who I was. So when the old fame train came to a halt; I did not have to deal with the old, “He was going to make it big but failed”.

        Thankfully though I was able to do a lot. Hang with some big names, travel by myself at a very young age (which brought about some adventures in itself) and return to my former jobs and try to act like a regular working Joe. It was a big balancing act that I was not so good at doing.

        Well, there is a book out there for you too! Just have to frame the story in the best way and let the story flow out.

  4. Yes, definitely turn it into a book! I can’t wait til the day it comes up, and then I’ll get you to sign it :) I’ve said this before, but I really enjoyed reading your rock-climbing story. When I finished reading it, I felt like I wanted to read more. Like how the fall shaped you as a person, whether you still look back on it today and how much you think about the incident. All the best with the project :D

    • Thank you, Mabel. And so sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to your comment! You are very sweet, and it is good for me to know that you felt like you wanted to read more when you’d finished reading it. It’s good to know you still had questions that I hadn’t answered… Hopefully I can do this in the book. And, yes. If I ever complete it, I will definitely get you a signed copy! :)

  5. Jess, this is such an awesome idea, and I look forward to attending a book-signing when it’s finished. This is the kind of story people need to hear, however you tell it and wherever you take it.

    By the way, that Vance guy is BRILLIANT! :0p

    • I’ll look into it for sure!! Thank you for the recommendation. Most of what I know about how to write a book comes from Kurt Vonnegut and Steven King (books where they talk about their writing process, not their “typical” stories). Any advice from others who’ve done it would be good. And thank you for the vote of confidence, fraggle! Hope you’re having a great week!! :)

    • I definitely will let you know if I do, Sam! Right now I’ve got my hands in a lot of projects so not sure how long it will take me to get started on this one. But even making the decision to try is a big one for me!! Hope you’re having a great week!! :)

  6. Was that really the spot where you fell? Cause lady you are one lucky woman to be alive.

    About the book, I find it fascinating not only the climbing world, but your own personal survival story and I believe that most people will too.

    So just write it!

  7. Indeed Books do have a way of writing themselves once you hold the passion of story-telling. The aspect we need to remain conscious of is how does, what we are passionate about, resonate with the reader?


    • You are absolutely right, Shakti. I am always conscious of how what I write will or will not resonate with my reader. Of course I can’t know how my writing will affect everyone, but if it is something I am passionate about, well… Passion has a way of being felt and understood.

  8. Jessica I’m behind on reading all the posts I’ve received. I just read this one and I’m excited about the possibility for you. I know you can do it. This certainly has a lot of coincidences involved which would give you additional information to weave into your story. Keep me posted, okay?

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