I was twenty when my parents dropped me at a trailhead to hike the last five hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail, north to Maine from Vermont. Looking back now, I am amazed—and grateful—that they went along with my plans instead of arguing that I shouldn’t be heading into the wilderness without a tracking device embedded in my arm.
I have a notoriously terrible sense of direction. While they were still waving goodbye, I started off following blazes on the trail at a good clip. “Carrie! Stop!” they shouted. I was headed south instead of north, off on the wrong foot from the get-go.
I repeated this mistake many times during my weeks hiking through New England and frequently wandered off the trail entirely, following a deer track or the clearing for an electrical line instead of the well-marked, well-worn route north. Sun, stars, carefully written directions, landmarks, regularly placed signposts—none of that made a difference. I was destined to lose my way often.
Fortunately, I never came to any serious harm. In fact, I saw a few interesting sights because of my proclivity for falling off the beaten path. Those who stray from trails are often rewarded with deep quiet, superb wildlife viewing and solitude, whether they seek those things or not.
Maybe I’m just rationalizing away a shortcoming, but I’m sort of glad I get lost so much.
My novel, Drowning Cactus, follows two very different characters, a cactus thief and an urban gardening instructor, both of whom end up lost in the Sonoran Desert. The cover of the novel says, “Some find inspiration in the wilderness. Others find themselves hopelessly lost.” Like me, the characters in Drowning Cactus do both.
“… a dangerous, smart, and stunning debut.” – Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth
“Carrie Russell knows that serious stuff can be funny–even Saving the Earth.” – Heather Lockman, author of The Indian Shirt Story
When his botched cactus theft is mistaken for an eco-protest, Gordon Burstein is thrust into the national spotlight and expected to speak for the land he loves. He panics and runs, beginning a journey of self-discovery that takes him from spring break in Mexico, across the Sonora, all the way to Thoreau’s Walden Pond.
Press and fans scramble to track him down, but no one is more determined than Mora Sullivan, a disgraced environmentalist who has fallen hard for Gordon. She treks into the desert, determined to find inspiration and love.
Gordon and Mora must survive the wilderness, evade the law, and confront the many lies they’ve told the world and each other—all before they attempt to rescue a truckload of cacti from drowning in a New England swamp.
Drowning Cactus is Carrie Russell’s first novel. She studied literature and writing at Columbia and Oxford. She also has a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She has worked at a number of nonprofit environmental organizations and still practices law when she can’t resist a cause. She is currently at work on her next book.
You can read more about Carrie Russell on her website.