Three hikers seek redemption and forgiveness on Yosemite’s Mist Trail in Scott Neuffer’s new novel Range of Light. Below, Neuffer discusses his inspiration, characters, and writing process.
“a beautifully-written book… Neuffer has great chops…”– Lynda, Librarything Early Reviewers
About Range of Light:
A journey of finding oneself in an increasingly material world…
An escape from censorship toward hoped-for redemption…
A path to forgiveness and restoration….
One bright morning in the summer of 2011, three strangers fortuitously meet at the start of Yosemite’s famed Mist Trail—a disillusioned investment banker with two million dollars in cash in his tent, a Chinese dissident artist escaping political persecution but not his own demons, and a middle-aged single woman trying to rebuild her life after a terrible divorce.
Each hiker is seeking something as they explore the Mist Trail, but by the end of the climb, two of them will be dead.
Containing elements of satire, neo-noir, and geopolitical thriller, Range of Light at heart is a literary work of fiction that captures and reveals the complex, unraveling lives of three strangers in one of America’s most iconic natural settings. Beneath the thundering falls of Yosemite, these disparate lives crash together in a dramatic climax, revealing both the worst and the best aspects of the human heart.
- Why was Range of Light important for you to write?
It was inspired by a trip to Yosemite in 2011. I experienced such intense energy from the visitors and scenery that it made me want to write a book. I had taken pictures and videotaped much of the trip, but they were insufficient in capturing the feeling I had experienced—one of cultural collision, drama, love, aspiration—set in the magnificent scenery. I began writing it as a way to explore these feelings, to chart the complicated emotions.
- How did you come up with the title?
The title is what John Muir called the Sierra Nevada Range. It refers to the physical setting of the mountains, but also to the range of light in the characters’ lives. Each is plagued by darkness: from culture, from history, politics and personal failings. Yet each strives toward the light, or rather discovers the quality of light both without and within. There is something magnificent about these mountains, the way they reflect light and glow. I wanted my human characters to have the same quality.
- The book is told from the point of view of three very different characters. Did you create those characters to contrast each other on purpose?
Yes, though they came to life naturally. One thing about the park is that it’s super diverse. So all these lives balance each other. The main characters come from different backgrounds, different political systems. Li hails from communist China, and Stamer was an investment banker at the pinnacle of capitalism. So they critique each other. Dorle offers an emerging feminist perspective. The two men are drawn to her for different reasons, but she finds her independence from both their failed systems.
- The book begins in the present and uses flashbacks to fill in the pasts of the three main characters. What were the challenges of writing the book that way?
The biggest challenge was making each character real, their backstory convincing enough to propel them into the current moment. The book starts in the present, and the present culminates in so much, that the backstories had to have enough force to inform and shape the present. I’m not sure I pulled it all together, but I will say I found myself empathizing with each character, which is a sign as a writer you’re doing something right in fleshing out your characters.
- Often the characters in a book are in some way a piece of the author. Did you use any pieces of yourself to create your characters? Which one would you say is the most like you and why?
This is the only book I’ve written that is purely fiction and not autobiographical. That said, I relate to Li, the tortured artist, quite a bit. I’m sure my personality informed the other characters’ journeys as well, but with Li, I feel there’s a personal reckoning there as he’s ambitious and reckless and believes in his art for the wrong reasons. Writing Li was a way to critique my own monstrous ambitions and to locate what is at stake when we let such ambition drive us. Stamer and Dorle are ambitious in their own ways too, but because I’m a writer, I identify with Li’s struggles more.
- Range of Light is in many ways a redemption story. What do you hope readers will take away from it?
Redemption never comes easy. It’s something we have to work for through thought and action. But I want readers to know it is possible. I believe in deep character arcs, characters struggling through the darkness. Any light that comes cannot be taken for granted. It’s earned. And redemption rarely comes in neat story-book fashion. It’s messy, a state of realization and hopefully reconciliation with the past. I hope readers can identify with the characters’ struggles and see redemption for what it is: a state of mind, a deeply existential state, not a happy-ending prize.
- The story is very detailed, moving through three different points of view and from the present to the past and back. Did you have everything mapped out before you started writing, or did things come to you or change as you wrote?
The characters’ points of view came naturally as I wrote. I thought the trajectory of the narrative was going one way, then I had to stop and rewrite and follow their truth more closely. They took on a life of their own. Every time I tried to map out this trajectory, it took a different turn. I believe in this, organic writing. If we consciously map out everything and try to control and force the narrative, we miss all the subconscious energy that arises naturally, that really imbues characters with life-like qualities.
- The story takes place on the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park. Why did you choose this location? Does the park or trail have any significance to you in real life?
Yes. I took a trip with my family up the Mist Trail in 2011. It inspired me to write the book. I also grew up in a small town against the Sierra Nevada, so the landscape has always inspired me. The Mist Trail in particular is such a dramatic setting. The mist, the stone, the waterfalls, the crowds. I wanted the setting to reinforce the action in the book. The action and emotional stakes in the book elevate as the characters climb the trail. And of course, the setting is resplendent with images and symbols. It really is a fantastic place to set a novel.
- The entire present action of the story takes place along the Mist Trail in Yosemite, making the trail feel like a character in the story. Can you tell us more about this?
I grew up in the Sierra Nevada, idolizing naturalist writers like John Muir. When I actually made the trip to Yosemite Valley with my family in 2011, I was blown away by the size and diversity of the crowds, how the scenery was like a magnet attracting people from all over the world. The valley itself is Eden-like, exuding a kind of innocence. But the way people from all over the world fill the valley and clash with each other offers dramatic potential.
I was staying in a small motel with my family in Lee Vining, on the eastern edges of the park, when I first conceived of the novel. It just started coming. I wrote down some notes and the first chapter. From there things blossomed. The characters started taking on lives of their own and the way the landscape informed their actions kept changing.
Originally I had a very different idea of what would happen with the relationship between Dorle and Stamer. It was a lot more of a romantic idea. But the weight of the characters, their dark back stories, led me down a different path. At some point, I stopped writing, tore down some of the later chapters, and went with the new direction. It clicked. It rang true. The characters became real people searching for refuge in the park.
I’ve often searched for refuge in America’s wild places as well, parks and wilderness areas. They beckon with a sense of freedom. But they can be dangerous. Whatever demons you have you take into these places and in some ways those demons are amplified by the space and silence. So though wilderness has a therapeutic aspect, it’s naïve to think it’s a cure-all. We bring all our problems to it. The mountains love us only as much as we love ourselves.
- The ending was a pretty big surprise. Can you tell us what made you decide to end it this way without giving away the ending?
I was just following the moral trajectory of the story, the way these characters collided and the revelations in their lives. The story built to its natural emotional climax. I didn’t plan it out, per se. The reversals that came were natural to the story I had created. So there are some surprises, but I don’t think they’re affected or cheap. I think they honor the lived realities of these characters, at least that’s my hope. I will say ending a novel is a tricky business. Ultimately readers will decide if I pulled it off.
About the Author:
Scott Neuffer is the author of the upcoming literary fiction novel Range of Light and Scars of the New Order, his debut short story collection. He is the editor and founder of the literary journal, Trampset, and his book reviews have appeared in Shelf Awareness.
His work has been featured in Atticus Review, Entropy Magazine, Foreword Reviews, Underground Voices, Construction Literary Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere.
A writer, journalist, poet, and musician, he lives in Nevada with his family where he is currently working on his next novel.
Follow Scott Neuffer on Twitter to keep up with his work!
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