Thirty-nine years ago, Mount Saint Helens grew tired of sitting silent and blew its top. One year ago, Jon Gosch released a novel titled “Deep Fire Rise” and the book has been generating plenty of noise in its own right.
“Deep Fire Rise” is a fiction work set in the morning shadow of Mount St. Helens during the months and moments leading up to, and immediately after, the infamous eruption. Gosch, who grew up in Longview and was raised traipsing the backwoods of the Cascade mountains, drew on his moss-backed experiences in Southwest Washington in order to paint a vivid picture of a particular time and place.
Since its release, the literary effort has drawn rave reviews from readers and critics alike, and this year the book was selected by the Western Writers of America as a finalist for Best Contemporary Novel at the annual Spur Awards. While “Deep Fire Rise” did not wind up with top honors this spring, the book continues to resonate with readers who harbor an intimate knowledge of volcano country, as well as those who are just getting to know it for the first time.
“I was born and raised in Longview and grew up hunting and hiking all around Mount St. Helens. My dad was a Longview police sergeant when the volcano blew in 1980, and for two decades my brother has been a deputy sheriff in north Clark County where much of the book is set,” explained Gosch. “There are other connections as well. My good friend, Mark Smith, lived and worked at Spirit Lake Lodge, which his family owned until it was destroyed by the eruption. Mark’s brother was probably the last person to see Harry Truman alive.”
Gosch drew on those unique influences in order to create a fictional narrative that rings true even when, as he admits, it’s totally made up.
“Lots of locals have commented on how historically accurate the book is, which is gratifying because my research was painstaking — both in the library and in the passenger seat of my brother’s police car,” noted Gosch. “One of the funniest things locals tell me is that they know exactly who the real Elmer Bugg is. He’s a schizophrenic, old man who lives in a moldering trailer and a key character in the book. I sometimes have a hard time breaking it to people that he was totally fictional, one of the few characters not based on anyone at all.”
In addition to being selected as a finalist for the Spur Awards the book has been designated as one of the top novels of the Pacific Northwest on Goodreads.
“ ‘Deep Fire Rise’ continues to resonate with readers, I think, because it immerses them in a fascinating period of history and because the characters and situations ring so true emotionally,” Gosch said. “The book moves quickly and is packed with suspense, yet it’s the humanity and humor of the characters — even the vile ones — that really keeps people turning the pages. Also, readers love the main character, Deputy Wilson. He’s flawed but truly heroic, like most of the cops I know.”
For more information on “Deep Fire Rise,” or to contact the author, go online to jongosch.com.