Q & A: Co-author of hiking guides turns to fiction for latest book
A nice walk in the woods always appealed to Barbara Delaney, but if there’s a good story behind the hike it makes the experience a lot more interesting.
However, after co-authoring two hiking guides, she is breaking new ground. Her passion for writing, hiking and history have merged to produce “Finding Griffin,” her fourth book overall and her first novel.
A self-published work printed by Troy Book Makers, the story is set in the Adirondacks in modern times but includes several flashbacks to the 19th century when Griffin, a 19th century mill town of 300 in the southern Adirondacks, actually did exist.
Delaney, a Mechanicville native who now lives in Albany, has already produced two hiking books with her husband, Russell Dunn. The first was “Trails with Tales: History Hikes through the Capital Region, Saratoga, Berkshires, Catskills and Hudson Valley,” in 2006. In 2009 the couple also produced “Adirondack Trails with Tales: History Hikes Through the Adirondack Park, Lake George, Lake Champlain and Mohawk Valley Regions.” Both were published by Black Dome Press. Their third book, “3-D Guide to the Empire State Plaza and its Collection of Large Works of Art,” was a self-published effort earlier this year.
Along with writing four books and numerous magazine articles on history and the outdoors, Delaney is a licensed hiking guide in the state of New York. She and her husband, who has produced a series of books on waterfalls throughout upstate New York and the Berkshires, continue to lead hikes and produce books, and Delaney is working on two new writing projects.
Delaney went to the State University of New York at Binghamton as an art history major, and finished getting her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the State University of New York at Albany. Widowed with two sons in her early twenties, Delaney — her maiden name — had a long career working in the New York State Department of Health in Albany. She has been married to Dunn for 21 years, and when she’s not hiking or writing, she enjoys spending time with her seven grandchildren.
She has several book signings scheduled. On Thursday, she will be at the Adirondack Reader in Inlet, on July 21 she will be at Edinburg Day in Edinburg, and on July 26 she will be signing books at Charlie John’s Store in Speculator.
Q: Why did you write a novel?
A: I’ve always enjoyed writing, and when I was much younger in college I used to write short stories. This book started as a short story, and one of my brothers, a professor at MIT, said, “I’d like to know more about these characters. Why don’t you make this longer.” So, I was working on it off and on for three years, and after a lot of editing I finished it. If my brother hadn’t mentioned it, maybe I wouldn’t have done it. But I found the whole experience quite wonderful. I was outlining characters and found the whole structure of a novel very interesting. I have more notes on my characters that didn’t get into the novel. But it was a lot of fun and I’m working on two more right now.
Q: When did you become an avid hiker?
A: I’ve always liked the outdoors, even when I was a young girl. My husband and I really enjoy it, and we started doing more and more hiking, looking for beautiful natural places in the area and also looking into the history of these places. We love exploring new places, and if there some was great history in that spot that made it even better. That’s how we came up with the “Trails with Tales” idea.
Q: How often do you go hiking, and does that include climbing mountains?
A: I am a licensed guide by the state of New York, but we’re not doing as much guiding as we have in the past. I love to climb mountains, but I’m not a 46er, and at this point in my life you’re not going to see me racing to the top of one of the high peaks. I’ve been up a few, but what I really like is the journey. More important to me than getting to the peak is to check out the wildflowers along the way and all the other green stuff. I really love to be out in the woods.
Q: Do you exercise to stay in shape for hiking?
A: I do a bunch of floor exercises, but I also get out every day and walk. I never walk less than a mile or two. I don’t really enjoy going to the gym, so it’s important for me to get outdoors and enjoy the woods and the lakes. We have a home in Sacandaga, and along with the walking I do really enjoy swimming.
Q: How did “Finding Griffin” come about?
A: We were hiking around Route 8 near Wells, and we saw something that looked like an old factory building. I went back to the library and did some research, and learned that there had not only been a factory there, but a town of 330 people. The town has vanished, reclaimed by the forest, but there was a community there once, right along the east branch of the Sacandaga River. There was a post office, a hotel, a boarding house. But now, when you get on that trail and head into the woods you’ll see nothing. My novel is contemporary, but it’s about these 19th century letters that are found in the attic of a home in Albany, and two characters go on this journey to discover their family secrets in what was the town of Griffin.