COUGAR — For every one hundred authors who rack their brains and snap their pencils as they make doomed attempts to plot the perfect setting for their fledgling stories, there is one Jon Gosch.
Gosch, who was raised in Longview, needed only to peer eastward out the window of his childhood home in order to recognize the prospects of southwest Washington’s definitive motif that has a sneaky habit of hiding in plain sight — Mount St. Helens.
Gosch’s most recent literary creation is a novel titled “Deep Fire Rise.” Gosch’s second published book, is set in the morning shadow of Mount St. Helens back in 1980 during the months that bookended the mountain’s most famous eruption. As such, the book’s official publication date has been set for Friday, in order to coincide with the 38th anniversary of that momentous blowout.
Although the book hasn’t been distributed widely yet, the reviews are already rolling in like a pyroclastic flow of positivity. According to Robert Michael Pyle, a two-time winner of the Washington State Book Award for his works “Wintergreen” and “Where Bigfoot Walks,” Gosch’s latest work manages to match the epic nature of his chosen backdrop.
"The greatest geological event of our times finally has the novel it deserves,” wrote Pyle. “While the literature of Mt. St. Helens is rich in documentation and description, ‘Deep Fire Rise’ is the first fiction of note to come out of that earth-shattering eruption. And fine fiction it is, melding Jon Gosch's taut, fresh style with an unforgettable cast and a riveting plot that gathers with all the tension and inexorability of the very eruption itself."
According to Gosch, his sophomore production didn’t come to fruition without his fair share of writer’s struggles along the way. However, he says he never wavered in his belief that the wildlands of southwest Washington, and the ever looming mountain, would serve as the perfect setting for his literary labor of love.
“I just grew up with stories about Mount St. Helens in my family. My dad was a police sergeant in Longview in 1980 so he was pretty involved with some of the arrangements in town and he helped arrange President Carter’s detail when he came through, so I always heard a lot of stories there,” explained Gosch. “And (I) went up to the visitors centers, and my family hunts in that country, so it’s always been a fascination for me.”
Just as the setting of “Deep Fire Rise” is woven from the contents of Gosch’s deep memory bank, the plot is also written largely from a place of familiarity. “Deep Fire Rise” follows the day-to-day patrols of a backcountry sheriff as he tends to the disparate, and sometimes desperate, folks who make their home at the base of an active volcano. Just as Gosch’s father was a police sergeant in southwest Washington when the mountain blew its top, Gosch’s brother is now the sheriff assigned to keep the peace in the timberlands of Clark County that includes forgotten dusty crossroad depots like Yacolt, Cougar and Amboy.
In order to find background information for his book Gosch began riding along with his brother, Tim, on his patrols along the southwest foothills of Mount St. Helens. Adding to Deputy Sheriff Tim Gosch’s backcountry lawmen bonafides is his recent reception of the National Grange organization’s Law Enforcement Officer of the year award.
“I just thought, ‘what would it have been like to be a deputy sheriff out in this country, all by yourself, with this mounting rumbling above you?’ ” Gosch explained as the impetus for his book.
Gosch noted the stark differences in policing tactics that he observed in his brother’s patrols as opposed to the urban policing more commonly depicted in popular media. Interpersonal skills top the list of assets that Gosch says are needed to negotiate the moonshine politics of volcano country.
“You really have to forge those relationships,” insisted Gosch.
In addition to tagging along with his brother on patrols and mining his father’s recollection for fascinating factoids, Gosch also explored the caverns of the Longview Public Library in order to dig up forgotten history from the months surrounding the May 18, 1980 eruption.
“It was just interesting to get into the day-to-day news,” explained Gosch, who noted that the Iran hostage situation was one of the headlines of the day sharing ink on newspaper pages along with the growing threat of Mount St. Helens angry magma chamber.
“In writing the book I was pulling in as many of those relevant details as possible to add texture to the book. And not only would I read the front page but I would read the police blotter and sometimes it would just be two sentences, but the stories were so bizarre,” said Gosch.
One recurring theme of “Deep Fire Rise” is the “red zone” implemented by authorities around the mountain in order to keep the public away from the dangers of the blast zone. One local that Gosch spoke with for the book was Mark Smith. Smith’s family owned the Spirit Lake Lodge situated next door to the Mount Saint Helens Lodge owned by infamous rebel, and humble human offering to the mountain, Harry Truman. Smith’s brother was allegedly the last person to speak with Truman before he was buried by the flowing guts of the mountain.
“To hear Mark talk about having that property and not being able to access it because they had drawn this red line to keep citizens out but yet they were letting Weyerhaeuser log in there and they were letting Harry Truman stay in there, so that still hits very close to home for people,” explained Gosch.
In “Deep Fire Rise,” Gosch references bootleg maps sold in hushed tones at service stations to adventurous types who were dead set on getting as close to the tumultuous mountain as possible.
“That was a real thing and they were really selling them under the counter because they had the road blocked on Spirit Lake but there was no way the authorities could block off all the logging roads so if you could figure out the way you could get nearly all the way up to the mountain,” said Gosch.
While Gosch understands the pull those folks felt to get close to the volcano, he also realizes that the eruption was not just a seismic adrenaline rush. Instead, it was a blast of devastation with consequences that are still rippling outward in every direction nearly four decades later.
“You think about the tragedy of the people who didn’t make it out of there. They have friends and family who missed them, and in some cases are still missing them,” said Gosch, who noted the mountain blew its top on a Sunday when most loggers were at home with their families. “If it had blown on any other day it would have taken out far more people.”
Gosch, whose great uncle Russ Mohney was the long time outdoors columnist for The Chronicle, describes his first novel, “If We Get There,” as a “coming of age novel” that tells the tale of two young men making a cross country trek by motorcycle. He says his next book will dive into the world of the Wobblies and their bloody union squabbles. That high-stakes subject is another area where Gosch has a well of family experience to draw from as his great-great grandfather was a Wobbly present during the Centralia Massacre of 1919. He expects that work to be completed sometime in 2020.
Gosch says “Deep Fire Rise” can be picked up locally at Book ‘n’ Brush and other local book depots. Personalized copies are also available online at www.latahbooks.com, and e-books and audiobooks can be found on large scale online shops.
Gosch will be conducting a writing workshop at Lower Columbia College on May 22 from 3:30-5:30 p.m before heading over to his stomping grounds at the Longview Public Library for a public reading of “Deep Fire Rise” from 7-8:30 p.m. that same day. In mid July he plan on giving another reading at Eco Park Resort just a few miles away from Mount St. Helens, and he hopes to add dates in Lewis County in the near future.
Additional information can be found online at jongosch.com.