Fearless Memoir

How to overcome fear, unworthiness, and self-doubt and finally write a memoir. By Brad Wetzler, award-winning author, editor, and book writing coach.

Short Memoir: Looking Back on Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air," Part II

How I Coached Jon Krakauer to Write the Story that Only He Could Tell

Last week, I posted Part I of the story of my involvement with "Into Thin Air." That post told the behind-the-scenes story of the days during and immediately after the storm that killed climbers during the 1996 season. Today, I'm posting a short blog essay about the process of coaching Jon Krakauer to tell the story about what happened on Everest. To this day, Krakauer is a dogged journalist and talented writer. Editing him was a highlight of my seven years working as an editor at Outside. I know Jon wishes he'd never gone to Everest. I understand why. However, I'm grateful to Jon and Outside magazine for giving me the opportunity to have this experience.

Here's my latest blog essay:

I can still hear the buzzing and burping of the fax machine as it started to spit out Jon Krakauer’s first draft of “Into Thin Air.”

It was early June 1996, a few weeks after the infamous storm on Mount Everest...

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Short Memoir: Looking Back on Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air"

Sending Jon Krakauer to Everest was my idea. After the news broke, I spent the better part of a day wondering if I’d put him in a frozen grave.

IT WAS THE WORST STORY IDEA idea an editor could come up with, let alone assign to a real human being. That’s how I felt on Saturday, May 11, 1996, the day I heard Jon Krakauer had disappeared while reporting for Outside on the growing phenomenon of commercially guided trips up Mount Everest a story I’d conceived and helped make happen by dealing with an endless stream of logistical headaches. None of that mattered when I heard Krakauer was missing in a deadly high-altitude blizzard. Had I sent him to his death?

Just 24 hours earlier, of course, I’d considered myself a genius. On the morning of May 10, Mark Bryant, Outside‘s editor, made an announcement at the daily editorial meeting in our Santa Fe office. “I have news from Jon Krakauer’s wife,” he quietly told some two dozen...

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Short Memoir: How Pilgrimage Shows Us the Way Back to True Self

 Last winter, I traveled to southern India for a pilgrimage to Arunachala, a conical mountain considered by Hindus to be the embodiment of Shiva, the god of destruction and rebirth. The night before the pilgrimage, I dropped onto the mattress in my bamboo hut hoping for a peaceful rest. I fell asleep listening to mosquitoes bombard the window screens. The peace didn’t last. Two hours later, I was awake. When it became clear I wasn’t going back to sleep, I got up and went outside to the bamboo balcony of my two-story hut and spread out my yoga mat. I moved through a few Sun Salutations. Moving my body like this clears energy trapped in muscle and sinew. It makes me feel better and sometimes allows me to go back to sleep.

But on this night, sleep wasn’t in the cards. After more yoga poses, I lay on my mat, lost in thought, staring across the grassy land at Arunachala. Clouds shrouded its conical summit and, lit by a full moon, the mountain seemed to glow from...

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Short Memoir: How Pilgrimage Shows Us the Way Back to True Self, Part 2

Something changed in me that day on Mount Arunachala. I glimpsed something I’d never seen before. At least, not since I was a boy.

It was only a glimpse, so I can’t say for certain what I saw. But during and after my circumambulation, I peered deeper inside myself than I had done before. Deeper than during the most focused yoga or meditation session. Deeper than during any adventure to a far-flung natural place. Deeper than during the most reverent, prayerful visit to a sacred site or Indian temple. Arunachala shattered me. Opened me. And through the broken shell of myself I glimpsed something bright, essential, true. Was it my soul?

But as transformative and beautiful as that experience was, I was in no condition to return to “normal” life. During the next few days, my final days in India, I cried often. On the flight home to the States, I teared up every time my mind wandered back to Arunachala. Back at my apartment in Boulder, I turned the key in the lock...

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