Tracy Ross on Her Memoir The Source of All Things

My book, The Source of All Things, is out in paperback and I’m urging you: Go buy it!

I know this isn’t the sort of thing writers are supposed to say about their own work. But I’m rule-breaking for a reason. The Source of All Things is the story of how, in 2007, I hiked my stepfather into Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains to confront him about sexual abuse that began there years earlier.

It chronicles my struggle to overcome the abuse, and how, at 36, I finally decided I had to know the truth about what my dad had done to me. He abused me from the time I was 8 until I ran away from home 6 years later, becoming a ward of the State of Idaho and later, being shipped between girls’ homes and various relatives. My dad eventually “confessed” to the Health and Welfare Department, saying he’d abused me twice and that he was very sorry for doing it – all so he could “reunite our family.” My mom and brother believed him. Only my dad and I knew that the abuse had gone much deeper than what he’d confessed to, and had lasted much longer.

I carried the secret for 25 years, until I found the courage to hike him back to the place it began, the Sawtooth Mountains, and get a full confession.

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The book that encapsulates this journey came out last March to great reviews from O Magazine, Elle, More, and others. People called it “an extraordinary journey of anguish and redemption.” Nightline came to my house to report on how my family and I were dealing. And my dad and I flew to Los Angeles to appear – painfully and awkwardly – on the Dr. Drew show. All that, and yet book sales never escalated past so-so. Which leads me to the reason I’m writing.

Let’s be honest: Most of us write is so that others will read us. But child abuse is a subject most people shy away from.

Nevermind that The Source of All Things is about so much more than just abuse – like the healing power of wilderness, and my adventures in it. When people saw the word “molestation,” many sprinted in the other direction. Worse yet, I now know that I let their reaction guide the way I handled my book promotion.

Though I was proud, and knew I had accomplished something critical, when it came time to promote the story I’d worked so fearlessly to craft, I felt crass, like I was attempting to profit off my own misfortune. Gripped by shame (a byproduct of abuse) I lost the enthusiasm I’d felt when I’d first sold my proposal. Somewhere between reading the galleys and that first big interview with People, I fell into a depression that rivaled the one that prompted the book in the first place.

There are worse things than falling prey to the letdown that often accompanies huge effort, but I’m certain I missed opportunities to help others, since my story proves that anyone can triumph over adversity, whether you’ve been abused or not.

Now, a year has passed, and I’m happy to report that I have a whole new philosophy about book promotion.

It’s prompted in part by the arrival of my baby daughter, Hollis.

Hollis was born last August, via C-section. Because I live 15 minutes from a cross-country ski area, I’ve used skiing to my shed baby weight. Four times a week, for two hours each day, I drag Hollis around the ski trails in a sled attached to my waist via metal stays and a harness. We’re a sight – one of the few mother-daughter couples who do this, and people are always exclaiming, “Rock star!” or “Incredible!”

Their praise gives me hope that I’m returning – or will return – to my pre-baby body. But for a long time, I downplayed my accomplishment. When people asked how I did it, I’d shout back, “desperation!” as if skiing were saving me from the torture of having a newborn. It wasn’t true, not for one second. And recently I’ve realized that by diminishing my passion for skiing with my baby, I was also diminishing Hollis, and the amazing memories we were creating.

I ski with Hollis for many of the same reasons I wrote The Source of All Things. Because even though it’s difficult, it brings me clarity, and a huge sense of fulfillment. With skiing, it’s also for the joy of knowing that my baby is dozing happily in her sled while I’m purging my brain, clearing my arteries, and getting high off a huge dose of adrenaline. Come to think of it, that mainline jolt of “I’m alive now, aren’t I?!” is one of the main reasons I write.

It’s probably one of the reasons you do, too. But let’s not forget how hard it is to make ourselves sit down and put words to paper. I think it was Joan Didion who spoke of the “low dread” that overcomes her every time she looks at her computer. But she, I, us: we continue to write, despite the pain, the agony, and the frustration. For that reason alone, we should be proud of our accomplishments.

If you’ve written a book (and if not, I hope you will) you know how hard it is to push through all the stages of creativity. By the time your book comes out, you’ve earned the right to promote it with pride, joy, and an unbridled sense of possibility. What happens next is up to all kinds of forces, many of them uncontrollable. What you can do now – what you must do – is know that you’ve done your best and relish the adrenaline-fueled moment of accomplishment.

Then go forward, encouraging everyone in the world to go out and buy your book.

tracy-ross-author-photoTRACY ROSS is an award-winning journalist and contributing editor at Backpacker Magazine, an ASME award–winning outdoor publication with 1.2 million readers. She has been published in the U.S., England, South Africa, and Australia. Her essay “The Source of All Things” has won the National Magazine Award in 2009 and has been selected for inclusion in The Best American Sports Writing and The Best American Magazine Writing. Her Skiing magazine story “Our Country Comes Skiing in Peace” received a notable mention in Best American Travel Writing, and her work has also appeared in Outside and Women’s Sports Illustrated. Ross’s assignments have taken her to the wilds of Alaska, the ski slopes of Iran, and the most remote reaches of Ecuador. She writes about exotic places and intriguing people, but mainly about the wilderness and how it intersects with the most important issues in our lives. She lives with her family at 8,000 feet in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. Her memoir, The Source of All Things, is available in paperback wherever books are sold, published by Simon & Schuster.

Visit Tracy online at and on Facebook, and read reviews of The Source of All Things on Goodreads.

About Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

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