On the heels of his highly poetic and intriguing Boardman Tasker Prize-nominated debut novel, Hooker & Brown, Jerry Auld submitted his second manuscript, a collection of short stories, to his publisher. And while the feedback was positive, Auld said it was apparent the mountain fiction genre was a small niche to fit into.
"With the mountain community and the mountain audience, I knew this book had to be distributed not to a broad and shallow market, but to a narrow, deep and personal one," Auld said. "Even my publisher said maybe there's a better home for this book. Nobody is doing mountain fiction."
But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
Several years ago, Auld and mountain writer Dustin Lynx were sharing beers at the Georgetown Inn in Canmore as part of a regular gathering of mountain writers.
"It was something akin to a literary Fight Club," Lynx explained. "We met at the Georgetown, not in the parking lot to fight it out, but inside. The only rules were that it had to be fiction and you had to be ready to read it out loud."
One night — possibly a dark and stormy one — unbeknownst to the writers, a gentleman was sitting within earshot.
"He enjoyed the stories so much that he approached Jerry afterwards and asked when we met and if he could listen in," Lynx recalled. "He was too old to be interested in joining the club, but he was greatly amused by what he had heard."
The man, a part-time Canmore resident who prefers privacy, had eavesdropped on the group on several occasions. After the release of Hooker & Brown, the man took Auld aside and told him he would love to read more stories in the same genre of mountain fiction. Auld assured him he'd love to oblige, but explained there were no publishers in North America focussing on the mountain fiction genre.
"There is now," replied the man, who then pledged financial backing should Auld be interested in starting such a company.
After much discussion — and likely a few pints — Auld and Lynx settled on a suitable name: Imaginary Mountain Surveyors. After incorporating in 2012, the company was publicly launched in Canmore this month.
In creating their company, Auld and Lynx said their vision is to establish the genre of mountain fiction. The name was carefully chosen: Imaginary denotes fictional; Mountain establishes their focus on the mountain environment; and Surveyors implies a look toward the future.
"As 'Surveyors,' we look toward the future, beyond traditional models, and try new ways to tell stories," Lynx said. "At the same time, we honour history such as the interprovincial boundary survey that opened up the Canadian Rockies a hundred years ago. Imagine being on that survey, crossing into the white spaces on the map and marvelling how vast is the world? We want to recapture that exploratory spirit when maps were blank."
Thus far, Auld's collection of 33 short stories, Short Peaks, is IMS's only title. While he admits to being "deeply" involved with IMS, Auld said he was happy to step back for the benefit of his own work. "When it comes to my work, I won't have that conflict of interest," Auld said. "I was happy to let IMS make the decisions."
Those decisions involved helping him trim his collection of stories from 45 down to 33 of "the best, the strongest."
While writers have already begun contacting IMS, Auld said plans are to only publish one project at a time. "We're going to be a project-based publisher, each book will be self-supporting, funding will be project-specific," Auld said. "Projects will only come out when they're ready. There won't be a spring catalogue."
Future plans include encouraging younger generations to express their own stories through a writing contest offered through local schools. "Operating in the micro-niche of mountain fiction allows us to break some rules, like publishing short stories, fictional guidebooks or maps that convey a story, or even video," Lynx said. "We are allowing space for our vision to grow as we survey new territory. We're excited to see where this goes; it's terra incognita now."
In the shorter term, IMS will sponsor the 2013 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival's first award for mountain fiction.
Visit www.imaginarymountains.com for more information.