by Kevin Dicciani
Harry Groome was flying in a single-engine plane over the Wrangell-St. Elias area of Alaska when he spotted a log cabin buried among boundless black and white spruces miles away from civilization. The pilot said the man who lives there, a hermit, goes to Anchorage every summer to talk a young woman into spending the winter with him in the cabin.
The cabin has no heat, no electricity, no running water or phone. Oddly, the pilot said, the women always agree. And then they head off to the isolated cabin in the woods – the woman anticipating a quiet retreat away from the world, and the man planning to beat her relentlessly.
This was the genesis of Groome’s new novel, “Thirty Below.” The novel, which Groome describes as a “wilderness thriller,” follows Carrie Ritter, a young woman from Southern California, who leaves the comforts of society and flees to Alaska.
Once there, Ritter is confronted by the treacheries of the harsh, wintry landscape – wolves, sub-zero temperatures, blizzards, cabin fever. When she finally adjusts to her new life, she becomes interested in her cabin mate who, on the surface, seems to be the perfect man, but underneath is something entirely more sinister.
Groome, 76, who was born in Chestnut Hill and now lives in Villanova, has been writing his entire life – from his days at what was then Chestnut Hill Academy, through his time in the Army and during his career in the pharmaceutical industry. Groome said he doesn’t dwell on his time spent as a businessman.
“My focus is on writing – my writing, other people’s writing, the craft,” he said. “All that other stuff is old news.”
Along with having his short stories published in an array of literary magazines, Groome has written two other novels – “Wing Walking” and “The Girl Who Fished with a Worm” – the latter being a spoof of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Although he has been producing a great deal of fiction lately, it wasn’t always that easy for him. From age 16 to 26, Groome wrote nonfiction, thinking he didn’t have a fictional story to tell.
“I thought, ‘I’ll never write fiction because I don’t have a story,’” Groome said. “I remember worrying about that a lot.”
After he retired, Groome got an M.F.A. from Vermont College and discovered that he doesn’t worry about coming up with stories anymore – there’s always a story, he said.
“Now all I worry about is if the story and writing is good,” Groome said.
Groome approaches writing the same every day. He gets to his desk around eight in the morning with his coffee and writes until about two in the afternoon. Later on in the day, he may return to his computer to edit or write some more.
“I force myself everyday to sit down and do it,” Groome said. “Someone said, ‘Amateurs wait for inspiration, the rest of us just sit down and go to work.’”
“In my experience, if you wait around for inspiration, it most certainly isn’t going to come.”
With the advent of iPads, Kindles and Nooks and the stigma of self-publishing dissolving, today’s literary landscape has changed dramatically. Add to that the ever-present pinging and screaming of smart phones, laptops, tablets and 24/7 television, and you have constant distractions between you and reading in peace. As a writer, Groome said, he tries not to focus on the end product and how it’ll reach people in a time when a flood of materials compete for everyone’s attention.
“I learned a long time ago that the fun of it is writing the book,” Groome said. “The rest of it is a headache, a frustration and anxiety producing.”
Groome said that he was recently out to dinner with a writer friend of his, and the topic came up about why writers continue to write. Groome, who considers himself obsessed with writing, said that his friend told him something about the craft that struck a particular cord within him, something that he finds truer with each passing day as he works on new short stories and novels.
“There are needs, wants and obsessions,” Groome’s friend said. “You can satisfy a need and you can satisfy a want and then walk away from it, but an obsession is something that can never be satisfied. That’s why we writers continue to write – we’re obsessed.”
For more information on “Thirty Below” and Harry Groome, visit his website at www.harrygroome.com.