Q & A with Jim Trainor about The Mountain Goat
1. Why did you choose the road trip theme for this story? Have you been to all those places?
The road trip theme came from several origins. First, I wanted the two main characters to experience a journey that would remove them from their familiar (and troubled) environments, so the road trip motif worked well for that. Then, I have always loved road trips myself, especially camping road trips, and found them to be times of discovery and peace. I wanted to share that with my characters. And, yes, I have been to all those places, multiple times, so I know them all quite well. It was great fun going there again with Amanda and Ryan.
2. The protagonists in several of your novels, including The Mountain Goat, have been physicists. Are your novels in any way autobiographical?
Yes and no. I spent much of my professional life as a research physicist, and so this is a world I know quite well, and indeed love. And I came to understand quite a bit about what makes physicists tick—although most physicists are an independent and unpredictable lot. I share some of the values and characteristics of the physicist protagonists in my novels, but most of the story details are completely imaginary. I never started a forest fire or tracked down eco-terrorists (Up North), been shot or crashed a pickup over the side of a cliff (Waverly’s Universe), or been fired and followed by mysterious stalkers across the country (The Mountain Goat). Each of these protagonists also suffered from professional setbacks that I never experienced, but are based on real physicists or composites of real physicists I have known. Not sure I could have handled a life with that much excitement.
3. Speaking of physicists, what kind of physics research did you do?
My Ph.D. thesis at the University of California was on the very-low-temperature (near absolute zero) properties of matter. I continued that basic research at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, but then branched out into the very-high-pressure and high temperature properties of matter, conditions approaching those of the sun and in the stars.
4. It seems like you know LA well. Do you?
I was born in south Los Angeles and lived in various areas of the LA metropolis through graduate school. I still have family and friends in the LA area, so I visit regularly. So, yes, I would say that I do know the LA area well. Since The Mountain Goat is primarily about wilderness and rural life, the characters sometimes have some pretty critical things to say about big cities—Los Angeles and Denver, in particular. Frankly, I love both of those places.
5. What do you see as THE turning point in the book, or are there several? For each main character?
Yes, there are several important turning points in the book. The most important, however, is when Ryan acts with spontaneous boldness after first meeting Amanda at the bank. Although there are other turning points in the book, it is from that one moment of Ryan’s boldness and Amanda’s willingness to take a really big chance that their lives will never be the same.
6. What is Uncle Wil's role in the book?
Wil has an important role as a man of wisdom and faith, a person who can provide perspective and guidance to a discouraged and floundering Ryan and, in fact, be the father figure that Ryan never had.
7. Do you like camping? Where did you get the idea of having them be in a Roadtrek?
I’ve been an avid camper, hiker, and backpacker nearly my whole life. I’ve found that traveling and spending time in the wilderness allows separation from the daily routine and enables me to begin to see things more clearly. This was important for Amanda and Ryan to begin to get perspective on their lives. My wife Mary and I now do most of our camping in a Roadtrek camper van. I was inspired to have Ryan’s mom be a single-woman Roadtreker by all the amazing women now touring the country solo in Roadtreks—like Ryan’s mom, they are an awesome group.
8. What was your inspiration for having Ryan's mom have magnets in her RV?
Since beginning to tour the country in our Roadtrek, we’ve been collecting travel magnets from visitor-center gift shops, truck stops and small-town stores. They give us pleasant memories of the places we have visited. Ryan’s mother had the same experience, and ultimately they provided a means for her to connect more deeply with her son.
9. What is your favorite national park?
This will come as no surprise to the reader: Glacier National Park. I love the rough-sculpted features of the terrain, the amazing hiking trails and the abundant wildlife, yes, even the magnificent grizzly bears. And, of course, the mountain goats. I’ve visited many of our national parks and monuments, and they are all great treasures. One purpose of this book is to encourage people to hit the road and visit these wonderful places. I've been pleased to hear from several readers that for their summer vacation they are planning to follow Amanda and Ryan's route in The Mountain Goat.
10. Do you see a conflict, as many do, between science and faith?
I do not see a conflict between the two, and many scientists I have known share that conviction. I wrote a book on the subject, Grasp: Making Sense of Science and Spirituality. Both science and faith point to truth, but use different approaches. Thus, faith will no more aid in the development of a computer chip than science will show me how to love my neighbor.
11. Will there be a sequel to The Mountain Goat?
That's not yet decided. I'm currently working on several concepts for my next novel, one of which would be a sequel. We'll see.