There are a number of starting points in writing a book. An amusing idea. An intriguing character. An instance of "Things are not as they seem."

But every so often an idea grabs you by the throat and won't let go. You consider other plots. Write a chapter or two. Like the new plot.

But the throat-grabber squeezes.

You try to ignore it. Throat-grabber books are hard to write.

It presses in on your windpipe.

You succumb.

Thus, No Footprints.

The Golden Gate Bridge is arguably the most beautiful span in the world. I'd never walked across it.

So, on a July day I headed onto the span. The bridge is very long, nearly two miles. It's windy out there. Cold all the time. Cars clank over connectors that join the roadway plates every few yards, creating a drumbeat. Wind whips between cars, slapping your face.

The railing is relatively low. You can climb over it and stand on a metal ledge. 250 feet below is San Francisco Bay. Chocolaty brown. Looks warm. Soft.

If you were to take a step off the ledge, you'd fall for 4 seconds. You'd hit the water at 70 mph. Break most of your bones. Collapse your lungs. You might die from the impact. Momentum would shoot you down deep and if you were still alive you'd probably drown before you came back up.

People who survived have said that the instant they jumped they regretted it. They just wanted their lives back.

(A barrier or a net would save lives. For specifics, check out The Bridge Rail Foundation.)

There are many wretched and sad reasons for suicide, which are being discussed in other books. No Footprints is a mystery. And the woman Darcy Lott saves, has a very different reason for being willing to throw away her life.

If, like Darcy Lott, you saw someone about to jump, if you pulled her back, and then she vanished, wouldn't you move Heaven and earth to find her? Discover why she was willing to toss her life away? Keep her from trying again?

The issue of death is central to mysteries. But the real question is: What is life?

What is life?

It's a question Darcy Lott asks her Zen teacher, asks herself, and doesn't see the answer till the very end of No Footprints.

Read an interview with Susan Dunlap from the Sept. 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine (PDF)


© Susan Dunlap. Web site by interbridge.