Have you ever wondered what it would be like to just walk away from everything?
"I think a lot of people have that fantasy at some point," author Richard Paul Evans says. "But then we look at the bonds we have: the marriage, the kids, the home, the responsibilities, the job. And we know we want those things in our lives."
But what if those bonds were all taken away?
That was the idea that struck Evans while he was out for a walk on his southern Utah ranch. He walks for exercise and for inspiration, he says, and one day the inspiration kicked in. "I thought about the fantasy of walking away, and the bonds that prevent it. The only way to walk away would be if those bonds were gone, but then you would also have to deal with their loss."
That's the premise of Evans' newest novel, "The Walk," which is actually the first of what will be a five-part series.
In the book, Alan Christofferson is a successful Seattle advertising executive who seems to have it all. He owns his own company, has a thriving business, lives in a fabulous house, drives fancy cars and is married to his childhood sweetheart, McKale, whom he adores.
But within a period of five weeks, he loses it all — all his material possessions and all of his emotional connections. Suddenly adrift in a world grown cold and meaningless, Alan considers taking his own life, but instead decides, quite literally, to simply walk away — to walk to the most-far-away place he can find on the map: Key West, Fla.
This first volume covers the first 250 miles of his journey, and equipped with his diary and little more than what he can carry on his back, he walks from Bellevue to Spokane, Wash. Along the way, he meets people who are helpful and not-so. He experiences a depth of pain, both physical and emotional, as he deals with uncertain terrain, but also anger at God, disgust with the business partners who betrayed him, the loss of the most meaningful things in his life, and more. And, as he begins to think about all those things a little differently, he shares insight and philosophy through his diary.
"He starts out walking away. By the end, he will be walking toward something," says Evans. "Even now he's beginning, just beginning, to walk towards hope."
The series will be a journey through the heart and soul of one man, but also across America. Evans doesn't know yet the exact route Christofferson will take, and he's looking forward to those discoveries as well.
"At first, I thought I could just sit in my den and write this book by using the Internet. I soon realized there was no way I could do that." So he and his daughter, who now works as his editorial assistant, flew to Seattle. "We charted out how far you could walk in a day and plotted out the route, visited all the little towns — every one of which seems to be famous for something."
That's what they will do for each of the books, he says. "I'm going to be driving across this country with my daughter — what a blessing that will be. It will be as much an adventure for me as for my readers. We'll spend the next four years walking and then have a big party in Key West."
This is the first time he has set out to write a series, he says. "The 'Christmas Box' trilogy grew into a trilogy only because people wanted to know more about the characters of the first book."
But he's always liked the idea of a series because "they give you a sense of belonging, whether you're watching 'The Office' on TV or reading about Harry Potter. They open up another part of our personal stories. But I didn't want to do a series that was restricted to a certain locale. 'The Walk' is perfect for that."
Plus, he says, "every generation seems to have a dream of roaming around the country — from Thoreau to Steinbeck to Kerouac, there's a part of us that responds to the nomadic. There's a part of us that finds in walking a larger metaphor for finding meaning in our own lives." In "The Walk," Alan Christofferson will find America, "but it's really about finding himself."
Evans sees "The Walk" as very apropos for our times. "There is so much loss out there. Everywhere I go, I meet people whose lives have been pulled up by the roots."
He experienced that same thing when he was growing up. "We lost three homes, and my family was uprooted totally on two different occasions. Those changed my life dramatically and were soul-searching times that have had a very real effect on my life. I've also had business problems. I've had a major health blow-up."
Evans' father died while he was writing the book. It was his father who turned him into a philosopher as much as an author, he says. "I was raised in a family that had discussions every Sunday night. My father loved to think. We would talk about church subjects, but we would also talk about Marcus Auerlius." After his father died, Evans added a near-death experience to "The Walk." "I just felt like it had to be there, to help with my own feelings."
Plus, the main character is named after the husband of a close friend who was killed in an accident a little over a year ago.
So, he says, there's some of his own journey in this book, as there has been in all the others. But that intimate knowledge of human motivation and frailty lends authenticity to his work, he feels.
It has certainly struck a chord with readers all over the country. Each of his previous 14 novels has appeared on the New York Times Bestseller lists; there are more than 13 million copies in print in more than 22 languages. "The Walk" has only been out for a few days and is already in its third printing, he says.
That's humbling but also gratifying. "I have the coolest readers," he says. "They give me such freedom to write, to share messages that mean a lot to me."
Talk to some of his readers, and they clearly return the affection. You feel good when you finish one of Evans' books, says Kele Griffone. "They make you want to be a better person."
Nicole Buckmiller started reading them "when I was 14; I got addicted. When they come out, I run to get the next one. They are really inspiring. I'll be a fan forever."
"The Walk" will have special meaning for Joe Johansen. "My wife was his greatest fan. The minute she saw a new one advertised, I was over here buying it. She read his Christmas book just before she passed away. So, this one, I'm going to read for her."
Evans hopes a lot of people who have suffered loss will walk with Alan Christofferson and that they will also find some comfort and hope.
Sadly, he says, loss is a part of life. "But the only way to have no pain is to have nothing to lose. And who wants that? We can choose better over bitter. We can all walk toward hope."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company