Q&A with the woman who traveled the world to ski 4 million vertical feet
Steph Jagger has a thing for starting lines. She thinks we should all spend more time celebrating the energy and commitment required to say "yes" to a grand adventure, and less time judging ourselves by how well we finish. So in May 2011, when Jagger reached the finish line of a yearlong quest to ski 4 million vertical feet, she began searching for the starting line of her next adventure.
Three years later, she started turning the blogs and letters she wrote during her journey into a book. The first-time author leaned on Google searches and a local community of writers to help her navigate the publishing world and land an agent and a book deal with HarperCollins imprint Harper Wave.
"Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery" hits bookshelves Tuesday and is the culmination of Jagger's most soul-baring adventure to date; espnW caught up with Jagger -- which you'll learn is no simple task -- to glean insight into her writing process, the transformative power of boredom and why every woman should listen to that little voice when it begins to whisper, "You should write this down."
espnW: You were not a published writer when you began working on "Unbound." When did you begin thinking about writing a book?
Steph Jagger: I've always liked to write. This has been a pattern since I was 19 -- I've written as I traveled. I can go back to different travels and adventures, and there is always writing, sometimes just a series of emails home. It's my way of capturing the world around me and organizing my thoughts.
On this trip, the plan was to ski and travel and write, not necessarily a book. I had a blog that my friends and family read. When I finished the trip, the book kept knocking on the door, whether it was people saying, "You should write a book," or the voice in my head saying, "I think I should write a book." There were a lot of starts and stops.
espnW: How did you find the right publisher with whom to partner?
SJ: The publishing company I went with, Harper Wave, focuses on stories of health and adventure and sports and nutrition, and they were gung-ho about women doing this kind of thing in the world. That was really refreshing. The entire team is women and they got it. The senior vice president is a big-time surfer. She could see the book as if it was about water, not snow. I've heard the jaded horror stories about publishing. That has not been my experience.
espnW: Once you started writing, what was toughest to navigate about telling your story?
SJ: It was really tough to navigate family. Even though I have an amazing, wonderful family, I was still sharing things they might not blast into the world on their own. I wanted to be careful to walk the line of truth while being respectful of their lives and privacy. It was a challenge -- and one I think and hope I've done well.
espnW: What stories were tough to leave out, or tougher to keep in?
SJ: I share a lot about my sex life, about my emotions and perceptions of the world, and some parts were tough to write in regards to how to do it, but not in terms of should I or should I not share this? Maybe it's just my naivete, but I was writing in a silo with my editor. I wasn't thinking, "Oh, my uncle's going to read this!" I tried to remove all of that.
This story is about me and a trip I took. But it also has nothing to do with me. Once it's handed over to readers, it's theirs. It might be too much for them to consume, but it has nothing to do with me at that point.
espnW: Although, as you say, it's up to the readers to take from the book what they will, is there anything you hope readers take from your story?
SJ: That probably has to do with what people, particularly women, choose to do with boredom and dissatisfaction when it creeps into our lives. When that discontent creeps in, a lot of people will look for a solution similar to what I did, and I think it's important to pause in those moments and be awake to our own boredom, discontent or frustration. That's when the signs come, when we're told what to do, when we see a blue tin sign telling us to "raise restraining device."
Pay attention in those times and have the courage to make change from that place, versus waiting until the boredom and discontent turns into self-sabotage, anger, rage, addiction, disease -- until we're forced to change.
There are a lot of female narratives and memoirs about women who are broken and pick up the pieces. We need those stories, but I also want people to take a story of a woman who wasn't broken, but was willing to pull the pieces of herself apart anyway and make good better.
espnW: How tough was it to convince publishers that the protagonist of a memoir like yours didn't have to be a woman who was broken?
SJ: Thus far, that's been the biggest critique: "Great, this woman went and did this. But why? Because she was bored? That was selfish and entitled." I get that response a fair bit. But boredom is enough. Boredom is the basement of the house of transformation and change, and if we can make changes and choose the course of our life from the basement, there is a lot of pain and suffering that could be avoided. My agent and I have a hashtag joke:#boredomisenough.
Early in the process, after some feedback like that, I wrote a ranting email to my agent. I said, "Man I can't believe this. If a guy did what I did, he'd be called ambitious and visionary. I'm called selfish or entitled or privileged." I didn't expect her to share it, but she did. That's why I have the publisher I do. She read my email and said, "It's refreshing to read a book about a woman who's not broken."
espnW: How different a message does your book send than one with a more obvious arc of transformation?
SJ: Our strength as women is not contingent on brokenness and we do not need to wait until that happens until we can ask for more. That is bulls---. My life was idyllic growing up. To deny that or add in bits of drama says our strength as women has to be contingent on a past trauma, and that is BS. I don't want to say those stories are not important, because they are critical. But we need both.
So many women have stories and would love to share them with the world, but that could be why they're not. They think, "Oh, I don't have some big moment." But we need to celebrate people who go from good to great and great to unbelievable, as well as those who have trauma and pick themselves up.
espnW: Toward the end of the book, after you accomplish your goal, you talk about the importance of starting lines and how you wish society focused on starts as much as on finish lines. Why are starting lines so appealing to you?
SJ: Starting lines are the beginnings of all grand adventures. The sound of the gunshot going off is so much more alluring than the stuff at midway or the end. The call to adventure is that starting line. That's where all the energy and juice and creativity come from, and if we can tap into that as we go into the journey, that's critical.
What would happen in our world if we shifted our gaze to starting lines as opposed to applauding the finish? I understand this book wouldn't be here if I didn't finish, but our goal setting is too focused on finish lines. The start line is a crucial place to delve in and ask, what am I being called to do?
espnW: On Tuesday, your book will be in the hands of readers. Then you have a book tour and promotion and interviews like this one. Which line are you focusing on right now?
SJ: Have I finished something or am I starting something? I'm considering this a new starting line because the energy involved is so much different than the writing of the book. And I do feel it's a whole new door opening. I would consider this a starting line.