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A Conversation with Lauren Delaney Miller: Author of Valley of Giants for Grit Lit

Author Lauren Delaney Miller and The Cairn Project Community Manager Angie Marie discussed the challenges and opportunities of creating and sharing work in the climbing community. Below find a transcript of their conversation and deep dive into the process behind Valley of the Giants.

valley of the giants book cover

Angie

Welcome to the Cairn Project Grit Lit stories of women and adventure. Every quarter, we read a book that elevates the stories of women outside. I’m Angie, a Cairn project ambassador, book lover, fellow Outdoors Woman, I’m interviewing our Grit Lit authors so we can explore the adventure beyond their books. After you get your next great loot box and read the book inside, you can send in your questions for that author will share the conversation with you afterwards to keep the spirit of adventure strong. Today, we’re chatting with Lauren Delano Miller, author of Valley of Giants: Stories from Women at the Heart of Yosemite Climbing. Lauren, I would love if you could start by introducing yourself and telling us why did you write your book valley of giants?

Lauren Delaney Miller

Thanks so much for having me. My name is Lauren Delaney Miller. I live in Bishop, California. I’m a writer, journalist, audio producer, and author of Valley of Giants: Stories from Women at the Heart of Yosemite Climbing, really, I mean, it just seemed so obvious to me. I mean, I think the hardest thing was convincing myself, you know that I was capable of writing this book. But the concept for the book itself just seemed like something that I really couldn’t believe didn’t exist already. I had been spending so much time in Yosemite. And it’s such an important part of American climbing history. And I was just surrounded by all these really cool inspiring women. And to me, it just kind of seemed like a no brainer to put a bunch of those stories together.

Angie

Why do you think the book didn’t exist yet?

Lauren Delaney Miller

Oh, I do wonder at least if imposter syndrome is some part of it. For me, it definitely was in just being like, God, I really wish this exists. And I just don’t know if I, you know, I’m worthy of taking on a project that I felt like was so valuable. But I also think that one there’s not a ton of anthologies in this style in climbing at all. I mean, it’s a ton of work in terms of finding someone to be the editor who’s also really organized and good at wrangling cats, because it was so much of that. But at the same time, I do feel like women needed a little bit of encouragement overall. I mean, with the exception of some of the climbers in the book that are, you know, quite famous and had taken on big writing projects of their own. I think a lot of people did kind of need someone to be like, “Hey, you should share your story. It’s totally worthy. And people would love it.” And I think people just needed a little bit of a boost

Impostor syndrome is funny, because it’s such a parallel between writing a book or putting yourself out there in a creative project, and adventure and getting outside. Like, how many times have we thought, oh, it would be nice to go hike the John Muir Trail, but like, who am I to think I can do that? Or, Wow, can I be the first woman to do these peaks in this amount of time? But but you know, could I really do that?

Angie

How did you work through those bits of imposter syndrome or doubting yourself, whether it’s in climbing or whatever else you love to do, or writing a book?

Lauren Delaney Miller

Yeah, I think that, for me, being surrounded by an amazing community is what really helped me. I mean, I held this idea for this book privately for so long. And once I started to voice it to friends, I kind of expected people to be like, I don’t know. But like everyone that I talked to, was like, over the moon excited, like, oh, my God, you have to do it. That is such a great idea. And I feel like the more people around me kind of supported me and made me feel so validated in my idea, the more I felt like, oh, maybe I could do it. And then on top of that, a lot of those people ended up contributing their own essays to the story, and, or to the book as a whole. And so I felt like that community and starting with, you know, the book goes through many generations of climbers. But by starting with the one that I was part of, I felt so supported by the people around me, and that they not only thought it was a great idea, but that they were willing to spend a bunch of time telling their own story so that we could kind of actually get the book put together. I love that it’s the same thing with the Cairn Project Ambassadors — where doing it in community somehow makes it seem less scary. And having those people lifts you up.

Angie

What do you think are the challenges of writing an anthology instead of say, a memoir, or a fiction book about climbing?

Lauren Delaney Miller

I think at first, I thought it was probably easier, because I felt like I could think of it in little chunks. I think the final book ended up being almost like 80,000 words. And so thinking about writing 80,000 words, I mean, was way too overwhelming for me. Whereas if I was asking everyone to write an essay that was between 120-500 words, I was like, oh, that’s so manageable. And if I just get a bunch of people to take one bite out of this like giant project, then it feels like there’s no pressure on any one individual. You know, someone says, oh, I can do it and then later, you know, things change for them and they can’t do it for someone never gets back to me. There’s no pressure You’re only one person to do everything. And so I think in that way, I felt like it was easier because there was a lot less pressure, like it didn’t have to be 40 stories, it could be really 38 stories, and no one would have known the difference, or you know, but at the same time, I think the probably, the hardest part is that now you’re working with like dozens of people. And as opposed to being able to be in charge of your own project, you have to delegate 2500 words to so many people. And then all of a sudden, you’re like a manager for this massive project with tons of people involved, I mean, even down to getting everyone to sign a release that we had the right to publish their story, or at least for every photo that was involved, there was so much administrative stuff that I hadn’t really thought about in terms of just keeping everything organized, that, you know, answering all my emails on time. I think I’m generally pretty good at stuff like that. So I think it was a fitting project for me. But as opposed to just writing your own memoir, where you really get to be in control of when and how things happen, I had to kind of relinquish a lot of that control to all of the contributors.

Angie

I feel like there’s this image of a romanticized author where you wake up at 4am. And you just naturally get this urge to write and then all comes out of you. And that’s how you spend your day. It’s like typing away or riding away by the fire. But in reality, every creative career comes with a lot of unglamorous work, and you just never see that in the final product. So you have you have your book, is that your only book? Yes. So far, so far so far? And then yeah, yeah. You’re a producer on dirtbag diaries, which a lot of our community loves. And you are also an award winning audio reporter. What are those hard parts then of having this creative career that has a handful of different elements to it, and it looks fun and shiny, because we get to see this, and book and podcast, all of the production result, but not the process? What is it like to deal with those kind of tough parts that we don’t get to see?

Lauren Delaney Miller

I think that one of the toughest parts is the pressure to always be doing more. There’s a saying in the world of journalism, that you’re only as good as your last story. And this feeling that you can never really rest on your laurels too long. Like the moment the book comes out, it feels very bizarre, because it left my hands almost a year before it truly came out. So then by the time it’s out, you’ve got all these other projects going on. And now it’s very hard to balance where you should putting all of your energy. And as someone that works in a creative field, I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on your work to fulfill you in this way that maybe is kind of impossible for a job to have that amount of weight in your life. But I think a lot of creatives feel bad that their work is like this extension of who they are, I definitely feel that way. And so for me, being a perfectionist, and always feeling like I need to be doing more is kind of the hardest part of all this work put together. But then on a day to day basis. I mean, I feel like the hardest part is like trying to track down people sending a lot of emails that say, Hey, just wanted to check in. Because we haven’t heard back from you. And I’m really hoping you can work with me on this story. I mean, all of this work relies so much on other people being willing to share their story, and often to share their story for the love of the work and not because there’s any money in it. And so trying to take something that is your job. And that requires the cooperation of so many other people. And whether it’s the dirtbag diaries, or it’s more traditional reporting, or it’s working on the book, my work is on telling other people’s stories, which means that I need to manage around their schedule, like I might have a deadline. But that has nothing to do with what my sources or collaborators have going on in their lives. They also have jobs and lives and things to do. And things come up. I mean, which is both one of the best parts of the job is because you’re constantly meeting really inspiring people and getting to tell their story. But from a logistical standpoint, interview, like being a journalist or being a writer is sending a lot of emails.

Angie

And there are so many parallels again, with outdoor adventure hear that concept of what the last thing you wrote needs to be your best. How did you phrase that? You’re only as good as your last story? Yeah, and sometimes I feel like we get this pressure in our sports for that as well. Like, okay, I used to be able to climb 511 And now I’ve been injured or I had a baby or I just haven’t been climbing and now I’m only quote unquote, reaching five, nine or whatever it is. It’s like we’re always comparing ourselves to our sport. And I know that there’s a lot of crossover between the creative process and chasing adventures, even the admin and logistical parts, right. You can do all your planning, have all your deadlines, have your schedule set and then a storm comes in and you can’t climb or whatever it is. I’m wondering if you get I get that kind of adventure blues feeling. You know how after you finish a big adventure, and you get home and it settles and the celebration finishes, and you’re kind of like, Ooh, what now that I was working on that for so long, and now I have nothing to work towards? Do you get that with writing a book as well?

Lauren Delaney Miller

Yeah, that’s such an interesting parallel. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it that way. But I definitely do, especially because I think even within my journalism, a lot of the projects I’m working on, like, I’ve never worked in breaking news, where you’re writing things, and it’s going out the next day, most of my creative projects take at least weeks, if not months, and often years to come out. The by the time it’s over, you’re kind of like, Oh, it’s so strange to not have that thing to work towards anymore. And I wouldn’t say it’s much Blues as a little bit of feeling lost afterwards, which I think fuels that thing within me, that makes me feel like I always need to keep going. Because I don’t like to sit afterwards and think, Oh, I wonder what I’m gonna do next. I want to have something lined up right away. Yeah, it is a really interesting thing. I think from coming back from a climbing expedition or sending a route that you’ve been working on for a really long time. There’s always that period afterwards. Oh, what should I do now I’m happy to have done it. But actually, the process was so great that I’m actually kind of sad that it’s over.

Angie

I totally feel that too. I actually wrote my first book. Last year, it came out in December. And I had that same feeling that I get after a big mountain climb, where it’s like, okay, I came up with the vision. I did the planning, and I got the execution. And oh, now that I’m reflecting on it, what comes next? Do you just immediately start a second book? Or do you take the time to celebrate? Yeah, it’s a constant battle. I would just like to bring it back to climbing and women, the focus of your book, what particular strengths do you think women bring to climbing?

Lauren Delaney Miller

Looking at my own friends and my own peers and the climbing partners that I climb with regularly and really look up to there’s the physical stuff that comes to it, which is that I love watching women climb, because I feel like they I mean, this is an overgeneralization. But I think women tend to at least bring a grace and a flexibility and a delicateness to their climbing that, for me is really inspiring in just like the way that women tend to move on rock. But I feel like in the larger sense, and maybe a mental way, by trust women so much with making really difficult decisions under pressure. And I tend to feel like there’s maybe less, I don’t know if it’s ego, or the need to really stick one’s neck out in the mountains. But I know that I feel so safe climbing with all my female climbing partners, and our risk profiles tend to match up more often. One of the reasons that I tend to gravitate towards climbing with women pretty often

Angie

I’ve found a similar vibe, where it’s every step on the mountain feels more intentional to me when I’m climbing with a group of women rather than eliminated group or a mixed group, emotionally even logistically, right with constant communication. And I value that type of adventure, far more than like, hustled to the top and do it as fast as you possibly can improve yourself and kind of sick of that. So I’m hoping that your stories can inspire all of us to find the nuance and the beauty among being a woman in climbing. Can I ask you some rapid fire questions that will ask all of our Grit Lit authors?

Lauren Delaney Miller

Yes, I’m ready.

Angie

What is one tip you have for somebody who wants to write a book someday?

Lauren Delaney Miller

Oh, I think that my tip is sounds like a big one. But I’ll break it down a little bit is basically to think, what is the thing that you know, that no one else knows. And it’s not some piece of trivia, but what’s the lived experience that you’re bringing to something that is unique than anyone else? For newer writers, especially starting with what you know, and what you know, really well is a really nice place to
start.

Angie

When you start to feel stuck in the creative process, what is one thing that helps you get out of a funk?

Lauren Delaney Miller

I think reading really good writing. I love like long form magazine writing. And so I used to ascribe to things like National Geographic and the Atlantic and Mother Jones and all these places that have long beautiful pieces of journalism. And so for me taking a step back from trying to make anything and just absorb the all the really incredible work that other people are putting out tends to light a fire under me to go make something myself.

Angie

What is one word that describes how you feel when you’re in the outdoors?

Lauren Delaney Miller

Hmm, I think light.

Angie

What is a dream adventure that you haven’t done yet, but you hope to someday?

Lauren Delaney Miller

Well, one, a trip that I’ve always wanted to do is go climb big walls in the Todgha Gorge in Morocco. And I’m actually finally going in April. And so that’s my oh my gosh, I’ve been hoping to do it for many, many, many years. And so I’m really excited. It’s finally happening.

Angie

Congratulations in advance. That sounds great. We all want pictures. My last question. What is one thing that you want youth girls to know about outdoor adventure?

Lauren Delaney Miller

In my life at least, I’ve noticed a lot of competition amongst women in outdoor sports, especially in kind of small, tight knit communities where it feels like there’s not enough space for everyone. But I feel like the more we can realize that the outdoors is not a zero sum game where someone else’s send takes away from yours, the more we can kind of break down that woman to woman competition, that I think a lot of female climbers feel and realize that, yeah, we’ll go a lot further. If we’re partnered together than if we’re competing against one another.

Angie

Thank you so much, Lauren. If you have not read Valley of Giants yet, you got it in your Grit Lit box. So make sure you catch up on reading because my stoke is hyper climbing. I’m not even a big rock climber myself. I’m more like a snow climber. And I’m already like, oh, I’m inspired to read all these stories. So thank you for writing it and for sharing more behind your writing adventures.

Lauren Delaney Miller

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This has been really a pleasure.

Angie

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