Mary Buford Hitz Releases First Novel, Riding to Camille

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Mary Buford Hitz
Mary Buford Hitz

Local author Mary Buford Hitz of Afton has released her first novel, Riding to Camille, a story about a party of horse trekkers who unexpectedly encounter Hurricane Camille while on a three-day excursion. Hitz is known for Never Ask Permission, her memoir-style biography of her mother, the redoubtable and magnetic Elizabeth Scott Bocock of Richmond who set out with some ferocity to save the city’s architectural heritage. That work was reissued in paperback by the University of Virginia Press last year.

“In 2000 my husband and I took a three-day horseback riding trip in New Zealand’s Southern Alps,” said Hitz, a very experienced rider. “We were walking the horses down a steep slope in rain. I broke my right foot on a root. The outfitter went to a sheepherder’s hut to get to a radio. I rode out for a mile and a half. The bone compounded and came out through the skin.

“I thought to myself, somebody could write a novel about this,” she said. “I had never tried fiction, but when confronted with real characters that I could count on, I could try it. I was looking for something to organize the story around. Hurricane Camille, the August 1969 storm that devastated Nelson County had always had a fascination for me. I had studied what is on file about it at the Nelson County Library. I did a lot of research on it. Twenty-nine inches of rain fell in five hours.

So, slowly I got wrapped around using the New Zealand characters in the backlash of Camille in Nelson. My own experience is the first part. In the novel it separates the guide from the rest of the group.”

In the novel, the camping party into the Blue Ridge includes Sam, the outfitter, who is in a new love affair with his summer intern, Lisl. This is a secret from the intern’s Swiss boyfriend, who has joined her for the summer, but not from Sam’s wife, Elsie.

One rider breaks her leg and Sam, usually headstrong and impatient, must leave the group to get help. The hurricane hits and Lisl finds herself in charge of the remaining riders and gets in trouble trying to save horses. Then Elsie is presented with a choice in a situation where she must rescue Lisl. Sam meanwhile witnesses the devastation the storm has wrought on Nelson and when he returns to the group, not sure who might be dead or alive, he is changed.

“My theory is that the reason the wife is dysfunctional is because she knew her husband had something going on with the intern,” said Hitz.

Rita Mae Brown, in a blurb published on the book’s jacket, summarizes it as “sex, love and emotional entanglement ride smack into Hurricane Camille. It will blow you away.” (Hitz has ridden in the Oak Ridge Hunt with Brown.)

“It’s a commercial novel in the sense that sex is involved,” said Hitz. “The real theme is survival and who can cope and who can’t and how having an injury affects it. In geologic time, we are just pawns. Hurricane Camille was a once-in-a-thousand-years storm. You just don’t go on living your life after it affects you.

“I’ve never liked historical novels,” said Hitz, “and I think I’ve written one.”

Hitz will be at Over The Moon Bookstore in Crozet Nov. 19 to talk about the book and will have copies to sign. The e-book version of the novel is available now from Amazon. A party to launch its publication will be held at the Rockfish Valley Community Center in Afton Nov. 14 from 5 to 7 p.m. Admission is a $1 donation to RVCC and beer will be free.

Hitz will be at New Dominion Bookstore in Charlottesville in December to talk about traditional versus electronic forms of publishing. She was assisted in preparing the e-book version by David Moody of AuthorPress, a hosting site, she said. She will print on-demand copies of the book through Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., which owns the necessary equipment.

“I’ve learned so much, so fast,” she said. “It swirls in my head—social media marketing and having a website. Self-publishing is expensive. It’s hard to find a traditional agent. I sent the book out many times.”

Hitz said she began Riding to Camille in 2003, but did not give up her busy normal life—she serves on several boards—and did not finish the book until this year.

“I think now that I love nonfiction more than fiction, but I believe in ‘never say never.’” Hitz said her next book might be a cookbook.