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Local Author Climbs to Daring Heights with 'Yosemite Epics'

Castro Valley High teacher Matt Johanson recently published his third book. It's illustrated by one of his former students, Christopher Hampson.

Like climbing Yosemite National Park's Half Dome, publishing a book in today's poor economy can be a struggle and risk for many. But for Castro Valley author Matt Johanson, it is an accomplishment he has conquered for a third time, with his most recently published book, Yosemite Epics: Tales of Adventure from America’s Greatest Playground.

Though hundreds of books have been written about Yosemite, Johanson wanted to add a human element and also highlight the adventure the park offers.

“You meet amazing people up in the mountains." said Johanson, who has visited the park frequently ever since he graduated from college. "I always wanted to capture their stories and share them with other people."

He turned interviews with nearly two dozen adventurists—people taking sometimes extreme risks—into first-person narratives. Each focuses on a  real-life, daring adventure at Yosemite: unroped climbing, surviving a back-country avalanche, challenging whitewater rapids.

“That’s what makes this book unique,” Johanson said. “Each story is a completely different voice—it’s the freshest recollection of the story.”

Christopher Hampson, 26, a former student of Johanson's, created the illustrations. Johanson teaches social studies and journalism at , where they first met.

The two were reacquainted during a rafting trip with a mutual friend in the Sierra Nevada. Soon after, they began talking about collaborating on the book.

After countless revisions and what seemed to be endless hours of interviews, the book was published two years later. It is now in its second week on sale to the public.

“I’m very fortunate to pair up with Chris because he was willing to throw himself into the project and he cared as much as I did in making it turn out the best it could be,” Johanson said.

Hampson read each narrative meticulously before creating illustrations in such media as graphite, charcoal and pen. Since none of the adventurists had photos to provide, Hampson had to rely heavily on his imagination.

“One of our biggest goals was accuracy—not only capturing the moment of the story, but the equipment, location and people,” Hampson said.

Hampson is a student studying animation at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He said creating the illustrations for Yosemite Epics got easier as he went along because he could apply what he was learning in class.

Hampson advises any illustrator or artist to consider working on a book at some point."

“Don’t be scared to work outside your comfort zone and really commit to a project,” Hampson said. “Hopefully you’ll find a love for it like I did.”

Johanson and Hampson are outdoors adventure enthusiasts themselves. Johanson said that made it easier to relate to many of the people featured in the book. When Johanson isn’t teaching or  at CVHS, he is hiking, climbing and skiing. Hampson frequents national parks and lakes for backpacking, snowboarding and mountain biking.

Although Yosemite Epics is Johanson's third published book, it is a new direction for him as an author. His previous books focused on his beloved baseball team, the San Francisco Giants.

For Johanson, the biggest challenge was finding the right publisher for this book. The company that published San Francisco Giants: Where Have You Gone? and Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants had gone bankrupt.

“I’ve had a few moments, but nothing on the scale of what these people [in the book] overcame,” Johanson said.

He says that although the economy makes this a daunting time to get a book published, his previous experiences did help this time around.

He chose Deamcatcher Publishing, an independent publishing company that allowed him full control over the book.

“If you want to work with a certain publisher, you may need to give up some of the editorial decisions,” Johnason said.

One publisher did not want him to include illustrations because of the additional cost. But the pictures were necessary, Johanson said, and to him, cost was never really an issue.

“This was a do-what-you-love kind of project,” Johanson said. “From a dollars and cents perspective, it may never seem worth it to some people. But to us, we loved working on it as a project and there’s tremendous personal fulfillment in it.”

If you're interested in purchasing the book, you can find it on Amazon. Author-signed copies of the book may be purchased on the Dreamcatcher Publishing website.

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