O'Connell's fourth novel, The Storms of Denali chronicles his experience climbing to the summit in one of the most-unforgiving climates on Earth. He calls on his experiences climbing Denali and numerous other peaks worldwide in the story, including a sobering real-life recollection of coming across a group in 1982 that was bringing down a deceased climber—the victim of a mistep crossing an unstable cornice on the peak's western buttress.
The married father of three and former newspaper reporter has worked with the likes of Sir Edmond Hillary and Reinhold Messner, and has established himself as a respected member the upper echelon in climbing literature.
O'Connell enjoys this most-intense form of adventure for the competitive nature of the sport, and its endless potential for human achievement.
"It's this intense, compulsive world that is extremely goal oriented" said O'Connell.
The Storms of Denali, while technically fictional, brings in elements from O'Connell's personal life and the experiences of his peers in the climbing world. His first ascent of Denali in 1982 left him wanting more, and spurred a desire to share his story with both climbers and non-climbers alike. This is evident in O'Connell's description of his characters.
"The book became much different from that original experience," McConnell said. "Winn is like an earlier version of me, John is like a later version me. The other people are made up of people that I have known climbing. What I know about life and climbing went into that novel."
But the story is not intended just for people with an interest in mountaineering. O'Connell made a point to bring in elements about relationships and ethics as well.
"It poses questions about our responsibility to each other. My goal with this book is to reach a large non-climbing audience. I also wanted to raise questions about friendship. What does it mean to be a decent human being under difficult circumstances? In this climb, they were stuck in that box together."
Twenty years in the works, The Storms of Denali represents one man's take on what it is to be human under the most difficult of circumstances. More information on O'Connell and his work is available through The Writer's Workshop.