Monday, June 4, 2012

MMWUC: Writers are Driven by Story

If you read last week's MMWUC (Monday Morning Wake-Up Call), you know that I drove from Raleigh, NC to Salt Lake City (SLC), Utah in three days last week to deliver a car to my niece so that my newest grand-niece (#10) can be styling when driven by her parental chauffeurs. If you didn't know, you do now. After arriving, my niece asked, "How was the trip?" I replied, "Uneventful." "I'm sorry," she said. "Don't be," I answered. "Uneventful is good for a long drive." Now, however, I think I've been ripped off of writerly inspirational material. What would Jack Kerouac do?

My trip was 2,201 miles. I saw not a single accident or the remains of an accident or perceived a hint of danger that I might end up in an accident. Not that I want to get in an accident or wish ill-will to others, but that's a long way without mayhem. Other than an unsuccessful suicidal prairie dog, dodging cars going 65 mph, no buffalo stampeded, no deer or antelope roamed, no buzzards circled overhead, looking longingly for my considerable carcass, no wolves, coyotes, wild dogs howled into the night, sending shivers up my spine. A stretch of I-74 in Illinois, however, looked like America's killing fields with about 25 dead deer in a 30 mile stretch...and then...none thereafter. Do the deer in Illinois march in herds relentlessly to six lane highways like hordes of lemmings to the sea in the Arctic? The only creature of note was a bunny in Peoria. I parked for a night's rest after 824 miles. When I opened the car door, the bunny was sitting on its hind feet chewing whatever bunny's chew. He/she/it seemed to smile. Did it want some food? Did it want to play? Did it want to hitchhike to SLC? I left a handful of cashews on the ground, and then went inside for a date with Mr. Sandman. The cashews were gone in the morning. I hope he liked the nuts.

I did have lunch with fellow writer Carol Kean in Iowa City, Iowa, the second day. (Did they run out of creative names at some point in Iowa?) It was nice meeting her and her family. And then the drive was on in earnest. Groves of trees became groupings became stately iconic reminders of forests became bent to the wind, bowed against time, scrubby trunks with few branches became no more. Lush grass and happy, colorful cows gave way to grumpy, dark-skinned cows. Then came vast expanses where cows came in ones and twos, still uninterested in my 75 mph passing "moo" until only lonely windmills lined ridges in Wyoming and the occasional cow peaked from behind rocks in eroded and parched ravines. The feeling of never being so incredibly exposed to everything and so private in the isolation enveloped me several times. Starkness has a beauty all to itself.

My Laramie, Wyoming Chuck Wagon waitress was young (20s), bouncy (I thought she was wearing pogo sticks) with orangey/red hair (but I'm color-blind). I looked into her eyes. "Do you sometimes want to flee and look for adventure on the open road? Or do all the weary travelers convince you there's no place like home?" She looked at the aging regulars with worn canes and runaway walkers, stared at the mom and dad road warriors with the chubby eight-year-old demanding McDonald's fries for lunch in a sit-down restaurant with real tablecloths, and then she sneaked a look at the surrounding mountains still frosted with snow and green from run-off. Her mega-watt smile said it all. "I like it here just fine." I ordered steak and eggs. My tip was generous.

Well, I'm thinking of flip-flopping on you. Maybe I haven't been ripped off of story inspiration on my adventure. I think I have the nucleus for several stories right here. It's all the matter of what you do with what you have. I wonder what adventure awaits the waitress at the "Chuck Wagon" in Laramie when a cow wanders up to the drive-in window one night just before closing. "Moo," it announces itself, and she's forced to tie him to the bumper of her rusty Chevy pickup to take home for the night, only to find out that the cow is a stolen prized sperm donor, and the guy who stole it had a heart attack. He's dead. She panics and flees to some hunky guy's cabin in the Medicine Bow National Forest. And now everyone is after my orangey/red haired waitress and her new cow, Carli Joy. I may have to go back and save her.

Did you ever find inspiration on the road? Let us know about it.


Edith Parzefall said...

I knew inspiration must have been lurking out there for you somewhere, Rick! And I'm happy it grabbed you by the neck. :-) I can already see some bizarre events unfold. Unlike me, you don't need to be hit over the head by inspiration.

I had to total a Nissan X-Trail on the the Pan-Americana in Chile to get a novel out of the 3000 km road trip, cut short when we were squashed between two trucks. Don't know why it took me over a year to come up with the right title: Crumple Zone. Should have been obvious...

Rick Bylina said...

For some reason Blogspot hates Shelia. So this is what she wrote.

Shelia Rudesill has left a new comment on your post "MMWUC: Writers are Driven by Story":

Great blog. Hope to read more about Carli Joy in the future. How did you get home?
- - - Find her novel at - - -

Rick Bylina said...

Shelia...Truth be known, the cow is named after my new niece. Two month old Carli Joy.
- - -
I flew on American Airlines on Friday. Yes, it is true. My arms are tired.

Don McCandless said...

'The road' offers great inspiration for storytelling. One can also draw on the experience of a long haul to describe everything from stress to fatigue.
I had a project in Philadelphia that kept me there for five years, but hearth and home remained in St Louis, 900 miles away. Every four day weekend I could wrangle found me in my trusty Dodge PU and on the road for 15 hours. Two stops for gas.
Illinois is pancake flat for the most part, like central Ohio, and supports a healthy deer herd. Being so flat, long guns aren't allowed, only pistol and shotgun, and sneaking up on a white tail in a field ain't so easy. Many deer wind up in someone's headlights. Drive at night during the rut, you're liable to have one charge your vehicle.
One of my cross country treks caught me on the road when the twin towers went down. I'd taken a side trip for some trout fishing down in the ozarks, where people instantly looked sideways at anyone they weren't related to by blood or marriage.
That trip back to Philadelphia was the longest drive I ever took. Almost no traffic, nothing flying overhead, an very little coherent news on the radio. I had trouble buying gas at first. Seems the people in Arkansas believed they needed to save their supplies for the people who lived there. I had to convince a little old lady who ran the only station in the area that I wasn't going to drive my truck into the Southern Baptist church down the road in Pineyville.
When I finally reached the Pennsylvania turnpike, I found few cars, no trucks, no highway patrol, just an erie, open road. Then a limo blew past me doing over 100 MPH. Then another, and another. The last one that passed me took the I-83 exit south to DC at a clip that would make any NASCAR driver proud. I guessed the politicians were trying to get back to the Capital.
A good chunk of a distopian trilogy I'm currently editing takes place on the road, driving or hiking. Anytime I need inspiration for how the characters should feel, in danger, isolated, fatigued, stressed, and in the dark, all I have to do is recall that terrible day on the road.