No writing for two weeks, but a lot of driving–3236 miles in fact–through a half dozen states to visit Wyoming and Colorado. The road trip was prompted by a desire to see family, friends, and the familiar prairies. I suppose it’s true that home calls us back. For me, it’s Casper, Wyoming, where I lived until I was twenty. Then, it was college (CU) and Denver for twelve years.
I try to go back every two years or so. I look for a patch of prairie covered in sagebrush. My uncle used to whack off a few stems for me to bring back, dry, and set on my desk. He’s not on his ranch anymore, so now I find a lonely turnoff and walk out onto the prairie until I can breathe in the scent of sage.
Not everyone loves sagebrush (it’s right up there with tumbleweeds to those who find it a nuisance), and, if they saw me, they’d probably think the woman with the Kentucky license plate was a little loco. But, when I rub it between my fingers, and release the fragrance, it transports me back to my uncle’s ranch and impossible starry nights with no city lights to obscure the display in the sky.
Besides the obvious benefits of breaking routine and “going home,” the drive provided inspiration for several short stories, suggested a few titles, and definitely gave me ideas for fictional characters.
Interstate 80. I drove past endless cornfields and wind farms in Nebraska and Iowa, but I saw only scattered farm houses and buildings. Few humans or animals in sight.
In Wyoming, I sat at a bar, eating a loaded baked potato and drinking a beer, and watched a trying-to-be-patient woman tend bar and deal with some rowdy oil field workers. I watched a pregnant waitress at the same bar, holding her side and trying to check out her tickets, saying all she wanted was to go home and rest before she “keeled over.”
In Colorado, I soaked up the atmosphere of one of the oldest and most famous (or infamous if you study the history of Colorado crime families) restaurants in Denver. I’d eaten there years ago, and it’s still a favorite. It’s been recently remodeled, but it still has the vibes. Also noted the Mile High City was . . . well . . . high.
Writers are frequently advised to write what they know and not choose settings or places unfamiliar to them. To an extent that is good advice, but you don’t need to have lived on a farm in Iowa or Nebraska, or rounded up cattle in Wyoming, or skied the Colorado slopes to pick up enough information to describe a viable setting in any of those places. True, without firsthand experience, you’re better off to describe unfamiliar places with a light touch, but look at a lonely, two-story farm house–sitting in the middle of acres and acres of corn fields–and you can construct a life for one of your characters in that very house.
Or park your car for a moment beside a blue highway in Wyoming–with nothing in sight for miles except sage, birds, and antelope–and listen to the wind, breathe the clean prairie air, and imagine a fictional character gazing at the immense sky overhead.
Back to normal; back to work. Upcoming event: a workshop in Bowling Green, Kentucky on September 5: The Soap-On-A-Rope Mistake: Why Editing Matters
and The Regional Author’s Showcase on September 6. (see Events page for details.)