I’ve been nibbling away at the first draft of a new novel and it’s brought to mind a road trip I once took.
At the end of my first year living in the States, a “gentleman friend” and I took a cross-country road trip. We had seven days to get from LA to Chicago in time for his aunt’s wedding and my subsequent flight home to England to complete my final year of college.
I had a bucket list of places I really wanted to visit en route: Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Yellowstone, and Mount Rushmore. I also had ideas about other spots that would be fun to see: Zion National Park, Hoover Dam, Dinosaur National Monument, Four Corners.
So, we packed up his Mustang and off we went, aiming for the big attractions, but adapting our route on a daily basis. We did Vegas, the Hoover Dam, and Grand Canyon. We skipped Zion for Monument Valley and headed to Four Corners, the only place in the U.S. where the corners of four states come together. I wanted to drive up through Colorado along Million Dollar Highway so that (being an engineering student at the time) I could nerd out and get a photo of Engineer Mountain.
I checked all five items off my main bucket list and arrived in Chicago a day early after torrential rain ended our sightseeing. Along the way, I collected all kinds of experiences that hadn’t been part of the original plan, and it’s those memories that have stuck with me far longer than the big attractions.
I had hoped to see a bear in Yellowstone, and did, but I wasn’t prepared for the sight of a giant moose peering at me through the car window. Nor was I prepared for how amazing it would be to see a full dinosaur skeleton in-situ. At a restaurant adjoining the nastiest motel in Idaho, I had the best trout I have ever tasted, plucked fresh from the nearby river. I learned the skills needed to make tuna sandwiches at 70 mph, that if you go to South Dakota during Sturgis, you shouldn’t expect to find a motel room within a 100-mile radius, and that Mustangs are not built for sleeping in.
Arriving at Mount Rushmore, I was dismayed to find it covered in cloud so thick I couldn’t even tell which direction to look. I bought an ice cream and stood around with a couple of thousand disgruntled bikers until, suddenly, the clouds lifted to reveal the faces of the presidents. A collective gasp spread through the crowd, each of us—gritty biker and wide-eyed student alike—appropriately awe-struck.
Which brings me back to the first draft of my new novel. I know what this book is about. I know a lot about my main character, Grace. I know about the woman who will come into her life, seeming to have the answer to her problem, but who will make things a whole lot worse. I know that Grace’s aunt and brother will play key roles in her story, as will her parents. And, because I am the god-creator of this world, I know some of the main events that will need to happen for Grace to get her big life lesson.
But I don’t yet know what side-trips the story will take or where they’ll lead me, what surprises, good or bad await Grace, or what images readers will remember long after the book is finished. But I’m looking forward to finding out.
What a long, strange trip it’s going to be.