I’ve returned from the road trip. Our daughter is in her new apartment and I’ve now seen Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell (albeit the latter through a window because I would not stand in a two-block long line in 90 degree temperatures), and—perhaps most amazing—an Ikea that was nearly deserted on a Saturday.
The cat was an exemplary traveler, except for one harrowing moment in a motel parking lot in Carlisle, PA when he escaped and cowered under the car. Maybe he knew before we did that we’d be eating sushi that night and would not be bringing leftovers back to him, and so he wanted to create a brief flurry of trouble.
I packed a couple of books but for the most part my reading was restricted to a road atlas. This was no hardship as I love maps. Maps are terrific writing catalysts. One of my standard exercises is matching place names and then conjuring biographies for the resulting person. Imagining life stories for Virgil Drydan, Tully Preble, and Amber Spafford kept me occupied as we drove north through New York, and I kept my cool during a very long and slow Ontario-US border crossing by thinking about Varna Kippen, Florence Bothwell and Forest Kerwood.
This sort of playing around might not generate the material that revisiting humiliation and thinking about the antagonists in your life will, but the result will be useful all the same. So open an atlas and have some fun.
I like to collect town names from maps. Of course locally I have Peculiar, Mo., and Pumpkin Center, but my favorite town name for years has been Hot Coffee, Mississippi. It's also fun to rename local cities in my stories. Thus St. Joseph (where I am right now) becomes Hardscrabble — a very fitting name for this city, as far as I'm concerned.
I'm glad your cat didn't get very far. Now you'll know to bring back a little bit of food for him next time!
Maps, like phone books, tabloids, and cereal boxes are never wasted on a writer.
There's a town in Indiana called "Young America." Exactly 5 blocks long, and the state of the houses generally do not live up to the name. I always like to imagine who lived there in its heydays, and what era that might have been.
I'm imagining that town playing "Young Americans" by David Bowie all the time. But that town sounds like something out of the 50's, doesn't it?
I personally want to live in a town called Contretemps. I guess I'll just have to make one up. Extra bonus: since Contretemps would be in Missouri, it will be pronounced exactly as it is written, just like Versailles and Milan.
I would like to know if Hot Coffee serves strong coffee, too. If so that or Young America might be a great place for a writers' conference. Nothing is wasted on a writer, especially humiliation.
There's a street just few blocks north of us called "Berteau." I've always thought it would be fun to be "The Bardoes on Berteau." Maybe we could live in a chateaux…
In my travel experience, the best stories come from accidental detours. A construction detour can take you way off course, create a lot of friction, and be humorous (if you're not the one driving). In the end, you find your way back on the map, heading in the right direction, and hopefully learn something along the way.
Yes–unexpected detours! They are perhaps essential for arriving at the right destination. Writing exercises can be a good way to force/trigger detours. Step away from the story and do some offstage work, then see where you go.
Marsha, I'm suddenly liking your detour a lot because I realized that Contretemps would be an awesome name for the town in my time-travel book! (From an old French fencing term, "motion out of time," from the Latin "against time".) Now is that cool or what!
Offstage work = good times.