Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The value of a long car ride

by Rick Blechta

Two or three times a year, we drive 516 miles from Toronto to just north of New York City to visit relatives and renew family ties. My wife and I have been doing this since 1974. At this point, we’re above 100 round trips. I now recognize nearly every rock and tree (two were down, I noticed on our trip back last week), let alone curves in the road. Sitting in the car for 8+ hours seeing the same things got tedious a long time ago. My wife loathes the trip and I’ve contemplating drugging her so she would conk out at the beginning and wake at the end. Me? I don’t mind it all that much and you’re about to find out why.

When our kids were little and took the trip with us, we would have story tapes to while away the hours (and also use as a weapon to keep them from fighting in the back seat!). Our listening was eclectic to say the least. We had favourites (like A Christmas Carol for our holiday trip) to NY. The boys quickly learned to enjoy crime fiction, especially Dick Francis. As they got older, we gravitated to thrillers to please them.

Though they generally don’t travel with us anymore, we do enjoy having a good audio book, but quite often the car is silent (if we’re not conversing) and if I’m not the one who’s driving, a great deal of time is spent looking out the window, but what I’m actually doing is writing.

On this recent trip back home, I spent time thinking about some more research on the novel series I’m currently wrestling with. My main protagonist lives in a very large house, a castle almost, overlooking the glorious, majestic Hudson River. (Oddly enough, there is a house almost like the one I’m imagining and if it’s in the wrong town, what the heck. I’ll just write it above Cold Spring even if that means moving it a few miles north.)

On the drive back to Toronto last Friday, I was mentally reviewing what I’d learned and cogitating on how it could fit in to my novel’s “set design”.

If you’re not familiar with the Eastern shore of the Hudson River above New York City, it has a very particular feel to it. First off, it has been settled for over 300 years and consequently has a very lived in “aura” to it and that’s proving very hard to work into the first story’s fabric. If you’re attempting to write a readable thriller, this kind of detail has to be placed in quick, small bursts or you risk losing the reader. However, if you don’t get it just right, you also risk losing the reader. Leave it out all together and you’ve lost the story’s sense of place.

Solving this proved to be a 300-mile conundrum, but passing Watertown, NY, it suddenly hit me how I might work it effectively given the parameters. It involves leaning on another character to describe the lay of the land because she’s never visited the area before and gets lost.

Arriving back in Toronto, I was faced with a bit of a “detour” since I have to respond to the edit of the novella I have coming out this fall, but I am very eager to put my plan into action and see how it all works.

My plan came from being forced to think for a longer period of time than I normally would, simply because I was trapped in a car taking a journey made over 100 times. I could think of it as an ordeal, but I chose to make it an opportunity.

So you see, having to make the same trip yet again can be worthwhile if you decide to make lemonade out of lemons. Come to think of it, I’ve done some of my best creating driving between New York and Toronto.

1 comment:

Marty Knox said...

I'll try it back and forth from MO to AZ. I traded info with a friend on how to put a kindle app on her I-phone 6. I was so excited I couldn't stand it. Now I've got a library on my I-phone. Mu-wah-ha-ha thats me twirling my Snidely Whiplash mustache. I showed her how to get a Kindle app, she showed me how to voice record on mine. I'm ready for a long trip. Been doing that trip for 37 years, and I discover new scenes each time. Love the old Route 66 when I get a chance & not in a hurry. Loved your post.