Road Trips & Novel Settings

I’m not going to lie, my 45th birthday is freaking me out a little. The big day is Monday. So I’ve taken the day off tomorrow & Monday – and then the following Friday/Monday for a road trip. I’m a driver. I love to go on a nice long drive. I’ll take back roads and the long way, any day. I like to be in the car. For some reason, it’s calming (unless in SoCal traffic – but that’s another story). I tend to find myself inspired, not only when it comes to my writing, but just about life in general. I often get a sense of things and clarity, that I don’t find other times and in other ways.

As cliché as it sounds, there’s something about the open road that is freeing. The monotony of a really long drive creates natural space to think, without the clutter of real life, getting in the way. If there’s one thing that the last couple of years has done, it’s add clutter. I am looking forward to clarity, inspiration, and getting away for a few days.

I haven’t planned my trip yet (except for where I’m staying). It’s the Mexican/artist/free spirit in me. Part of me wants to just – eh, whatever. There are so many times in my life when I feel so constrained by schedules and I desperately want to wander. It’s not very practical, however. Especially with such a short trip. During my time off tomorrow, I’ll be putting more of a plan together.

One of the things I’m really looking forward to, is the ways I hope it helps me along with the novel I’m writing (A Thousand Years). Road trips & novel settings are not something I’ve needed to tie together in the past. These two things are usually quite separate – mostly because my novels are set in locales I know well. Though I’ve spent time in Asheville, Blowing Rock, and a variety of other spots in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains – over the years, there is some territory in NC, I haven’t covered. I go back and forth about where I truly want this novel to be set. On Friday the 30th, I’ll be in the Yadkin Valley (wine country, to be exact) to see if that’s more of what I’m looking for, for the setting (the foothills vs the mountains). There are wineries in mountain towns like Banner Elk. But the Yadkin Valley “Wine Trail” is what I’m most curious about. My original plan was to stay in Elkin, as a home base for exploring. But I had a hard time finding a place that would allow the dog, in my budget range, for April or May. But I digress.

The setting for A Thousand Years, is a small town – on the edge of the Blue Ridge – that is working hard at becoming relevant and revitalizing its downtown and community as a whole. My heroine, Carolina “Birdie” Langston – is brought in to help do just that. But in the process of doing so, she starts chasing another dream. That’s where wine country comes into play. I just haven’t decided if I want to stick with the wine country idea or if my love for the mountains wins out. I’ve never been to the Yadkin River Valley so I’m not sure if it fits what I’m looking for.

I’m rambling now. But, I mention this because my vision of “wine country” is defined by my home state of California. In each of the various grape-growing regions of my California, there are some striking similarities in spite of the differences. I’m curious how the terroir of this “wine trail” region is similar (or not), to home. I find myself writing descriptions in the novel that I can’t feel 100% confident in, though I’ve poured over photos. The other novels I’ve written or started were/are set in locations I’ve lived in. That makes it easy, no?

This novel makes me uncomfortable for so many reasons. It’s a much bigger project than I’ve attempted. It spans nearly two decades, and it should, if I can do it the right way, incorporate flashbacks that give greater insight into the love story between Graham Ford & Birdie Langston. It dips into territory that I’m not always comfortable with. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to write it just the same. With the discomfort, comes a desire to feel more confident about the rest – like its location. So this trip west, will involve a lot of photos, notes, and getting some details straight. I’m excited!

The writing of this book has been challenging in so many ways. On the other hand, I’m learning a lot and challenging myself in ways I haven’t before. Once I get home, the next challenge is creating a book proposal and book “blurb” to enter a contest with a literary agency. It took some very hard days in 2019 & 2020 to bring me to the point of being hopeful about what lies ahead. Now that I’m here, I want to dive in.

Dreaming About What Comes Next

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The cat is out of the bag. I don’t need to hide it anymore. My employer knows that later this summer, I will begin moving on to the next phase of my life. While I actually wanted to do it sooner, I let some things get in the way and then it seemed to be too challenging to find what I wanted. As such, my plan is to aim for summer with the expectation that the economy will continue to get better and opportunities in the field I’d like to move into, expand. I’m dreaming about what comes next.

But whatever happens, I think I finally feel the freedom and the ability to dream again. I am ready to hope again – about what might be possible in the future. After a couple of painful years, I had to get to know myself again. And while the delay has frustrated me – to the point I have been just freaking angry at God, I think I get it all now. Or at least part of it.

Last summer, I started working toward some things and then let those fizzle. But as I prepare for my 45th birthday, I know what I want. I know the type of life I want, the dream I have, the career I’d like, and yes, even the type of relationship I want. I know what I want. It’s not just that I want these things, I think they’re part of what I should be doing with life now. Not pursuing those things I’m meant to, just isn’t going to work for me any longer.

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The thing is, I’ve got things to do and a lot life to live. This afternoon, as I think about what lies ahead, as I enter my 45th year, I’m thankful I’m ready to dream again. I’m thankful I can hope again. And I know that what’s meant to be mine, will be mine.