No good vacation goes unpunished. They are work from the whole booking-travel-and-lodging thing to the packing thing to the prepping-your-work-and-personal-life-to-survive-two-weeks-without-you thing. I find myself so harried before vacations that I wonder, why am I doing this again? This vacation, my work life was particularly bad…STRESS!
But I marched all my ducks into a row with my trusty cattle prod and got on a plane to cross another bucket-list item from my to-do list. I’ve always wanted to take any one of my good friends back to the Northeast to share my childhood stomping grounds. Finally one of my dearest friends agreed to come with me to spend a week each in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
But this is a blog about writing, not vacationing, so what’s the deal? Well, in addition to the fun, family, and friend time, I’ve gotten more out of my travels. I’ve cultivated a wider first-hand understanding of the world from people to places to nature.
This was my friend’s first trip to the Northeast. For the most part, she’s spent her time on the West Coast. Sharing such a different place with her was an interesting experience for me. I saw things in new ways. We spent a lot of time driving so we talked a lot.
For instance, we were driving through New Hampshire when my friend asked, “What is the biggest city in the state?” Huh, I didn’t have any idea. So out comes the trusty smart phone and voila! It’s Manchester. Of course next to that information is the population: 109,565. Wow, that twisted my head. Largest city in California is Los Angeles at 3.8 million. My hometown, what I think of as a medium-sized suburban area between San Francisco and San Jose, has a population of over 140,000. Shoot, the population of the Bay Area is five times the whole state of New Hampshire (7 million vs. 1.3 million). And cities…well, the Bay Area alone has 101, while New Hampshire totals 13.
The point of this is that wherever we are, we get sedentary in our thoughts of what is “normal.” While we know that things are different in some way anywhere we go, feeling it gives a whole new perspective. If you follow my blogs, you have heard me say that what readers want from fiction is an emotional experience. You as a writer can give them that experience so much more vividly if you yourself feel it first. Statistics don’t generate such emotion, but every day of our week in New Hampshire, we felt and saw the ramifications of these statistics.
I live within three minutes of three major freeways. I go everywhere on freeways. But in New Hampshire, we went almost everywhere on twisty two-lane highways (just one lane each direction) with turnouts for passing if we were lucky. We only got on the interstate thrice in the week, and two of those were to cross into and out of New Hampshire. Every day we were there, we drove along highways overhung with leaves that I knew would burst into glorious golds, reds, and oranges in the fall. We rumbled across a one-lane covered bridge with a sign warning of “dire” penalties if you drove faster than a walk (a walk?! How different is that? Not even a number, just something subjective…talk about a different mindset from the Bay Area). We rode alongside twisting brooks bubbling white over river rock. We wended through notches of bald granite towering over us. I never noticed how spectacular they were until my friend did…I had remembered them as normal from childhood; I needed her eyes to really see them. The whole state of New Hampshire is granite, and it infiltrates its very nature…maybe down to the state motto, which is as intractable as the craggy granite cliffs: Live Free or Die. Something as simple as the ground people walk on can characterize not only them, but become a metaphor for an entire culture.
On our car trips, we passed through dozens of towns, with clapboard general stores, steep, snow-shedding-rooved old houses, and quaint white churches that looked like they belonged on postcards. But you better be paying attention…some towns were only two blocks long—no blinking.
This trip reminded me of how people in a smaller, less populated world lived (or at least one of the ways). And as small as these towns seemed to me, many were metropolises compared to the types of towns I put into my fantasy novel. These contrasts generate the feelings I draw upon to write from an emotional place to create an emotional experience for readers. I can characterize entire civilizations with just a few choices, so long as they are good solid choices…solid as granite. When I write, I lean on the memories of these woods where I roamed as a child, on the snow and the thunderstorms, the small towns that close up at 5:00, and the apple pie that grandma put on her old rustic farm table. Even the air smelled different on the forested little island of Black Cat where we stayed. Travel refreshes and adds to those memories. This trip revitalized my connection to things that I use in my writing.
Whether you live in a concrete metropolis with seven million people trying to rush about on ten-lane freeways or alone on a tiny island that needs a boat to get to the nearest town, if you write, you can weave travel experiences into your imagings. Get out of your “normal” and feel—feel something different. Everyplace has its own characteristics, from real estate to food to landscape to nature and to people. Get out there. Smell it, touch it, taste it, listen and see it. What surprises you? What touches your heart? What can you use to make your own worlds come to life? Weave the magic moments of your travels into your story the next time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to create vivid new worlds to share with your readers.