My story in the new anthology ‘Plague of Shadows’ (plug plug plug) is about a couple that is driving across the country on vacation and end up in a weird situation while trying to food late. I won’t give it away because I hope folks will buy the book and whatnot, but I thought I’d write a little bit about where it came from.
I’ve been on a number of road trips across the country, as far north as Alaska, and as far sound as Florida. I’ve been to California, the tip of main, and just about everywhere in between. Growing up my mom, my brother, and I would take long driving trips to see the country. You gain a different perspective on things when you see the country from the ground instead of flying over it, especially when your a kid and everything is new and different. We never stayed in hotels on these trips, opting to set up a tent and sleep in campgrounds each night. I’ve probably stayed in more KOA’s than Holiday Inn’s in my life by probably a good margin. If you’ve ever traveled and stayed in campgrounds you know they’re not usually on Main St in town. They’re usually off in the woods, or near parkland, basically the middle of nowhere. In pre-GPS days they also weren’t always easy to find. When you take wrong turns in the boondocks you can end up going down some weird roads.
We never experienced the kind of thing that happens in my story, but it wasn’t a stretch to imagine it drawing on some of those strange, out of the way places we ended up on those trips.
Years later my wife and I decided to honeymoon by driving across the country with no destination in mind. We had an eventual destination of Yellowstone and surrounding area, but no real timetable or set route. We didn’t stay in campgrounds, but we did end up in some out of the way hotels. Our very first night we found ourselves in northern Ohio, getting a room in a Motel Six. We didn’t love the room and were on the fence about staying there but decided to try and find some food. As we left the room to go back to our car an older gentleman on the second floor walkway of the hotel called down to us and said ‘Y’all be careful out there tonight.’. That was enough for us. We went back in the room, grabbed our things, told the person at the desk ‘Yeah, nevermind.’ She understood and we left in search of a less creep hotel. We’d eventually find one, but not after going up and down a lot of dark roads.
That was our first night.
The rest of the trip followed some similar patterns. We’d pick a place to pull off the highway, drive around, not find anything then get back on the highway to push on a little more. In my story this is how the main characters end up in their situation. There was even a night where the only thing we found open was a lonely Asian takeout place, that part of the story is directly based on.
The other big inspiration for the story is the book ‘Travels with Charley’ from John Steinbeck. It was one of my brothers favorites, and I enjoyed it too. There’s a scene I talk about in the story that haunts the main character. It’s a scene that has always haunted me too. If you read the story, you’ll get why, that bit is pretty autobiographical. It’s largely to do with abandoned places. Growing up on the East Coast, there isn’t a lot of empty space between things and most of the abandoned places are in cities. Once you get on the road and head West you start to get a feel for how much emptiness there is in our country, not a bad thing necessarily, but also how much of our country used to be a place and isn’t anymore. Abandoned towns, restaurants, gas stations, etc. Everywhere you look you can see something that used to be, but isn’t anymore. There’s always a sense of loneliness, of moving on. I’ve always been fascinated with that concept and those places. My story talks about it some.
So that’s the roots of ‘On the House’. I hope I haven’t said too much, because I’d love people to read it and hear what they think.
Now time for the plug! I don’t like it anymore than you do, but this is the game if you want to be a writer.
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