Remember having to write those back-to-school essays? Either we did so much we couldn’t condense it to 1-2 pages, or we felt we hadn’t done anything of note. Regardless, we sat at our desks and stared at the blank paper.
I was one of those kids lucky enough to do ‘stuff,’ but I still had a hard time deciding what to share. Some of the ‘stuff’ wasn’t what I wanted my parents to know about, let alone a classroom full of strangers. Coming up with a safe topic usually meant writing about a trip we’d taken. My dad was—still is—a great one for hauling us off to national monuments, parks, factory tours, open-pit mines, historical sites and such. I wasn’t always enthused about where we went and what we saw (tractor pulls—ugh!), but the very act of getting in the car and going has gotten into my DNA. I still am willing to get up and go—to national parks, natural wonders, historical sites, and such (and the occasional factory tour—cheese and wine, anyone?).
A willingness to travel and a wealth of curiosity about how the world works, how people tick, and what causes events are useful attributes for writers. And it’s not just seeing the sights, but it’s experiencing the atmosphere as well as the adventure of the place for ourselves that translate into great stories.
For instance, this summer my DH and I decided to visit Alaska’s Inside Passage on a cruise. While I may never set a story in Alaska proper (I write fantasy set in medieval-style worlds), I will most definitely use the experience of gliding along a fjord with the land on both sides rising almost vertically from the water and only the roar of the cascades plunging hundreds of feet down the rocks into the placid green water punctuating the silence. That absolute stillness and unspoiled isolation had a profound impact on me, and I can imagine characters experiencing this kind of wild land.
Another experience I might use at some point was our trip on the White Pass Railway in Skagway. It’s a 100-year-old railroad climbing nearly 3,000 feet from shore to the Canadian border. Part of the track follows the Gold Rush trail where each man carried his required ton (2,000 lbs.) of supplies up the mountain on foot along a narrow trail you can still see in places. Men climbed in a line, so close if a person fell out of line, he had to wait hours sometimes to get back in. These men climbed in the winter, ferrying their ton of supplies to the top. And those trips up and back had to be done before they could get permission from the Canadian Mounties to cross the border and head down the other side another 60-plus miles to the gold fields of the Yukon. Seeing what ‘gold fever’ drove these men—and some women—to do, and the conditions in which they attempted to do it, has given me more grist for stories.
Besides the lure of the Great Land, a more personal reason I wanted to go to Alaska was that my dad had done some recreational gold panning and dredging there in the 1980s. I’d used his description of panning a stream for a scene in my book BLOODSTONE, creating my fantasy setting from my own experiences of the Beartooth Mountains. I’d wanted to see how close I’d come. After having been to the Great Land, I’d say I did pretty well weaving a tiny bit of truth into fiction.
So, what should YOU do on your vacation? Have experiences, lots of them—and tuck them away into your memory banks for that moment when need meets knowledge and the creative sparks fly.
What if looking at the face of the man you loved meant death?
Years ago, warrior Durren Drakkonwehr was cursed by a mage. Now feared and reviled as the Shadow Man, he keeps to himself, only going to town to trade rare bloodstones—petrified dragon’s blood—for supplies. Though he hides his face, he can’t hide his heart from the woman who haunts his dreams…
Needing bloodstones for a jewelry commission, Mirianna and her father journey across the dreaded Wehrland where the beast-men roam. When their party is attacked, only the Shadow Man can save them. Strangely drawn to him, Mirianna offers herself in return for her father’s rescue.
Living in the ruined fortress with the Shadow Man, Mirianna slowly realizes that a flesh-and-blood man, not a fiend hides there in hoods and darkness. But are love and courage enough to lift the curse and restore the man?
“What about us? What do we do?”
Only the hood rotated, cocking with exaggerated deliberation. “Why, you die, old man.”
Her father blanched. His grip on Mirianna’s arms faltered.
She saw the Shadow Man turn, saw the muscles of his thighs bunch as he prepared to leap down the hillside, saw, in the corner of her eye, shapes gathering along the tree line below, horrible shapes she’d seen only hours before rushing at her from a darkened clearing. With a shudder, she broke from her father’s grasp.
“Please!” She reached out to the black sleeve. “Help us!”
He recoiled at her touch like one snake-bitten. The sudden, sharp focus of his regard staggered her, but she backed no more than a step. No matter how he terrified her, he’d helped her once. She’d been led to him again, and not, her instincts told her, without reason.
“Please,” she repeated. “Help us. I—we’ll do anything.”
His voice was a whisper that caressed flesh. Mirianna’s stomach quivered. Her breasts tingled. Her mouth grew even drier. Without thinking, she slid her tongue along her lips. Vaguely, she wondered what she’d done. And why time seemed suspended, as if everyone but she and the Shadow Man had been cast in stone and all sound arrested. All sound except the taut, guttural repeat of his question.
Author Helen C. Johannes lives in the Midwest with her husband and grown children. Growing up, she read fairy tales, Tolkien, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, and Ayn Rand, an unusual mix that undoubtedly explains why the themes, characters, and locales in her writing play out in tales of love and adventure. A member of Romance Writers of America, she credits the friends she has made and the critiques she’s received from her chapter members for encouraging her to achieve her dream of publication. When not working on her next writing project, she teaches English, reads all kinds of fiction, enjoys walks, and travels as often as possible.
Bloodstone: Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00G8GTHRC