Last night, a friend and I were driving down the highway in a red Buick, long in the front and cutting through the night like a shark.
(I know, I'm good.)
Anyway, we're talking about what you might expect when it's nearly midnight and you're on the highway. And then we're pulling into one of those gas stations - the kind that looks alive at night.
(I know, I'm good.)
Anyway, we come pulling in and this place looks like something out of a movie. Truckers are roaming around. There's a surly woman manning the coffee machines - or would that be womaneering the coffee machines? Anyway, you get the point. My friend, Jeff, is all, "Hey what's the freshest coffee?" And she's like, "They're all fresh, I just put them out." And Jeff says, "Which one do you recommend?"
Yeah, I know.
Anyway, this lady starts on about how, "Well, I guess that depends on what kind of coffee you like." All surly and I gave Jeff this Look which I hoped he read to mean, "Well, that wasn't very nice."
Jeff ended up going with the Sumatra, mainly because it had a Tiger on the label.
The whole place was alive. Full of characters. And it took me back to high school, to those late night drives that never had a purpose. Me, my friends - sometimes a girl - just doing nothing. Just to be out and alive and, well, young.
As Jeff was getting a taco and some Corn Nuts, I said, "This is where things really happen, you know? This is the sort of place, in high school, where you kiss the girl. Where you make life decisions." And, granted, that's a bit overdone, but I really believe it's true.
None of my transformational moments happened on the side of a mountain, on a beach, or in any other sort of exotic location. They happened in 24-hour pancake houses, in restaurant parking lots, in the passenger seats of friend's cars.
And when I write YA fiction, I try to go back to those moments. I try to extract the importance in those mundane places. I try to remember what it's like to be young, to have just enough novelty left that a Pilot gas station is still a place of wonder. A place where something can happen.
I guess I'm talking about setting. And I guess I'm wondering if any of you have a strong sense of place in your writing, or maybe if you pick it up in the books you read. I guess I'm wondering if I'm the only one who walks into a truck stop and sees the people from my books - clutching half-warmed burritos - and thinks, "This is where the magic happens."