Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where the Magic Happens

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."


  1. I am sure I have visited that Pilot gas station.

  2. Exit 263, if I'm not mistaken...

  3. You're talking about far more than setting. You're onto chemistry, circumstance, and yes...magic.

  4. I wish I were observant enough to glean more meaning from the mundane. I need people like you to show it to me. That's one thing I really envy about you and your writing.

    You don't, by any chance, offer 'mundane-meaning-gleaning' lessons do you?

  5. Ray: I'll give you lessons in the mundane if you teach me how to write something remotely commercial...