A change of environment can often work wonders in helping stimulate new ideas, new inspiration, new ways of seeing oneself and the world. New stories too. Perhaps it’s because a strange place makes one hyper-sensitive to new sights, sounds, impressions… That’s why I suggested to my husband we drive to the Maine coast for a ten day break. Ten days, ten stories, one for each day on the road.
An important meeting came up, forcing us to return a day early – nine days, nine stories. Then my sister got her dates for a visit muddled, which meant we’d leave a day later – eight days.
We set off in sweltering afternoon heat, not helped by the fact that the car’s air conditioning was not working properly or by the massive truck that had come off the road just before the border, blocking the road and leaving us sitting under the sun, 35 degrees, in the middle of corn and mustard fields.
That evening in Vermont, we raced along back country dirt roads, bumping over fallen branches, buffeted by rain and wind. Leaves swirled, twigs caught in the wipers, branches thudded down on roof and bonnet. No writing that night. Seven days, seven stories.
The drive to Ogunquit was in rain so hard that a car would disappear as soon as it had overtaken us. That afternoon we sat under the awning on a deck of Café Prego watching rain pour off roofs, bounce off gutters, stream down the side of the street. Finally I took out my notebook.
(The first few lines of each story that I’ll share are in the same rough state in which I wrote them down.)
Story #1: I started with one word: rain. I decided not to worry about an actual story but to riff off the word (rhyming, slant rhyme, alliteration, assonance, etc.) and see what happened.
- Rain, plain speaking, freaking out, the lout, fraught with pleasures, sure, the lure, cured only in-house, without, thought-dependent, a grunt or two and then he heaved himself out of his chair. He’d always thought of the room as his lair. She wasn’t supposed to be here. He hadn’t given her permission. Quite the reverse. He’d kicked her out….
Story #2: In Breaking New Grounds, the coffee shop with the best coffee and ocean view in Perkins Cove, I wrote down a quick list of things I had noticed that day: stick, carpet, hammer, picture frame, air conditioner, stable door. Then I closed my eyes and stabbed my pencil on the page to choose a word: stick.
- Stick. Get a stick. Quickly, she yelled. The boy stuck his thumb in his mouth and stared down between his feet. What could he see there? The eyes to be sure. But who, or what, did the eyes beong to? Were those teeth? He wasn’t sure. The girl was yelling,running around in circles. If she wanted a stick she should go get one. He didn’t want a stick…
The next day my husband tripped on the stairs of our b+b and fell into a glass cabinet. We spent the evening at the hospital. Down to six days, six stories.
Story #3: Sitting on the b+b balcony overlooking Boothbay Harbor. This time I worked from a snatch of telephone conversation I’d overheard earlier in the day. “Have you eaten the banana?”
- Have you eaten the banana? she asked, hand cupped over mouth, belly bulging through the brown crepe fabric. Have you? She listened intently to the voice at the other end of the phone, a voice I couldn’t hear. Well, put it in the fridge. Her voice rose in agitation. You must put it in the fridge. She hunched a shoulder, protecting me from her whisper…
Story #4: In the sun in the wonderful Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens after walking the reflexology labyrinth…
- The serpentine path of a labyrinth should bring one back to where one started. The problem for Henry was recognizing where he’d started. Over there by the rhododendrons or by the shasta daisies? Not that they were far apart. He could simply have stepped off the labyrinth and walked back to the visitors centre but where would be the satisfaction in that? He should have stayed in the area wih the spooky trees, dark green branches hanging down while the trunks rose straight up. Green ghosts. Spooky spires. Henry shouldn’t have taken his shoes off. He hated going barefoot…
Story #5: Another overheard snippet, a roadside signpost, and some deep breathing of ocean air: he doesn’t see much daylight, but he’s got a good job. Laboratory. Salt.
- The laboratory was just west of the salt marshes, about twenty or so miles out of town. The town was more like a village. Post office, forge, three churches and a pool hall. That was it. Roan didn’t often go there. He’d known the place since childhood, nothing much had changed since then, so what was the point? If he wanted town life, he could go into Portman Quivis. No-one could dispute that that was a town…
Story #6: On the drive home we stopped at a gas station where every single pump was talking – some to the car that had drawn up beside it, some still talking to a car that had driven off. All those enthusiastic automated voices giving the deals of the day and suggesting services and products to buy, all saying the same words over and over, but at different times. I wanted to scream.
- The chairs were huddled in the corner, all laughing and talking at the same time. They fell silent as the big man approached. The load on his plate was formidable. The chairs watched him hesitate, his eyes scanning them. A quick vote. Five chairs voted he’d go for Comfy, the flowered easy chair, three said Yellow, the wheezy old chair with a bad leg that gave way at unexpected moments. The high-backed Edwardian chair voted for itself which technically wasn’t allowed. Secretly they all hoped he’d choose Yellow and that her leg would go from under her. Always an easy laugh. A gasp from the red wooden chair as the hand grabbed her back and….
Of course you don’t have to leave home to experience unfamiliar places and sensations! In fact I now think, even more important than a change of scenery, is the intention to write. Writing every day (once I started!) really got me back into the rhythm of writing after a lackluster, patchy writing summer.
Have you ever made a plan to write a certain number of stories in a certain number of days? Why not try it over a weekend? A long weekend? Find somewhere nearby that you’ve never been to…
Just going by these ‘starters’, which story would you choose to work on?