Following I 70 With a Writer’s Notebook in Hand


Baltimore, where I live, is at the beginning of Interstate 70. Every time we drive along that stretch of the highway, we pass the mileage sign. I look and I wonder what it would be like to just start out and go to those far-away places on the sign.

Now I’m doing it. I’m off on a road trip across the USA with my daughter and granddaughter, following I 70 most of the way. I’ve been across the US more than once, but not on this route.

When I travel I always have a small notebook with me. Writers do that. You never know what adventures you will run into on the way. Sometimes even the smallest thing sparks the imagination.

My imagination was dampened our first day out, though. We followed I 70 through the mountains in Maryland and Pennsylvania in the driving rain. Sometimes it was blinding. I had the first shift as driver. There were times I couldn’t see beyond the hood of our car. Now that I am away from it, I wonder how that experience could become a story or part of a story. It was pretty scary. The gray of the sky, rain hurling at the windshield like thousands of nails, trucks sending a spray of water at us. Did they do that on purpose? Probably not, but what if they did? Imagination is at work again. I suspect that one day that blinding rain will show up in in some story.

I was eager to get to Indianapolis, Indiana where we planned to stay overnight. It made an insanely long day, especially with the slow-down through the rain. But when my daughter found that we could stay at the Crown Plaza built in the old Union Station, Indianapolis we decided to go for it. They have 26 old Pullman train cars divided into bedrooms. There is a private train car in the third book of The Last Crystal Trilogy. It is attached to the Santa Fe Chief—that was when the Chief was THE train to take from Chicago to LA.

The outside of our train car.

People can still do that—buy a train car and have it fixed up to specification. I saw lots of pictures of private train cars and floor plans for private cars when I did research for the book. But spending the night in half of a car turned into a hotel room sounded like an exciting prospect. Imagination is important, but so is real experience. I wasn’t disappointed! There were lounge chairs and two large beds and a bath. It was cozy, but with just enough room for the three of us. There were plaster cast statues to spark the imagination, too. You could almost see the crowds bustling to get on board. Or, as in this picture taken by my daughter, three mischiefs trying to hitch a ride on top of the train.

Day 1 and my notebook is full of ideas.

What Do Writers Do?

Writers write. Right? Wrong. Maybe wrong is too strong.

Writers do write. But that isn’t all they do. They also work on their craft. They meet with other writers and talk about their work. They share ideas about writing. They take workshops and go to conferences to help them learn more about writing.

When you study writing at school, you write. But you probably spend some time conferring with a writing partner or a small group. That way you get feedback on your ideas and on your first draft. Then you revise. Maybe you get a new idea and add it. Experienced writers do these things too.

They also work on getting their work published. At school, publishing is often creation of a magazine or your own collection of stories. Maybe your teacher has stories all put together and bound into a book for parents. You celebrate what you have done.

Experienced writers want to publish, too. They’d like their books to be in the bookstore or on-line. Working to get your work published is also part of your craft as a writer.

Sometimes writers know how to write, but they don’t know what to do about getting their work published and on the shelves of bookstores. They aren’t always sure about how to let people know that they have a great book that they want to share.

I went to an all-day meeting for writers on Saturday, the Kansas City Writer’s Conference. I chose this conference for three reasons. 1) The conference description sounded like it would give me some good information about getting my work published, 2) The Alabaster Box starts out in Kansas City, Missouri* I like to stay in touch with the Kansas City area*. 3) My brother lives in Lawrence, Kansas, less than an hour away. I wanted to  visit him for a few days and attend the one-day conference.

In fact, my brother drove me into Kansas City yesterday. We left early. It was a cold, foggy morning. I was glad to have him do the driving. I looked out over soggy fields and bright green pasture lands where cows were grazing. I remembered that long ago all the countryside was unfenced prairie. If I had been traveling to Kansas City then, I might have followed the Sante Fe Trail. I would have been on horseback or in a wagon. That is what the land looked like when Grace Willis went west with her family.

I spent the whole day learning new things and telling people about my book. The guest teacher was Marisa A. Corvisiero. She is a literary agent who founded the Corvisiero Literary Agency. She told us about things that good writers do, how to work with an agent, and many things a writer needs to know in order to get published. Her talks were interesting and lively.

Good writers write. Right. And they work on their craft.

*If you follow the Kansas City area link you can find out some fun facts about Kansas. There is even a link that lets you hear cattle sounds. If you follow the Missouri link you will find fun facts about the state of Missouri. There are some interesting things about Kansas City, Missouri, too.






Where did you get the idea?

“Where did you get the idea for the book?” This is one of the questions Mrs. Schmidt’s class wanted to know. It’s a good question. Where do ideas come from?

Writing is different for every writer. Many writers say you should write from experience. You write from who you are. I don’t see how a writer can do anything else. Even those things you imagine come from your experience of imagining and wondering. An imagined experience is filtered through your life-experience. Somebody else, with very different experiences might imagine the same thing very differently.

The trilogy started years ago when my daughter was a toddler. I’m a grandmother now, so that shows you how long the ideas incubated. We were visiting family in California. An uncle told us that his father worked for the railroad. His grandparents lived in California, so he and his brother used to take the train all the way from Missouri to California every summer by themselves.

I got to thinking about what kind of mischief you could get into when you’re eight or eleven or twelve and riding on a train without a parent or somebody to look after you. Sometime later I happened to read a newspaper article about private railroad cars. People can buy or lease their own car and have it all fixed up for luxury traveling. So what if you’re a kid exploring the train and you accidentally got into a private car?

Now here is the beginning of a story. Two ideas from very different experiences are connected. But I had a question.  Who might they run into?  What might happen to them? I began imagining a quest. Then it seemed wrong to have two boys and no girls, so I decided there would be two girls as well. Book three in the trilogy was off to a start, even though I didn’t know it was book three.

Experiences, questions, and curiosity are the stuff that help to build a story. I’ll talk more about the ideas in another post. Maybe you have a question or an idea to share.





Writing and Reading THE ALABASTER BOX: An Invitation

Chapter 1: The Stokes Company

            “If it had been left up to Grace, they would have stayed home. But she didn’t get to choose. With land opening up in the West, her father and mother wanted go to California and start a medical school. So, sorry or not, she had to leave nearly everybody and everything she had ever known and loved in St. Louis, Missouri where she had lived her whole safe, comfortable life.”

This is the opening paragraph of The Alabaster Box.  Maybe you have a question for me. You may ask questions about the story or about writing the story. I’ll do my best to answer. You can also tell me what you liked and wanted more of as well as what didn’t work for you. You will see some comments below. You can enter your own comments or respond to somebody else’s comment. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will find the place to reply.

If you haven’t read the book, I hope this makes you curious enough to want to read it when it is published.