Small Glimpses

By Ellen Behrens

A novelist I knew once said, “I can always tell whether I’m talking to a fiction writer or a poet just by the way they act. The poet stares at me intently, focused on my words, ready to challenge or clarify. The novelist, on the other hand, glances all over the room, reading titles of books on the shelves, admiring (or not) pictures on the walls, trying to figure out what’s on my desk….”

curiousWe fiction writers can’t help it. We’re absorbed by the details, the minutiae of someone’s life that reveal those individuals to us in ways their words usually don’t. We’re curious beyond the norm.

Driving a long, gray stretch of interstate highway, my husband and I passed a car with a little girl in the back. From our higher one-ton pickup truck I saw her bouncing around the seat, happy it seemed, singing or talking to herself. I thought how nice to see a happy child – though it didn’t appear she was in a car seat, which bothered me. An unexpected hand from the front smacked the little girl, and she crumpled into tears.

 

Traveling is our way of life. About eight years ago we sold our “sticks and bricks” home to travel the country full-time in our RV, and in that time we’ve glimpsed into the lives of thousands of strangers in moments like that one.

whereyouparkitIt’s an ideal and frustrating life for a writer. Ideal because ideas come at me a billion miles an hour from all directions in a nearly endless stream. If I wrote nonstop for the rest of my life without a single pause to eat or sleep, I’d never run out of characters, settings, plot ideas, clues.

The little girl in the back of the car stayed with me, and I daydreamed about what might have happened if we’d followed that car. What would we have found out? The image of us, driving that big truck and towing our huge 38-foot fifth wheel RV behind it, snaking around some city’s streets, “tailing” a car, struck me as absurd – yet inviting.

Of course, we didn’t follow that car. We’re nothing on the road if not safe, and pursuing a car out of pure curiosity isn’t our style. Fortunately, I’m a novelist. I can do on the page what I dare not do in real life.

I started thinking: what if a retired couple like my husband and I did follow that car? I played with different names, landing eventually on Walt and Betty – Walt and Betty Rollin, like rollin’ along. The idea of a mystery series was born.

ellenbehrenscovers

But I couldn’t figure out the story of the little girl in the back of the car. The worst ideas are those that get pushed and pulled and stretched until whatever shred of truth they held is obliterated, so I let it go. New ideas demanded attention. Before long I had the makings of Pea Body, which became the first in the Rollin RV Mystery series.

yuma2013_3

Even so, the little girl in the car haunted me. I needed to write that story. Without much of an idea, I started with the little girl and – like my characters – followed the car to see where things led. I used details from the time we’ve spent in Yuma, Arizona, and the surrounding Sonoran Desert: abandoned stuffed animals, RVers and their pets, the great breakfast we always order at Brownie’s Café in Yuma….

One of my favorite compliments on Pea Body was from an Rver who said the whole thing felt entirely true and wanted to know whether a key plot point had really happened to us. It hadn’t. The story was so filled with the details of true-to-life RVing she’d readily accepted the lies I’d created along the way. That’s what I consider a success.

And it’s all thanks to those small glimpses of others’ lives I’ve been given. What about you? What small glimpses turned into big insights (or plot twists or character traits) for you?

yb_bio-1Yuma Baby, the second in Ellen Behrens’ Rollin RV Mystery series featuring Walt and Betty Rollin, full-time RVers who solve mysteries, is now available in print and ePub format through Lulu.com and via iTunes (Kindle, Kobo, and Nook versions coming soon to those formats). Her first Rollin RV Mystery, Pea Body, is a hit with RVers and non-RVers alike, and her first novel, None But the Dead and Dying, received excellent reviews around the country, including the New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, and others. A former fiction editor and the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship, Ellen and her husband have been full-time RVers since 2009 – living and writing back and forth across North America. Learn more about her books at www.ellenbooks.com or drop her an e-mail at ellenbehr[at]aol[dot]com if you’d like. She loves mail!

 For print, e-Pub and iTunes versions of my books: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ellenbooks

My Amazon author spotlight page: https://www.amazon.com/EllenBehrens/e/B001K7ZBEM/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Yuma Baby is available for Kindle and on iTunes. Soon to come at the Kobo and B&N sites.

Pea Body can also be found via the B&N and Kobo sites.

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17 thoughts on “Small Glimpses

  1. What a strange opportunity to look through the keyhole of life in the USA. And a constant invitation to fiction based on these tasty morsels of humanity, some horrible and others a snippet of the beauty of life. “Home is Where you Park it” is for the adventurous and for the people who may know the US better than others. Whether you move constantly or are in a Sargasso Sea becalmed in reality, life goes on and the character and stories of life do so as well. This reminds me of “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. who traveled by ship and wrote a dark and terrifying tale that spoke to me in a deep place. I think that this traveling through America is a real and true opportunity to look into the heart of America. It is splendid that people have many different ways to look at life and find stories that in many instances are so true. Thanks for this sharing and best to you Ellen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much, MJ! And many thanks to Mike and everybody at MMO for giving me this wonderful space to share this. I’m honored to contribute!

    It has been an amazing, non-ending journey. The stories I could tell you would make you laugh and cry and shake your head in befuddlement. As the long awful campaign season unfolded, I kept saying (till my sweetheart hubby no doubt could recite it with me), “Anybody running for President ought to be required to travel around the country for at least two years via RV.” None of this — stop in a big city, make a speech; stop at a factory or high-dollar fundraising dinner to shake hands. Nope. Drive the roads, eat in the cafes, meet the people.

    I’ll have to read “Heart of Darkness”!

    And many thanks for the great images — the “Home is Where You Park It” phrase is often spotted on RVs in our neighborhoods 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great example of write from your experience. In the book I am about to launch, To Charm a Killer, one of the characters is sent to Ireland for safe-keeping. I travelled the route before her, put her on the bus I took, chose the landmarks she would see, the people she must meet. My sister said she loved that part the best. She’s a travel writer:) But it does give fiction a sense of authenticity. The weaving of people and landscapes and story is what we do.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. WL — Thanks so much for your comment. I love your example from your own book. No wonder non-writers wonder why we have such a hard time answering what they think is such a simple question: “Is it a true story?”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We have been through a horror of a campaign for the potus and it has taken its toll on us all. Those who had a chance to win do not have the information you have.. I still say here is to America and our unusual maybe our eccentric desire for freedom. I have not given up hope as we have been through darker places than this. As for Conrad, he is a foreign writer and wrote with translation. His novellas are truly part of the heart of darkness that being a live being does bring forward. I hope you and your husband continue to enjoy and learn about America as that is a sliver that shivers throughout the world. This city on a hill is made up of the Marines who fought our wars and the Constitution of the US. People have given their lives for the land you travel on and I am so glad that you make this real. I send you my blessings whatever they may be and I have not lost my sense of humor. Love to you! :_)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I believe all writers are information sponges. We are always people-watching, eavesdropping, wondering “what if” when something we see or hear or read stirs our imagination. Wonderful post and examples of how writers fuel themselves, Ellen! Thanks for visiting and sharing with us at MMO, and please know the welcome mat is always in place. HAPPY TRAILS! 🙂
    –Mike

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    1. Thanks, Michael! The hardest part is trying to sort out what to use when… I’ve been struggling with where Walt and Betty should go next. I thought I had a location, but… no. Then another looked promising…. and now I’ve found one I eliminated awhile ago might work after all. But… maybe not! If I was in one spot, it would be an easy choice. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, decisions, decisions. Where to go, what to do. The Grand Canyon? Yellowstone? Arches? Olympic? The choices are endless when you’re travelling full-time. Wait . . . what’s that sound I hear? Oh yeah, Willie’s singing “On the Road Again!” 🙂 HAPPY TRAILS (& Thanksgiving)!
        –Mike

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for visiting, Ellen. I’ve long been a fan. What a horrible slice of life to have witnessed and how awful for that little girl. Your description had me concocting all sorts of stories, including the life of the child when she grows up. Especially looking forward to reading this book with the knowledge of the actual inciting incident.

    Roll safely!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Kait! I’m not telling what happens in the story, that’s for sure. And if you do write something inspired by the description, I’d love to read it! Yes, we’ve seen some awful stuff. But we’ve experienced some amazing things, too. If you’ll indulge me a bit, here’s a link to a post about one of those wonderful “on the road” experiences: https://bobandellen.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/rural-helpfulness/ [That will probably send your plot-generator into overdrive!]

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ellen, my linking of “Heart of Darkness” had to do with the slapping of the little girl you found so haunting. and your book dealing with it as the starting slice. I wrote a horror memoir about such things and the story had me thinking back on it. It is a horrible but common topic made uncommon by the writer. I hope your book opens some eyes. I have posted thousands of news stories about the abuse of children. Many are on my twitter site and most on my fb site and Word Press site.. There is much research there. I am sorry I didn’t make the link more clear but I was very surprised to see the subject matter dealt with here. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I can imagine the many topics, settings, and characters you are introduced to through your travels. My husband and I and our two dogs traveled for a month, twice, in our SUV across the US. We stayed in hotels and visited friends and relatives. I took notes all the way. Yes, as fiction writers we thrive on everything we see and hear. Enjoyed your post and now need to read your story! Thanks for sharing!
    Enjoy your travels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sheri! Personally, I think the RV industry has their ad campaign all wrong. They show RVs sitting next to pristine lakes and story-book looking woods — locations that are, by and large, hard to find and/or illegal for camping in the US. They really should show people in small towns, visiting the 20-foot high turkey statues, waiting for cows to cross the back roads…. Now *that’s* seeing the old USA.

      Did you write anything based on your travels?

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