This morning while I was driving down Carmel Valley Road on my way to the grocery store, I drove alongside a pair of black BMW X5s with New Jersey plates traveling in tandem. Now coastal California is a LONG drive from New Jersey. I immediately wondered what their story was. When I mentioned it to OG when I got home, he suggested they might be here doing some road testing on behalf of the manufacturer or maybe getting ready to film a commercial on the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur. He’s probably right, but how mundane. My hypothesis was much more colorful. Can we say gangsters on the run, anybody?
Because we live in a tourist destination, I see cars with license plates from all over the U.S. and Canada all the time. And I always wonder the same thing: what’s their story? Does anyone else do this? I can’t help it. When I was little growing up in Kansas, I wondered about the story behind every abandoned farmhouse along the highway between home and my grandparents’ house in Junction City. I imagined all kinds of romantic and/or tragic scenarios. I was disappointed to later learn the answer was simple economics: they were likely victims of the Great Depression.
Many writers use bits of strangers’ conversations as inspiration. I don’t seem to do that. I’m more visual. I see people like the young woman in the shopping center parking lot wearing a zipped up ski parka and rhinestone encrusted flip flops in fifty-six degree weather and wonder: what’s her story? Or I drive past a lavish mansion or dilapidated shack and speculate about the lives of the occupants, both past and present. My first book, a historical romance set in 1866 Missouri, was inspired by an antebellum house in Kansas City I’d driven past hundreds of times.
I blame my active imagination for my becoming a writer. I need an outlet for all these conjectures—otherwise my head might explode. Sometimes I wish I could call up orderly ideas on demand, but alas, that rarely happens. And when it does, it’s never as much fun.
I might never be any good at creating a strong, consistent author brand, but at least I don’t have to worry about running out of ideas. I see stories everywhere!