Finding a Story

Well, apparently I was supposed to blog yesterday. Unfortunately, I was a bit dead to the world; thirty-six hours spent in various airports and on planes will do that do you. Not to mention the different time zones.

I just returned yesterday from visiting my sister. I spent an entire week with her up in Fairbanks, Alaska. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be show and tell complete with vacation photos. But I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to give an inside peek at how a story is first conceived, or at least how I do it. Inspiration can come from anywhere or anything, but vacations, new places, are an excellent foundation. Bear with me here as I walk you through the beginning of my trip…

Flying into Anchorage, the mountains slowly appear out of the clouds. The city isn’t visible over the wing of the plane, just miles of ragged, ice-covered ocean. It looks so much closer than it actually is, the plane dipping low, as if about to land in the frigid water. A man, quiet and reserved, clutching the arm of his seat. What is he thinking? How did he get here? Not many people relocate to Alaska. Perhaps he followed his lover here…yes, that works. His lover is big, strong, self-sufficient. They met on the job, when the Alaska native came to consult. Whatever possessed a quiet accountant to follow him home?

Anchorage looks modern, progressive. But they aren’t stopping in Anchorage. He waits in the tiny airport for the flight that will take him north. The flight itself is almost awkward. The stewardess greets passengers by name, coos over how big a baby has grown. Everyone knows each other; they make this flight multiple times in a year and Fairbanks is a small town. He gets sideways looks from some people, wondering about the newcomer. It’s uncomfortable, but he reminds himself why he’s doing this, about a handsome face and boisterous laugh.

It’s colder here than it was in Anchorage, the air freezing in his lungs as he follows the small crowd of people across the snow-covered tarmac. A discreet thermometer reads -34 degrees. When he realizes that’s in Fahrenheit, he wonders if he should have brought a pair of long underwear. Everything is coated in ice and snow, the air hanging heavy and low. Air quality is a problem in Fairbanks. Smoke and exhaust lingers overhead in the still air of the valley, smoke plumes rising from the buildings. It not only feels cold, it looks cold.

What has he gotten himself into?

This is a pretty even mix of actual events and descriptions, woven in with my (admittedly) overly-active imagination. But it gives me a start, a character. Different locations give me hints of scenes: the small, insular community of Fairbanks. The isolationist, anti-government sentiments of the people. The utter loneliness that is going to be an integral issue for my developing story.

I was there over Valentine’s Day, but the city was quiet. A huge portion of Fort Wainwright – nearly 4000 troops – were out on a training exercise. It lent a depressing air to the holiday, so many couples apart. But on the opposite end, we visited Chena Springs (never thought I’d be outside in a swimsuit in -30 degree weather!). It was night, the mist enclosing the springs, making it impossible to see a few feet away on the surface of the warm water. A perfect place for a romantic scene, for a character to remember why the loneliness and isolation just might be worth it.

It’s how I start, with an idea, a place, but most often with a character. I generally don’t write the story in a linear fashion; I’ll think of a scene, an event, and play connect the dots. It works for me, following the inspiration and letting my imagination roam. My trip to Fairbanks wasn’t intended to be a research trip. I was mainly going to keep my sister company while her husband (one of those 4000 troops) was away. But there’s a story in everything when you’re a writer and every experience is fodder for the imagination. Alaska in winter is a bit depressing, dreary, but there’s so much beauty there, as well. It will be my job to help my quiet, out of place accountant find that beauty. And that? Is what makes writing so much fun for me. Taking my characters along a journey that changes them, either fundamentally or their view of the world around them.

And now I’m off to do just that. Happy journeying!


3 Responses to “Finding a Story”

  1. Sheila Says:

    Glad you made it back. My sisters cruised Alaska and said it was beautiful. I just finished Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez about the Arctic Circle. A fascinating read.

  2. kmmahoney Says:

    Thanks, Sheila! I would like to see Alaska in the spring or summer, I’m sure it’s amazing. But even with the ice and snow and gray sky, the land still had its own charm and beauty. I’ll have to check out Arctic Dreams, I’ve been on an ‘arctic’ kick lately (surprise, surprise!)

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