It’s taken me a lot of years of denial, but I can now finally admit that I’m a romantic. But not in the contemporary sense of the word. Currently, romantic means anything to do with a couple falling in love. But I’m a romantic in the way it was defined in the nineteenth century. I love stories filled with adventure, introducing me to new lands and new people. I want ships that sail into unknown seas, mysterious maps that hint at lost civilizations, and heroes who believe in gallant action.
Dove by Robin Lee Graham with Derek L.T. Gill is a true story that’s romantic in both senses. It’s a tale of the youngest person to sail solo around the earth, and the story of how he met the young woman who would eventually become his wife. Although it isn’t the main theme of the story, Dove is also about how, bit by bit, Robin and his wife Patti embraced Christianity.
Robin Lee Graham left California in 1965 at sixteen and returned in 1970 at twenty-one, a husband and soon-to-be father. I’ve read two version of this story, The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone is the kids’ version. I enjoy it because the author gives an explanation of sailing terms and it has wonderful photos. Dove is for adults.
I love Dove for so many reasons. First, Robin describes his longing for the sea, something he shared with his father, and for a life different from what he experienced in suburban America. As his father wrote to his mother, explaining why they should allow their son to attempt this, “Lee is more interested in living than longevity.”
Second, the story brims with an exuberant freedom. The reason it took Robin five years to complete his journey was because he took his time, spending months in the countries he reached. He and Patti sailed wherever they wanted while exploring the islands of the South Pacific or the Caribbean, swimming wherever it looked interesting, eating whatever local foods they came across.
Third, he relates how he and his wife changed from pagans from California to Christians. One significant event in that journey was when Robin was caught in a terrible storm off the coast of Madagascar. After being awake for forty-eight hours in a storm that threatened to tear his boat apart, Robin prayed, with his arms clutching the tiller, “God or whoever you are, please help me.” At that moment, the storm began to die.
When I decided on adventure as my theme for the month, I knew I had to ask author M. Liz Boyle to do a guest blog. Her first novel, Avalanche, in the Off the Itinerary series concerns a group of teens trying to survive in the mountains after getting caught in, appropriately enough, an avalanche. The same characters return in her second novel, Chased, released earlier this year. You’ll find all the details about this adventure after the post.
Take it away, Liz!
We’ve all seen headlines like ‘Injured hiker found by tourists, airlifted to hospital,’ ‘Youth camp evacuates as wildfires encroach,’ and ‘Flash flood surprises campers.’ Since news stories are attached to real events and real people, why not use headlines as imagination sparks for fiction?
Once I was backpacking with a group of 10 in the Grand Canyon. We had two seasoned leaders and months of preparation in our favor, so even though we were on such a primitive trail that rangers don’t routinely patrol it, my group was ready for the challenge. Now the thing about the Canyon is that you’d have to be blind to not see the many signs warning hikers not to attempt to make it down to the river and back up to the rim in a day.
Well at 2:00 pm when the sun was blazing down on the wall of the South Rim, we met a couple who was trying to do just that. It had been hours since we’d seen day hikers, so we knew we were in hardcore territory, and we had just descended the Cathedral Staircase. What is the Cathedral Staircase? Imagine the longest set of stone stairs in the world, double it, and put it in a pizza oven. Oh, and strap a 50 pound bag to your back. The couple we met was facing that with 20 ounces of water and a Clif bar (minus the backpacks full of lifesaving gear). The girl was in a heap and had signs of heat exhaustion, and the boy didn’t have a clue what to do.
Our group was able to share food, electrolytes, hold up a sleeping pad to provide shade for the overheated girl, and call for help. After much conferring among our leaders, we chose to separate. Most of our group went ahead to our campsite and to filter water at the river (which our fastest hikers then delivered to the couple), and the rest stayed with them until the rangers arrived in the cool of night to hike them out.
The experience opened my eyes to the fact that we’re all just a few poor decisions from being in a dire state, and life is fragile. After our trip we received news that the couple was safe and recovering well from their close call.
Meanwhile we heard a few other headlines that showed how quickly a tragedy can occur. As a hiker, it made me aware. As a writer, I was inspired. If a headline can summarize a true story, why not create a fiction story based on a headline? I wrote my next novel about a group who helps a dehydrated hiker (sound familiar?). Except in my book Chased, I added a plot twist. When the dehydrated victim recovers, he becomes a threat to the very people who saved his life (sometimes the fiction is more enthralling than the inspiration!).
Chased barely resembles the experience that sparked my imagination, but a whole YA novel developed from simply considering how the media would tell the real story. How will headlines (or would-be headlines) shape your next story?
Marlee and her sisters are glad to be hiking again with the Miles boys. Their group of five is strong and cohesive as they explore the rugged mountains of Montana.
When they first meet Thad, a dehydrated hiker on the trail, they offer first aid to help him recover. Thad seems harmless until he tells them to hike a few extra miles at sunset. When Lydie finds a hand-drawn map that Thad dropped, the group realizes that he is a modern day treasure hunter – and he decides that they’re after his treasure.
As they rush to flee from Thad, they make split-second decisions and find themselves in a unique set of dangers. They climb up unforgiving ridges, sneak through the night to avoid him, and experience a threatening thunderstorm.
To make matters worse, Marlee becomes distracted with a nagging worry that Ellie might move away from home.
What is God’s plan for the Miles boys and Stanley girls? How will they get away from Thad before it’s too late?
Liz is the author of the Off the Itinerary series, the wife of a professional tree climber, and the mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She makes adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone).
My theme this month is adventure. What real-world adventure can you imagine for this picture? Who are the characters huddled around the campfire? Why are they camping? Is it a vacation? Or are they hiding out?
Here’s my inspiration:
“This is just what you need,” my cousin Dave said, poking at the fire. “Miles away from work stress and family stress.”
“Miles away from any other people,” said my brother Jace with a relaxed smile pushing back the weary lines of his face.
“It’s nice to sit and not think.” I took a long sip of coffee.
Dave hit the bottom of my boot with a stick. “This is a vacation. You’re not supposed to do what you do at work.”
We laughed, and the sound rose free to the wash of stars above us.
Dave lifted the coffee pot. “Want a–“
A scream pierced the utter quiet of the night.
Every muscle froze except for our swelling eyes.
“Could that be an animal?” I whispered.
“Not any animal I’ve ever heard.” Dave answered.
“Doesn’t sound like any person I’ve ever heard, either.” Jace picked up a log.
Stop by tomorrow to read a guest blog from adventure novelist M. Liz Boyle!
All stories need tension. Throwing my main character (MC) into an unexpected incident propels him out of his comfort zone, creating tension. Unexpected incidents are also the building blocks for humor. Whether you write comedy or drama, see if the unexpected incidents below can act as inspiration for your writing.
Any mishap in travel plans can create tension, funny or dramatic. A traffic jam, getting lost, a missed flight, or a vehicle break down. I can use my experiences with unexpected travel incidents to root my story in reality.
Twice in my life I was stopped dead in a traffic jam for so long that I got out of my car. One was for an accident, and the other was for a small wildfire that firefighters were putting out beside the highway. During the wildfire, I had to go to the bathroom and went on a search. That motivation for a MC could lead her to meet sinister characters, witness a crime, or find herself in a comic predicament when she asks the owners of a RV if she can use their bathroom and overhears a family fight.
When I was seventeen, I drove home one night from a friend’s house where we’d been studying. I’d never been to her house in the country and turned onto the wrong road. When I tried to turn around, I got my car stuck. I had passed a few houses and walked back to them. One of the mailboxes had a name on it that was similar to the name of a senior at my high school. So I went up to that house and knocked. It turned out it was his home, and his family couldn’t have been nicer.
But what if my MC chose a house with an owner who wasn’t so friendly?
I’ve watched enough PBS shows with my Nature Nut to realize that sending my characters out on some kind of expedition is the perfect way to toss in unexpected incidents. It can be a scientific expedition, research trip for an artist or writer, or a mission trip. Andrew Klavan showed how a mission trip can go Horribly Wrong in his YA novel. If We Survive. You can read my review here.
The advantage of the expedition is that it gives characters a legitimate reason to venture into unfamiliar territory.
Warning: Idiot Plot
Whatever unexpected incident I decide to use, I need to watch out for the Idiot Plot. This is a plot twist that only works if the characters are idiots. I want my incident to be unexpected, not stupid. For more on the Idiot Plot, click here.
What unexpected incidents from your own life can provide inspiration for your writing?