What’s the adventure that could happen in a grocery store? Depends on the writer. But I wanted a prompt that would get us thinking about adventures in very ordinary settings.
Like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. North By Northwestbegins when typical business man Roger Thornhill waves over a waiter who is calling out for Mr. George Kaplan. Enemy agents think Thornhill attracted the water’s attention because he is Kaplan and the movie kicks off. … And Then She Was Gone, a TV-movie my dad enjoyed years ago, stars Robert Urich as another typical business man riding a subway. He notices a preschool girl on the train. After she gets off, he sees a missing child poster and realizes the child pictured is the preschooler he saw.
So what’s the adventure for this photo? Here’s mine.
“Mom, do you want Cheerios?” I held out the cereal box to her.
Mom was staring down the aisle of the grocery store like she’d just seen a snake slither into it. “That’s-that’s ….”
I followed her gaze. A heavily bearded man was putting Raisin Bran in his shopping cart.
“It can’t be.” Mom whispered.
Mom pushed our cart. “That man. He looks exactly like the father of a boy who committed suicide my senior year in high school.”
“That’s weird. Your hometown is a thousand miles from here. But you could run into his brother. It’s weird but not scary.”
Mom picked up the pace. “He was an only child.”
“Maybe it is the father.”
“And he hasn’t aged in thirty years? I’m pretty sure Rob’s father died shortly after Rob did. If Rob did die.”
I grabbed hold of the cart. “You said he committed suicide.”
“They found his car in the river, and he left a note in his bedroom. His body was never found. His girlfriend died under suspicious circumstances, and he was a suspect.” Mom’s stunned eyes locked onto mine.
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!