So it’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on social media that I just released a new novel, and it’s about three friends on a continent-wide road trip. When I think back to the genesis of this book (which has been percolating a long time both in my head and on paper), what happened was these three very different characters all moved into the apartment in my brain where Characters of Future Books come to live, and they intrigued me, and I wanted to put them in a situation where they and their relationships would be tested in interesting ways. So I sent them on a road trip, because to me, almost nothing is more interesting than a road trip.
As a kid, I went on lots of family road trips — my parents both loved to drive — and I don’t remember loving the process that much. I enjoyed the actual places we visited but I used to find sitting in the backseat of the car boring. As an adult, I still don’t really love driving itself, but somehow, if I’m hopping in the car with someone whose company I enjoy and heading out on the highway to someplace I don’t normally go, then it’s “road trip!” and that’s exciting in and of itself.
It doesn’t have to be a big expedition. Earlier this summer, my friends the Strident Women were heading out to our usual getaway, my aunt’s place in Coley’s Point, which is only an hour’s drive from town. Yet when Tina told me she could catch a ride out with me instead of taking her own car, this familiar one-hour drive suddenly became charged with the excitement of a road trip. A week or so later I had to go to Eastport (a three-hour drive) to visit a book club that was discussing my book A Sudden Sun. A long, tedious way to go to visit a book club (though a lovely group of women at the other end!) but when I invited my friend Sherry to come along, it became a road trip and I was excited about it. A family trip with the kids and two of their friends to go river rafting near Grand Falls involved a four-hour road trip each way with a minivan full of teenagers, and for me, getting there really was half the fun.
The excitement I attach to those two words “road trip” is all about adventure and possibility, even if the adventures are tiny ones. It’s about the songs you sing along to on the car stereo and the snacks you pick up at Irving when you stop for gas and a bathroom break. It’s about the unexpected things you see along the way and the conversations you might never have if you weren’t trapped in a vehicle together for hours at a time. Thinking about the road trip my characters are on in What You Want got me thinking about some of the great road trips of my past.
I have this picture of Sherry, at 17, packing stuff in the trunk of my mom’s Buick Skylark, which I was borrowing for the weekend. I treasure this photo and this memory, not just because Sherry is wearing such an incredibly cute hat or because the actual trip turned out so badly (we were going to a youth retreat weekend at camp, and I injured my knee an hour after arriving at camp and was in excruciating pain and had to be driven back to town to the emergency room and never got to go to the retreat and had to wear a cast for the next three weeks). When I look at this picture I remember that this is the very first road trip I took with a friend where I was the driver, and I vividly recall that thrill of packing up the car and hitting the open road.
Road trips were a standard feature of my college years because I went to school in southwestern Michigan and returned home to Newfoundland every Christmas and summer break. Because it was much much cheaper in those days, I always flew in and out of Toronto and then had to arrange a ride from Toronto to school. This was not that difficult as lots of people from the Toronto area attended Andrews University, but it did mean a lot of road trips in rattle-trap old cars, often full of people I didn’t know that well (though sometimes full of friends; it was really just the luck of the draw how any given trip would play out). At least once but probably twice I remember somebody’s car breaking down in Small Town Nowhere and waiting several hours for a repair job that would allow us to continue.
Here’s a picture of me and my friend Kirsten on a camping trip we and a bunch of other friends took to Algonquin Park in Ontario one summer in the late 80s (possibly 1990). I have great memories of that trip but they’re all of stuff that happened at the campsite, not the process of getting there, so I never really think of that one as a road trip. The reason I include it is because I don’t have any pictures from the TRULY EPIC ROAD TRIP that Kirsten and I went on in June/July 1990, when I moved back from Ontario to Newfoundland and she decided to come along for the ride. That trip in my Dodge Omni actually included a few experiences that much later made their way into What You Want: we had to sleep on the picnic table at a campsite when we couldn’t find a hotel late at night, just as my characters do. And the terrible cheap motel room in Arizona where some crucial revelations are made in the novel, is modelled on a terrible cheap hotel room Kirsten and I stayed in in Vermont (I just added Arizona heat and a cockroach, as well as a bunch of unrequited love and sexual tension which was NOT present with myself and Kirsten).
Later in my 20s, I moved back home again, this time from Alberta, and once again I had a travelling companion — my mom. She flew out to Alberta to drive home with me, and again I do not have a picture of the two of us together on that trip, although I do have this picture she took of me and my then-car along the way. We had a lot of laughs on that trip and it’s one I will long remember.
One of the nicest endorsements I’ve gotten so far for What You Want comes from fellow writer Jill Sooley, who said: “Like any good road trip What You Want has its share of untimely breakdowns, wrong turns and a colorful cast of characters. But not every road trip has Megan, Andrew and Jonathan, an unlikely trio with bags packed and overflowing with dysfunction….We know them. We might even be them. What You Want just might be to grab your best friends, load up the car, and go wherever the road takes you.”
If you read What You Want and it inspires you to head out on an adventure of your own … I couldn’t be happier.