Many years ago, I was able to attend the Writers of the Future writing workshop in Los Angeles, taught by K.D. Wentworth and Tim Powers. K.D. gave me a piece of short story writing advice: Mutilate the cows on the first page. For me, who had a bad habit of burying the SF element too many words into the story, it was an excellent piece of advice.
But it was Tim whom I got to know quite well during that week, and I had the chance to spend much of a later convention hanging out with him and his wife. Over coffee, I expressed my huge admiration for the event-puzzles Tim wrote as secret histories, and asked his advice on writing about the weird and wild in present-day settings. The conversation was fascinating, far-reaching, and made my brain hurt with the effort to keep up. His process of discovering and connecting historical events with fantastical motivations and influences stuck with me as I plotted out Crossroads of America.
Now, Crossroads is not a complex secret history, though it does draw from real historical reports, regional folklore, and local events. But the biggest missing piece has always been why the major character–Jack–ends up in a position of such influence, why she is the one who must act, and why her actions might have the power to solve the, um… problems.
Today, while hunting Google for the names of a couple locations in the California wilderness, I came upon this:
“Scientists are puzzled by a mysterious Los Padres National Forest hot spot where 400-degree ground ignited a wildfire. The hot spot was discovered by fire crews putting out a three-acre fire last summer in the forest’s Dick Smith Wilderness.”
And all of a sudden, Jack has a complex backstory that makes her the inevitable choice for the role she must play, and it’s all based on an actual event!
Now back to adding words to my NaNo count.