Last spring, on my 28th birthday, my husband took me to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I was so normal back then. I woke up, went to my job, devoured books, played with my dogs, hung out with my family. I never, ever imagined that one tiny trip and four days would effectively change my whole life.
Driving towards the Pacific Coast, along the winding and dangerous highways, there are beautiful, timeless harbor towns. So beautiful you wouldn’t believe. Homes set high above cliffs, the Puget Sound out the back door and captivating views of Mount Rainer from the front, panoramic windows set inside craftsman homes offering views of the world. As a girl from the midwest, you can only imagine how magical this was for me. My life; North, South, East or West and everywhere in between is flat, flat, flat. I was won over–very, very easily. Maybe it was the greenness of the land; trees dripping heavy with rain soaked moss and ferns. Maybe it was the restlessness of the coast; wild with crashing white capped waves and tumbled stones, graveyards for fallen driftwood beached white with salt. Maybe it was the sea life; the baby elephant seal behind a hallow log waiting on his mother, or the starfish that washed ashore in clusters to hungry seagulls who swooped the shore, tide pools teeming with life so bright and full it was hardly real. But, whatever it was, I was so lost and so found all in the same moment.
I came back home different. I needed to live there, only, I was tied to this place by work and a home and all the other nonnegotiables that one manages to collect over a lifetime. Still, I would sit up at night haunted. Everything about the Olympic Peninsula sang to me–and that would not quiet itself.
One night, long after my husband fell asleep, I opened a new document on my computer and just started typing. No, I didn’t outline or worry the finer details of writing a novel–all of that came later. I just started by telling a story. I set up shop in a small coastal town that we’d visited, a real place with good restaurants and quant shops, and researched all I could about life there. What are the schools like, what is the median income, what sort of folk live there. I did all the background as though I was moving there, because, really in many ways I was. I was writing my first novel based on that place, tying myself to it forever and ever Amen. I built a dream home with words and made the land the center focus, my protagonist loved the place as much as I did.
Then, the story grew. It stopped being only about the place and started to be about the people. My people. And, once I knew who they were and what they did and why they did it…they took over. They completely and entirely drove the story, I knew exactly what was supposed to happen and when. That honestly surprised me lots. It was joyful, to tell the story of the Chamberland family, and it was easy.
Once my book hit about 30,000 words, I knew this was serious. I didn’t know how serious, but I wasn’t going to stop until I finished it. I bought the Publishing For Dummies book, and Writing Your First Novel, I poured over the pages with such seriousness. I owed to my little story the best I could muster.
So that’s that, then. Where it all started, on Highway 101.