By: Marie Force
I’m riding shotgun right now on a family road trip from Rhode Island to Indiana where my husband’s family lives. Since the last time we did this trip by car about five years ago, my children have discovered electronics and we’ve lost both of the dogs who used to ride along with us. So this is a quieter, less intense version of the road trips of yesteryear. The only disruption to the peace in the car is the hourly dust up over feet creeping over “the line.” Remember the sibling line of demarcation in the backseat? The ‘he’s touching me’, ‘she’s looking at me’ line? I’m here to tell you that “the line” is timeless. I’m also enjoying listening to my husband bicker with the Garman, who he has named Lola. She is NOT happy with him and how he continuously defies her by freelancing his way to Indiana.
Being from New England, specifically the Biggest Little State in the Union—Rhode Island—I’m always struck by the vastness of our country when I take to the road. Earlier this year, I had the special joy of driving my father home from South Florida. My brother and I shared the driving duties and were unpleasantly surprised by how long it takes to drive through the Carolinas and Virginia. Today, I’ve got a bone to pick with Ohio. These are some BIG states, people, and a shock to the system of a Rhode Islander who can go from end to end in her state in an hour.
The best part of the road trip is the percolation time. Good music via the iPod, pretty scenery, the pervasive smell of cow manure, the endless golden fields . . . I find it inspiring to see different parts of our country, to see how other people live, where they work, how they talk. Every experience adds to the pool of available material to be used in a future book. On this trip, I’ve made use of the endless time in the car to work out a lot of story details for a new series I’m working on about four brothers. Staring out the window at the passing scenery, I’ve managed to put a lot of the pieces together because my mind is quieter than usual. I’m away from the daily routine of work and school and homework and dinner.
I’ve also used this time to think about the upcoming blog tour for Love at First Flight. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to talk about a book that has meant so much to me since the idea first occurred to me almost a decade ago. L@FF is proof that inspiration is everywhere—whether a gate area in an airport, a soybean field in Indiana or a stretch of highway in Pennsylvania. The secret, I’ve found, is being open to and accepting of the ideas when they present themselves to you.
So back to the reason for this family road trip... My father-in-law passed away Tuesday at the age of 86. As writers we strive to create unforgettable characters, and sometimes we meet people who are so unique, so singular that we realize we could never make up something better than what’s right in front of us. Richard Force was just that kind of person. His life spanned many adventures—including a stint as a carnival worker and service to his country in World War II as a member of the prestigious Flying Tigers, during which he was shot down over occupied China and spent a month hiding in rice fields until he was rescued. He never ate rice again.
After the war that took the life of his older brother, Richard returned home to Indiana, married his childhood sweetheart, fathered six children (mine is the fifth Force of nature), and went to work building bridges for the railroad in the Midwest. He took great joy in his ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He was one of the funniest, most outrageous people I’ve ever met—a true character in every sense of the word. And when I think of him, I’ll remember living near them in Florida and how he came running any time I needed help with my kids when my husband was deployed with the Navy. Our relationship was all about razzing each other on a wide variety of topics, ranging from who was a better Euchre player (definitely him, but I can only admit that now that he’s gone) to whether the Cubs or the Red Sox were baseball’s most cursed team (I finally prevailed on that one thanks the 2004 Sox). I’ll never forget mentioning that I was the only woman in the Force family who can’t sew like a professional. “You,” he said, “have other talents.” I certainly hope he was referring to my writing, but knowing his wicked sense of humor, I was afraid to ask! I loved him, and I’ll miss him.
Do you have memories of “the line” in the backseat of your parents’ car? How do your travels inspire your writing? Who are the true characters in your life?