As an aspiring author, many words have originated on my laptop keyboard as I lay stretched out on our living room sofa, late at night with everyone else fast asleep. But the opening chapters of the Misplaced series were born quite differently. Far away from home in a small rental cottage near Sandusky Ohio, a football field from the shore of Lake Erie, sits the birthplace of my second novel.
Fresh off the hooves of completing my debut novel, I had been struggling with a bad case of self-doubt. Could I pull off another exceptional novel? The entire storyline for The Magician's Horses had come to me in a burst of inspiration. I recalled jotting down the plot points in a frenzy, making certain to capture the essence while the idea was fresh. I had known the story would be great before I'd written a single sentence.
Should I wait for another flash of brilliance? What if it never came? Would my career as an author be ended before it started? Would I become a one-hit wonder?
In June of 2014 our extended family booked a getaway along the edge of Lake Erie. Loaded to the gills in our trusty mini-van, my wife and I set off with our three teenagers on the long-distance trek up north, following closely behind the in-laws. With myself at the wheel and miles of open road ahead, it wasn't long before my thoughts turned to a fledgling concept that would one day become the Misplaced series.
Prior to the trip, I had a handful of characters I wanted to use in my next book, but that was all I had, names and personalities for a close group of high school friends. I had no story, no plot. Also lurking in another corner of my brain was a tidbit I'd been holding onto for a story involving a hybrid alien struggling to fit into life on Earth. Perhaps it was one of the many jostles over uneven train tracks on the rural routes of Midwest Ohio, but something shook those two ideas around until they stuck together. Poof! Like that, the story was conceived.
The long straightaways in the flat Ohio farm-country inspired the setting for my fledgling novel. Longwood, Ohio became the fictitious small town for Trey Collins and his group of friends. With both my hands at the wheel I couldn't jot down my ideas, but with nothing ahead but driving time, I looped through the major plot points repeatedly, burning a mental outline of the story from beginning to end.
By the time our convoy arrived at the small cottage by the lake, I was eager to begin typing, but we were on a family vacation, and I had other nightmares to consider, like the lack of air conditioning in our rental house and the lack of Wi-Fi and cellular service. Things just got worse with nightfall. I ventured outside onto the back deck for a dose of the cooler evening air, but the dark sky was filled with millions of mayflies. It felt like a scene from Hitchcock. Back inside I went.
Bright and early the following morning, propped on a pillow in a strange bed, I began keying in the opening chapter of Misplaced. Once again, I experienced that life-giving property that came with beginning a new world. Fuzzy characters that had floated around in my head like ghosts suddenly became real. Words I had imagined flying from their lips became laughable as the characters took on their own lives and refused to say them, offering their own words instead. For me, it was the most rewarding part of being a writer. I had always found a certain closeness to a story came with reading a book that couldn't be captured on the big screen, no matter how masterful the production. But nothing, in my opinion, could match the closeness of an author to his characters.
I didn't get far into the story on my first morning, but throughout the extended weekend, I squeezed in some writing time when the house was quiet and others were reading or watching one of the four channels the TV could pick up with its open-air antenna. By the time we packed up and headed home a few days later, I had finished the first two chapters.
Misplaced went untouched for six months after its initial birth, a neglected child pushed aside while its older sibling received the attention of querying agents and designing covers. It wasn't until December of the same year that I returned to Misplaced and picked up where I had left off at Lake Erie. A few of the minor plots might have escaped me in the interim, but I doubt any loss was significant. Nonetheless, I finally jotted down the basic story outline for Book One for assurance. A vague swath covered the general concept for any remaining books in the series. It wasn't until the detailed outlining of Book Two came along in 2016 that I solidified how Book Three would bring the series to completion.
Now that I've finished writing all three books in the Misplaced series, I can say that an overwhelming majority of the words were punched out on my laptop at home in my own recliner. Yet, I still look back affectionately on those early days of infancy and the little cottage where the story was born.