Monday, August 25, 2014
Anyone who has ever traveled east from the Pacific Ocean, or west from Jacksonville, Florida, has more than likely, at one time or another, driven down Interstate Highway 10, or I10, as we Texans affectionately call it. Officially, it is the southernmost transcontinental highway in the American Interstate Highway System and the fourth longest highway in the United States, with about 1/3 of its length spanning the state of Texas at its breadth.
Unofficially, it is the highway to hell.
Sections of it are perpetually under construction, at which time I10 becomes a concrete death trap upon which Texas drivers compete for the title of Road Warrior.
I happened to be navigating one such section recently. Traffic was unusually heavy, and my coffee cup sat untouched in its holder as I traversed, white-knuckled and tense, with my teeth clenched and heart pounding, west toward Houston. Several time, I contemplated turning around, taking another route even if it added an hour to my trip. I almost did. And then…the most wondrous thing happened.
I saw a kangaroo. On I10. In Texas.
For several seconds, I could do nothing but stare. I ripped my gaze off of the bumper in front of me, slowed down quickly enough to make the driver behind me honk, and watched as an amazingly Australian figment of my imagination hopped across the highway, over the divider, and into oncoming traffic. How the animal managed to avoid becoming flatter than a Qantas runway is inexplicable. What I do know is that for several miles, I drove openmouthed with my eyes fixed to my rearview mirror as my brain struggled to comprehend what I had just seen.
It was a jack rabbit, my dazed conscious attempted to interject. Everything is bigger in Texas.
Still, a five-foot high jack rabbit was a bit much for this non-native to accept. I drove on in silence for several miles. When I got to Houston, I conducted my business and went on home, one eye ever watchful for a flash of furry figment. I saw nothing—not a pocket or ear, nor bit of hairy hide.
I didn’t speak of the five-foot jack rabbit. To. Anyone. Over time, memory of it faded. What did stick with me was how this completely unexpected diversion impacted me. I thought of it for days. I dreamed of it for nights. And I knew…someday…that the retelling of the five-foot jack rabbit would appear in a story.
You see, writers, often the very best tales are the ones that come at us unexpectedly. Not with careful plotting and hours upon hours of meticulous storyboarding. That’s what I learned on I10 that day. Sometimes, it’s okay to follow a rabbit trail (so to speak).
Don’t get me wrong. Having written myself into a corner on more than one occasion, I am a firm believer in plotting. No writer’s block for me, thank you very much. No sagging middles or unresolved red herrings. Plotting a story from start to finish has helped me avoid many a writerly pitfall. But what to do when a secondary character or story arc takes on a life of its own? As creators of our fictional realms, we wield the power to nip these offshoots before they have a chance to blossom, but should we?
A notable author told me once to write seven possible resolutions to my story. Toss out the first six. Those are scenarios that your reader will expect, the ones they came up with in their head as they watched your story unfold. The seventh one—the one you racked your brain trying to think up, the one that seems most implausible and takes the longest to fully develop, that is the storyline no one will see coming. Kinda like a five-foot jack rabbit on I10.
I eventually told my husband about the animal I saw crossing the highway. When he finally stopped laughing he said, “You didn’t really thing it was a jack rabbit, did you?”
“Well,” I replied weakly, “everything is bigger in Texas.”
“Baby,” my husband said, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, “the Barnum & Bailey Circus was crossing from Lake Charles to Houston. One of their truck trailers tipped over and a couple of animals got out. You didn’t see a five-foot jack rabbit crossing I10. It was a kangaroo.”
Oh. That explains it. And now, The Tale of the Five-Foot Jack Rabbit.
Elizabeth Ludwig is the award-winning author of No Safe Harbor and Dark Road Home, Books one and two in the Edge of Freedom series. Book three in the series, Tide and Tempest, was recently named a Top 10 Pick of 2014. Her popular literary blog, The Borrowed Book, enjoys a wide readership. Elizabeth is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit ElizabethLudwig.com.