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Setting Scouting

Planning and Plotting

When planning a vacation, planet Earth offers a myriad of options, but when selecting an ultimate destination, most people would select a penultimate travel destinations: Paris, Disneyland, the Grand Canyon.  Yet the jewel in my empty-nest crown revolved around a spectacular vacation, ninety percent of which became secondary to the ultimate destination.  As I began planning my latest expedition, one that my boss entitled my “Fuck The World” vacation, I spent a ridiculously short amount of time evaluating where I would voyage.  And then I added additional locations that most travelers would find at the top of their itinerary: Death Valley, the Great Salt Lake, Yosemite; all beautiful, of course, but none of which were my priority.

I wanted to find the ideal location for my work of fiction that had been tumbling about in my brain for the past decade. Over a plate of sushi and teriyaki, my friend recommended I succumb to my darkening world and embrace the midlife crisis hovering in my baffles. While sitting in silence later that night contemplating the vastness of locations to which I could plot my escape, the perfect place for my vacation became the future site of my protagonist’s climax. I mapped out a route through some of the most remote roads in America – northern Nevada, eastern California, northeastern Utah.  I wanted to drive The Loneliest Road in America, I wanted to see the buffalo on Antelope Island, cross Donner Pass, and get away from everything remotely related to tourism, familiarity, and people.  I made my vacation my own work of fiction.  The key elements of my story (plot, theme, characters, conflict, and setting) become the purpose for my exodus: I began with the setting.

Pull Over

Looking at my beloved atlas (see “Traveling With Boys,” November 2011), I plot the general area in which I feel my main character would travel.  From there, I began planning the peripheral expeditions which others might consider primary destinations.  I book a B&B on the western shore after circumnavigating Lake Tahoe.  I spend an artful night in Yosemite Valley, outside the majestic waterfalls (a destination at which I arrives having just missing the closing of Tioga Pass by less than forty-eight hours due to an early-season snowfall).  I reach Donner Pass, likewise covered in multiple inches of snow, dining on a more mild diet of cheese sticks and breakfast bars.  I descend thousands of feet to sea level to Stovepipe Wells in the core of Death Valley National Park.  Yet in this crib of spectacular natural vistas, I seek a location so secluded, so distant, so ignored by the world that an author finds both inspiration and desolation.  I stop along US Highway 93 in the Steptoe Valley where signs warn of lengthy durations without petrol services and I find the cubbies, the coves, and the open caverns where I can allow my character to escape unnoticed in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

I pull off the road and spend nearly thirty minutes capturing the scene on celluloid.  Dirty cliffs, sage brush cover, nooks in which an entire vehicle might steal away unnoticed create the perfect ambiance for my character.  For all the beautiful sights I witness over six full days, from the granite cliffs to the layered canyons, to the monstrous, towering creatures of the Mariposa Grove, these desolate, hidden crevices entice and enthrall me.  Few trees stand in the distance.  Even the wild mustangs avoid these hills bordering the dry, salt flats of western Utah.  More plant life than a moonscape, while slightly less fragrant than springtime jasmine, the brown, barren environment summons me and serves as the pinnacle of my escape.  Perhaps it becomes fitting that the Idiot Tree (see “The Idiot Tree” from December 2011) stands just ahead around a few mild curves in the road.  I’m in my favorite corner of the world and I am enveloped in inspiration, and here the story begins.
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About Pam Portland

For a decade and a half I worked behind a series of desks, peeking out from around my computer monitor. Seeing the United States in bits and pieces wasn't enough to satisfy me, so I am grabbing my virtual pen and taking flight. Welcome along!

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