A couple of summers ago, I was very fortunate to be able to travel for research on my novel in progress. With funding from the Alan Cheuse International Writers Center, I got in my car and drove from my home in Virginia to the U.S.-Mexico border. I’m not talking too much about the novel yet, but you can bet it’s set somewhere between Virginia and the U.S.-Mexico border.
Anyway, the trip was both harrowing and amazing. It was that uncertain summer of Covid in which we had vaccines but we weren’t really sure if everyone was getting them or if they even worked, and on top of that, I was dealing with some ailments that necessitated medical attention and I was in my head about the fact that I was going to some fairly remote parts of the country.
I tend to do that. Get in my head about stuff.
But I did it! I went there and back again (and the only ring involved symbolizes my love for my wife).
Two years and hundreds of thousands of words in the novel later, the trip has been incredibly inspirational and informative to the point that I’ve been, perhaps unwittingly, working on a personal narrative essay about it, too.
The Cheuse Center has been publishing short works inspired by their fellows’ trips, and Leeya Mehta, interim director of the center, contacted me about contributing. I ended up sending her many more words than she likely expected or wanted, but we were able to focus in on one portion of my essay in progress about my novel in progress.
You can read “The Line We Drew at the End of a Nation” now. I hope you enjoy it. Maybe someday the full version will be out there somewhere.
For you fellow authors, if you can go to the places you’re writing about, I highly recommend it. I am saying this more and more these days, but to become a better writer, you have to read, write, AND live. There is no substitute for getting away from your computer and experiencing the world you want to write about (yes, even if you’re writing about alien worlds, you should look to ours as reference points, but also, your alien world should, in some way, reflect our world, and I’m in my head about this, aren’t I?).
Digression aside, I have much more confidence in this novel because of the travel afforded to me by this fellowship, and that’s because the novel is much better for it. If you’re an MFA student in the GMU creative writing program, apply for this fellowship.