19 February 2019

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Until recently, Temple’s parents lived in Tyler, Texas, about a three-hour drive from our home near Waco. We visited her parents a handful of times each year, and during the long drive to and from we often discussed story ideas. This, inevitably, led to discussions of plots, characters, and settings, and by the time we returned home from each trip, we had generated and fleshed out one or more story ideas that I ultimately turned into finished manuscripts, including “Smoked,” which was reprinted in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018.
My mobile workstation.
Often, we started the discussion with me describing an invitation to submit that I had received, or a call for submissions that interested me, or, when I was writing confessions, a discussion of what holiday or other event might occur in the publication month I was targeting. (This would include, for example, generating Christmas stories for the December issues.)

There is something about being behind the wheel of a car on a long trip that liberates my mind to free associate in a way that I do not often do when sitting at a keyboard. Other than the attention I must pay to the traffic around me, there are no distractions. The cats aren’t walking on my keyboard. The dog doesn’t need to go out. Email doesn’t ding with incoming messages. I can’t get sucked into a rabbit hole of increasing internet research of decreasing value. And online word games don’t lure me from the task at hand.

It helps, of course, that Temple sits beside me with notepad and pen in hand. We bounce ideas back and forth, and she makes note of the best ones. The notes might include a rough plot outline or might be little more than a title or character name or inciting incident.

Upon arriving at her parents’ home, while Temple visited with her family, I would sometimes disappear into the sunroom to turn the notes into something more by thumb typing or dictating into my phone. Upon returning home, I would spend the next few days turning the more detailed notes, rough plots, and partially completed scenes into finished manuscripts.

That, unfortunately, is about to end. Temple’s mother passed away last September, and her father recently purchased a home half a dozen blocks from us. When he completes the move from Tyler, our long drives will be a thing of the past.

We are likely to visit her father more often, but there will barely be enough time during the drive (or the walk, in good weather) to his new home to discuss extremely short stories. The end result could be a rash of flash fiction.

Or it could mean we must find a new destination for our drives, someplace about three hours away that offers a good meal, great company, and sufficient incentive to break our daily routine, get in the car, and go.

There’s a disturbance in the force. I’ve had nothing published since my previous SleuthSayers post, so here’s a throwback to 2001: All White Girls, one of my first novels, was published and is still available in various formats from Wildside Press. With ten reviews, it ranks 4.5 stars at Amazon, and reviewers at the time of publication said:

“...violent surprises...fast-paced and very hard-boiled.” A 4-Star Review—Detroit Free Press

“All White Girls is a one-sitting, in-your-face, hard-boiled mystery; and it’s damn good.”—I Love A Mystery

“...a gritty novel where almost everyone has an interest in the dark side of human nature.”—Blue Iris Journal

“...a driving pace that keeps the reader engaged from cover to cover.”—Judas

Order from Amazon.


  1. Another way revealed. Michae and Templel's mobile work station. Miles for the busy brain. Good post.

  2. Drive to DC and write a novel (or two)!

  3. Always enjoy your posts, Michael--and your perspectives on the world and your enthusiasms and your dedication to your craft. A model for us all!
    I often write in my mind while driving, and I keep a stack of index cards handy just in case an idea strikes that I need to write down right then. (I wait to stop, of course!)
    I'm so sorry about your mother-in-law, and hope your father-in-law is doing well. And on a lighter note, looking forward to your work in flash fiction ahead!

  4. Michael,

    Sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. I agree on getting ideas during mindless activity.
    I do some while driving, but even more at the health club. An elliptical trainer may be the best idea-generator ever. I used to get ideas while ironing, but now all my clothes are drip-dry.

    And no publications since your last post??? That must be a new record. ;-)

  5. Yes! Driving, showering and walking seems to bring the most ideas to my mind, too. For me, it seems those times have a few common denominators: my mind feels free to roam just a little into that Writer’s Twilight Zone of sorts where anything could happen without boundaries AND my brain has to remember the details because in hose instances I don’t have pen and paper at hand. What I do have is a chance to allow the ideas to mull in my mind. I love these times. Thanks for this article, Michael , and my condolences to Temple. I lost my mom less than a year ago and have had a dry spell in my writing since the funeral. It’s really difficult losing a parent. I’m glad her father has moved closer. My suggestion is to get a map and draw a circle within the three hour travel route. Think of all the new places you’ll go!

  6. Condolences on the loss of your mother-in-law. Deborah's right about how hard it is when you lose a parent and then move the other one. Been there, done that. I think she's also right about getting out a map and drawing a big circle to find the destination for the journey. Because long drives are a great way to think.

  7. Does Temple's dad have a favorite restaurant in Tyler? Maybe all three of you could go once in a while. He'd get a taste of home and you could still plot. Though maybe he's not up to that drive unless necessary. But if he is, a third person in the mix might shake up your plotting in unexpected good ways. (And I too am sorry about Temple's mom.)

  8. I'm sorry about your mother-in-law. I think Barb's idea, to visit a favorite restaurant in Tyler, is excellent, especially if you can engage your father-in-law in conversation about your next story.

  9. Barb's idea is good.

    You and Temple are always welcome to come here and hang out.

  10. I used to love the mystery novels by Marissa Piesman. She explained that she stopped writing them because she got a different job and no longer commuted by subway, which is where she had done all her writing...

  11. Thanks for all your kind words. Though losing my mother-in-law was difficult for Temple and her family, it was not unexpected.

  12. Yours is not an entirely solitary profession, Nichael. I admire that you work together to plant the seeds you later harvest. I came close to that once and perhaps may again, but even then it was on the output end rather than the input. I need to rethink that.

    My regrets to Temple, Michael. Blessed be.


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