Finding an idea that will intrigue, inspire, and surprise is a challenge that thwarts many ambitious writers, but ideas come easily to me. My challenge was time. I’d been yearning to write since I was an undergraduate (I have a BA in English Literature from the University of Calgary), but I had my children early, moved around the world, worked full-time until my divorce, and then worked even harder as a single mother. Time was scarce. Even when I was able to leave my career and focus solely on my children there was the cleaning, the cooking, the driving, the pets, and the yard. Then there were unforeseen disasters like the second floor toilet overflowing all night or the decomposing skunk in the window well that wasn’t discovered until it’s spray had leached into the house. These unexpected delights decimated any minutes that may have been my own, swirling them down the drain with whatever cleaning products I had used that day.
Year after year, time slipped away creating a new problem: the former little people that I worked for had grown independent, no longer needing me. Who was I? My journey from Canadian farm kid to financial regulator in the Emirates seemed inconsequential. I was Mom. Just another mom in a sea of endless moms working tirelessly, without pay or recognition, for kids who’d shamelessly render us redundant. And the pension? Copious hours of ugly emptiness during which we could do anything we wanted. The nerve of them.
To avoid that pension, I promised my eldest a trip to California to celebrate her graduation. It guaranteed long hours, days, in a car with all three daughters; the perfect way to inhale them before they evaporated into adults. We would talk, we would sing, they would argue, likely complain, and I would enjoy every second of it. But something unexpected occurred on that trip—the conversation became about me. Odd. They rhetorically asked how I would spend my time once they left for university. They called it freedom and, before I could argue, collectively began demanding that I write my book. In an unexpected twist, they had trapped me in the rental car that I had hired and pressured me to box up my love of flamboyant, exaggerated storytelling into a format known as Novel. They were clever, and I was outnumbered, so our road trip began with a brain-storming game we now call: What Will Your Book Be About?
We started in San Francisco, taking the 101 until we connected with the PCH above Monterey. First stop was the aquarium, and unlike other aquariums that we will never visit again, Monterey Aquarium had an impressive focus on ocean conservation. Back-tracking slightly north the next morning, we met a pontoon driver who took us to observe the sea otters (my youngest’s favorite mammal) at Moss Landing. It was another phenomenal experience where we were inundated with knowledge about the slough and Monterey Canyon—a super deep section of the ocean and potentially fun setting for my book. As we learned about native flora and fauna, I asked our guide about the road closure north of Santa Barbara. We intended to drive there after visiting Big Sur, but with many wildfires destroying the vegetation providing stability to the hillsides, a landslide had wiped out that portion of the PCH. He suggested we use the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road as an alternate.
Two days later, just north of the dangerous landslide, we veered left to snake our way along the winding, I want to say death-defying, detour. I’ve since read blogs advising that one should never take the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, but too late, we took it, and it was a hair-raising. We climbed and then descended the extremely narrow road (void of safety rails along the steep cliffs of the Santa Lucia Mountains) before crossing the flats of Fort Hunter Liggett. The base (including artillery ranges, tanks, Humvees, and soldiers) was impressive, but it was the dusty burnt landscape that struck us most. Juxtaposed to the watery coastline, the terrain was crispy, almost dead, and that’s when I locked-in my idea. I would write a story about a girl (I had three of them, so that wasn’t a stretch) who was destitute, dying, due to climate change. I would accelerate global warming and burn the world to the ground, ending it, like my world was ending as my girls became adults. But by chance, at the last moment, my lucky protagonist would be saved and taken to a viable world at the bottom of the ocean in the healthy ecosystem of Monterey Canyon. It would be a place where she’d mourn the separation from her mother.
And there you have it, the birth of Aqueous, my fourth daughter. I completed the rough outline by the time our trip ended, pinning the story to our trip and my life, as every author does. I will point out that as I wrote Aqueous my world did not end. It did not burn to the ground, and admittedly, I may have been a tad dramatic about my daughters going off to university. It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, and annoyingly, they have kept coming back, creating messy chaos with each visit. They could be tidier, but I couldn’t be happier. I’ve enjoyed my freedom by doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do—exaggerate by way of flamboyant storytelling, AKA write.