photo by Ellen Tice Willis

I went to the mountains yesterday with my son and his family. We drove up to Linville Caverns and hiked around the falls. We topped the day off with a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of the great things about living where I do is I’m about 2+ hours away from the breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smokie Mountains, or about 3+ hours from the beach. The best of both worlds.

But lately, I’m leaning toward the mountains. My novel, The Rising (Pelican Book Group, 2013) is set in the foothills of the North Carolina Mountains. The novel I’m currently working on is set deep in the Appalachians. So when my son asked me if I wanted to ride up to the mountains this past weekend, I was the first one in the van. Notebook, check. Camera, check. Inspiration….just set me in them hills and I’ll find it.

photo by Ellen Tice Willis

Oh the writer in me was so stoked I could hardly sleep the night before. I’d be so filled with inspiration this masterpiece of a novel inside of me was going to practically write itself. Can I take my lunch and dinner costs as a tax deduction?  After all, this was a working day trip.

So we stop at Linville Caverns and pile out of the van. I breath in deeply and slowly exhale, wanting to take it all in. The smells, the sounds, the way of life of these…other sight-seers. I was standing in a paved parking lot with a hundred other people waiting in line to buy a ticket to see a cave. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful and quiet fascinating. And while touring, I thought of a thousand story lines about getting lost in a cave. So, yeah, the writer was still alive and kicking inside of me. I hadn’t completely gone the way of a …tourist.

Besides, I was probably the only one there with a purpose. A real purpose. I was a writer doing research. I asked my photographer (okay, she was my daughter-in-law, Ellen) to take a picture of a leaf, no wait, the whole tree because, well, looking around, it was all over the place and I wanted to make reference in my novel to this strange tree/bush and needed a picture to help me name it. The first blow to my writerly ego came when I casually asked my son if he knew what type bush it was. I think I caught him rolling his eyes. “Mountain laurel,” he said with a smile. Probably the most common bush in the NC mountains. Fine, laugh at me if you will but at least now I know. Research pays off. At least I won’t be calling it a cacti.

So after we leave the caverns, we do the hike and the writer’s stirring again. Deep in the woods, I’m taking it all in and my writer-senses are bursting. I’m probably the only writer hiking these woods at this very minute and I’m living it! I am these woods! They are flowing through me!

Still feeling my uber-writer high, we pile back in the van and head on to the next adventure. There were several calls for a potty break so my son Garey pulls into the first store he finds. It’s a little general merchandise stop complete with RC cola (in a bottle) and moon pies. It had creaky plank floors and some hardware alongside the one package of bologna. My writer-sense was in overdrive. This was what I came for. The people, the way of life.

Paisley Willis. My one-in-a-million.

Well, the thing with this little store was the public bathroom was attached to the store, but it had an outside entrance. And the bathroom faced the road. So when the door was opened, passerbys got a full, head on view of the toilet. And traffic was pretty heavy. Not to mention the two gentlemen standing right outside the door chatting about the leaves. It was a little unnerving, but what the heck. It had a door.

So I take my writer self in the bathroom facing the road and shut and lock the door. It was a little slide lock but sturdy enough. So I’m there, squatted, do my business, like even best-selling authors need to do on occasion and granddaughter Paisley opens the door. Panicked, I stretch my arm as long as it will stretch to slam the door closed before my future readers know me better than I’d like. And I can’t reach. So I leap up (jeans around the ankles) and manage to get it closed before the horns start honking. Finally done, I open the door and sweet little Paisley is standing there with a paper towel ready to be thrown away. Totally oblivious to the fact she nearly showed her grandma to the world, or at least to those on the heavily traveled road leading to the parkway. Or to the fact her grandma was a future Pulitzer winner. She didn’t care. She just wanted to throw her paper towel away.

I smiled and climbed back in the van and put the writer away for awhile. For the rest of the trip, I was just grandma.