The glamorous writing life

The things I’ve had to research recently for Crossroads: hopping freight trains (which I keep writing as fright trains–please, someone write that story for me, okay?); finger picks for guitar players; constructing underground shelters; New England Patriots players (yes, I wrote that out for anyone who would be lost if I said the Pats–I may not watch football, but I am a Massachusetts native); bus lines in upstate NY; train lines everywhere; busking; surgical scars on backs; and the scenery of I-90 from Massachusetts straight through to Montana.

It’s the last one that’s giving me the most trouble. I like to write about place. I like to be able to touch and smell and listen to a place, and I can’t, not for this trip. Luckily for me, it’s possible to find things like a website devoted to pictures of exits off I-90 in the Dakotas, which is something like driving driving driving across the states, if I were taking very long slow blinks.

After having spent much time reading up on knives and knife fighting for The Lost and Wren, I find it both a nice change of pace (no more hunching awkwardly over the computer screen, wondering how to explain if anyone catches me watching YouTube clips on carrying concealed blades), and a little overwhelming. So many facts, and so many things I could easily focus on for months. Maybe not the Pats, or guitar picks, but the others. The world is full of fascinating things, and time is so unfairly limited.

Still, I’d like more images. Not glossy coffee table book pictures, but snapshots by travelers, peeks at roadsides and city benches and the unpolished places a young wanderer might find herself. Those things feel much harder to find. If you know of any good places to look, please let me know–here, via email, by fireworks or flag semaphore, whatever suits you. Blue will be most grateful.


  1. One thing that I always remember about from driving I-90 across South Dakota is the “Why Die” signs that mark the site of all auto fatalities.

    OK, they call them “Think” signs…

    Google images with the input

    The Black Hills and Badlands in South Dakota are some of my favorite places in the entire US.

    • Ooof! The entry on the Google search is:

      “why die” south dakota

    • I have no idea why your comment WordPress decided to hold your comment for moderation, Hollowwell. It was them, not me. 🙂

      And thanks! Those signs…nothing like being dogged by mortality along the whole stretch of road. That’s exactly the kind of detail I want to find!

      I’ve always suspected I would love the Badlands. Very high on my list of places to travel when I become a woman of leisure.

  2. Jen, You may remember me from an exchange we had a year or more ago about writing and getting old…I haven’t been writing too much, but I have been busy and I still read your blog when the e-mails come in. Like today, for example.

    It is at least coincidental that this morning I was googling “Exit 67 I-90 South Dakota” (because two of my students, Air Force cadets, are getting ready to drive I-90 from Syracuse, NY to Idaho and I wanted to show them what to look for when they drove by the exit to my home town) and then shortly after saw your blog post. I am from South Dakota, near the town of Rapid City and Ellsworth Air Force Base. The town my parents lived in was called Box Elder, SD, and it is located at Exit 67 on I-90 in western South Dakota. If you drive I-90 from coast to coast, you will drive right past exit 67 and it will look like this:

    I know this is not what you’re looking for, but I did want to tell you that I’ve driven the stretch of road on I-90 from the Minnesota border through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and into Idaho many, many, many (many!) times.

    Perspective: a lot of it is FLAT. 😉 More perspective: a lot of it is beautiful! And finally, in South Dakota, one of the things you’d never forget if you drove that drive more than once (or, really, even just once) is all the Wall Drug signs along the way. Not completely understanding or knowing what you’re looking for, I did want to tell you that I was at least near the same page as you earlier today. And I practically grew up on that section of interstate you mentioned. For whatever that’s worth to you…

    Good luck with your writing and your research…please let me know if there is something I can do to facilitate.

    Be well.


    • Greg! You never need to preface comments with the suggestion I might not remember you, though I clearly am not remembering things I should. 🙂

      I was a little shocked by the flatness when I was looking at the website of South Dakota exits–I bet we were looking at the same one. I had it in my mind that it would be much hillier. After a brief detour to Minneapolis, Blue will be more or less on I-90 until a break in Montana, so I’m really trying to get a sense of what she’d be seeing out a car window. Apparently, lots of flatness. And signs. 🙂

      Thanks so much for chiming in. I may be in touch with questions as I slog through that section. I’d love to hear about the beauty of it. It’ll be taking place in winter, so I’m thinking snow as well, which will erase a lot of features.

      • Silly me…I didn’t even know these replies were out there. I’m a little slow. Still working in the USAF, though…retiring from service in December and then onto something else…not sure what, though. I’m too scared to write full time, but I believe I might have the gumption to try part time! Anyway…hope you are well. And just so you know, SD is still pretty flat except way out west. We drove through there again earlier this month. Be well…and glad–so very glad–to hear your thyroid news.

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