A Novel Vacation

I could swear I’ve read that Michael Ondaatje wrote The English Patient without ever having gone to the desert. (Can’t find a reference to that, but if anyone can, I’d love to see it – and post a mea culpa if I’m wrong.) The point is, writers describe all sorts of things they’ve never actually seen – murders, say.

Places are a little different. They’re so evocative that it’s important to get the look and feel of them right. And for sure, I don’t possess a tenth of the descriptive skill that Ondaatje – whether he visited the desert or not – holds in his pinky. That’s why Scott and I are heading off to North Dakota’s Bakken region, site of our modern-day gold rush, this week. The sequel to Montana is set there, and I haven’t been to that part of the world since well before the current boom that’s transformed the area. I went there in the golden days of fall, and I remember a world of magnificent exhilarating emptiness dominated by a hard blue sky. 

For sure, there are lots of tools – hello, YouTube – to give me a good idea of just how very much things have changed. And journalists working there have been generous with offers of help. When I still had a Real Job as a reporter, I used to stress to people how important it is to actually go to the scene of a story. Although it’s easy to get facts and figures and very fine quotes with phone interviews and online research, certain telling details – geraniums planted in an old coffee can beside a shanty on the lip of the massive garbage dump in Juarez, Mexico, say – can only be captured in person. 

So off we go, to the land of $250-a-night rooms at the Holiday Inn Express (we’re not staying there) and $15-an-hour jobs at McDonald’s (maybe I should apply). Look for photos and a full report down the line.


One response to “A Novel Vacation”

  1. Jesse Sisken says:

    Hi Gwen,
    Been following your escapades via forwardings from your Mom to Betty. Then I saw your notice of a Bakken vacation and thought, she’s going back to Denmark and to Bakken, the most ancient of surviving amusement parks. What kind of “amusement park” is Bakken, Montana.

    Congratulations on your book deals. I’ll have to tell you what I’ve been up to one of these days.
    All the best,
    Jesse