When plot arises from place – happenstance in Hanoi

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature

When I found out that my sweetie was going to Vietnam as part of a U.S. State Department exchange program (the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or YSEALI, administered by the University of Montana’s Mike and Maureen Mansfield Center), I jumped at the chance to tag along

Of course, the writer wheels also started turning, as I tried to come up with a plausible reason to send my protagonist, Lola Wicks, to Vietnam, too.

At first, it didn’t seem as though anything would work. Lola works at a small newspaper in Montana. Occasional freelance assignments send her around the West, but it seemed unlikely that any outfit would pony up the dough for such an expensive trip. Such plum assignments usually go to staff writers, or to big-name journalists, and Lola – despite her fast-receding past as a foreign correspondent – is a middle-size name on her best days.

I resigned myself to two weeks of tourism, awash in pho and Hanoi Beer. Tough duty, but I figured I was up to it. Funny thing happens, though, when you stop thinking hard about something. Ideas worm their way in.

On the 11-hour plane ride from Seattle to Seoul, one of those thoughts wriggled its way to the surface. Why does Lola have to be the one who goes? What if a significant plot point involved another character’s time in Vietnam?

Whoop, whoop, whoop! Sound the idea sirens! I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and back to WiFi World and do some research to see if it had merit. (News flash: It does.)

confuciousJust to be sure, though, I submitted it before the altars at the Temple of Literature, as beautiful and tranquil a spot to be found in all of Hanoi. The bronze Confucious his disciples stared benevolently back at me. And, following the lead of the locals, for luck I also patted the chest of a bronze crane and rubbed the head of the turtle upon which it stood. Covering all my bases, to apply an American metaphor.

We’ll see if this plot works out. In the meantime, I’m scurrying around Hanoi taking notes like a madwoman, glad to have purpose beyond simple tourism.


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