The Franklin Avenue Rookery for Wayward Babies collection took about three years to write. After I lived through decades of suitcase rambles and backpacking tramps. My stories came from these travels – some exotic – Varanasi, Rome, Kathmandu, Japan, Isle of Skye; some closer to home – New Orleans, Tijuana, Valdez. I don’t travel so I can write. I travel so I can expand. In fact, I didn’t know I would have such a far-flung collection when I started.
The ‘beach resort cum prickly-pear-margarita’ vacation is nice. But that’s an afternoon nap; it is not travel. Travel is a wide-awake experience. Authentically first person. Travel is seldom easy – many times sleep deprived, food and language challenged. It’s not for the weak at heart. But heart is exactly what it delivers. I am a seeker of beauty – in nature, architecture, cuisine, culture. Words. If I have to walk there to find it, so much the better. I don’t think about writing as I travel, and I don’t take notes, although that’s exactly what the photographs turn out to be. I am open to experience. And often it’s magnificent. So later, when I’m at my kitchen table or by my gas fireplace with the faux logs, my mind travels back to the higher-than-the-clouds Himalayas or to the gold-haloed icons in an onion-domed church. Some of these places I find so exquisite, I want to write – not about them – but about how they make me feel.
The first story I wrote for Franklin Avenue, The House of Naan and Saffron, came out of a trip to Varanasi, the most holy city in India on the banks of the holy Ganges River. It was a colorful, hectic, hazy, completely non-Western experience; they burn bodies in the open and sweep them into the river. I could not expect to fully interpret or understand the culture. But I could experience it. Take photos like breadcrumbs and follow them back later in memory. This turned into a story about a Norwegian preacher trying to convert Hindus to Christianity, and win back his wife.
At one of the “three most beautiful” gardens in Japan, there are two shallow streams and when the iris bloom, growing right out of the water, the banks are fringed in violet. Later, I found myself wanting to write about these flowers, what it would be like to sink into that color. Just a story about those flowers, that color. This grew into a rather magical tale of reincarnation, which is the last story in the collection, The Color of Fisticuffs and Bloodlines.
There are authors who do not need to travel to write about a location. My favorite example is John Irving’s Son of the Circus, a wonderful romp through India. Mr. Irving never went to India. I bow to him. For me, it is quite often the location that creates the space for the story, and then the characters fall, literally, into place.
Travel will always be my muse, both for settings and experiences. The year before Covid 19 my husband and I were in Paris. I ordered too much for breakfast and I took a leftover hardboiled egg with me, put it in my pocket. We went to climb the 222 steps up to the basilica of Sacre-Coeur. There was a raggedy man sleeping on the steps, vertically, his body splayed across four rows, face up, arms out, palms up. My God, he looked like Jesus, and terribly uncomfortable. How could he sleep like that? I put the boiled egg into the curve of his up-turned palm. He would find it when he woke up. Oh, the magic of it! Or maybe he would hit himself in the face with it. I’m not sure yet. I haven’t written the story.
Irises that inspired a story.
Encounters with local residents.
Laura Newman on a trek in the Himalayas.