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Road Tripping with My Characters: Survival in the Wild West of My Imagination


Stretch of open highway through the desert

I just returned from a road trip across the American West. Along with my family and the benefit of a reliable rental car, I had plenty of open roads to ponder the idea of putting my characters on their very own road trip.


Traveling with me is never just about sightseeing; I turn every mile into a "what-if" scenario for my books. So yes, I'm probably the most entertaining—or unnerving—travel companion you could imagine, especially when I narrate potential thriller plots out loud. Because really, what’s a road trip without a little imagined life-or-death drama to spice things up?

 

A woman reading a map

Old-School Navigation: Maps Are So Retro


First up on the survival skillset—navigation. Forget GPS; out here, it’s about as useful as a chocolate teapot. My characters would have to go old-school, dusting off a physical map.


I pictured them squinting at the tiny print, turning the map this way and that, utterly confused because honestly, who knows how to read these things without Google chirping directions? And just when they think they’ve got it figured out, they realize the map’s been upside down the whole time. Hey, it happens.

 

A man pouring oil in a car engine

Car Troubles: Because Of Course


Imagine the car starts making that dreaded thunk-a-thunk noise that spells imminent doom. Cue my characters, none of whom are mechanics, mind you, armed with nothing but a grimy, dog-eared car manual from the glove compartment and sheer panic.


They'd be fumbling under the hood, accidentally dropping screws into the abyss of the engine, and maybe (just maybe) setting off the windshield wipers in the process.

It’s chaos, it’s mayhem—it’s a great chapter in a novel!

 

A dry river bed and sand dune in the desert

Water, Water, Nowhere


Out in the desert, water is rarer than a clean public restroom. My characters would have to get creative—maybe trying to wring out water from cacti (ouch), or collecting morning dew with a lint-free cloth.


I mean, dehydration can make you do wacky things, right? Let’s just hope they don’t start miraging an ocean over the next hill! And when one character suggests drinking their own urine? Well, that’s where the real drama begins.

 

A path through the desert cactus and sagebrush

Mental Gymnastics: Keeping the Crazies at Bay


The loneliness of the long-distance driver—or in this case, survivor—could turn the brain into a mushier mess than a microwaved burrito. My characters would need mental games, talking to themselves or befriending rocks and bushes along the way. “Good morning, Mr. Cactus! Looking sharp today, aren’t we?” Delirium sets in, and soon they’re hosting a desert tea party with imaginary friends.


A person stepping off a log

DIY First Aid: Because Who Needs Professionals?


After inevitably taking a nasty tumble down a rocky slope while searching for water, one of my characters would certainly end up with a twisted ankle and plenty of scrapes. The impromptu first aid session would involve makeshift splints, a lot of grimacing, and even more swearing.


Survival tip: always travel with a basic first aid kit—and maybe a bottle of tequila for sterilization (or just to take the edge off). “Hold still, this might hurt a bit,” becomes the understatement of the day as they wrap, bandage, and attempt to soothe the pain.

 

A coyote laying in the shade under a bush

Wildlife Meet-and-Greets


And let's not forget the wildlife. Picture a close encounter with a coyote, where my hero, mistaking it for a scruffy dog, tries to lure it over with a piece of beef jerky. Spoiler alert: coyotes are not dogs, and beef jerky might just make you their best friend—or their dinner. Cue the panicked running, the scrambling up trees, and desperately trying to recall any tidbit of coyote advice they’ve ever heard—all while clinging to a flimsy branch.

 

In the end, this road trip didn’t just stretch the miles; it stretched my imagination in crafting survival scenarios for my characters that were as hilarious as they were harrowing. It reminded me why I love writing thrillers: even a simple journey can turn into an epic tale of survival, spiced with a good dose of humor and the ever-present threat of accidentally befriending a coyote.


Safe travels and happy plotting, everyone! Whether you're on a solitary stretch of highway or cozy at home, keep your wits about you—and maybe keep a map handy, just in case.

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