My husband parks our silver F150 in a turnoff, which is really a patch of pounded land where folks have repeatedly turned their cars around after realizing the road goes nowhere. I imagine drug dealers, prostitutes, meth heads, and hormonal teens fighting for this spot on steamy summer nights, but for now, it’s just Charles and me. And my doubts.
He turns off the engine, and in the silence, we wait. We are surrounded by thousands of acres of farm fields, old growth hardwoods, and murky cattle ponds. The land is beautiful, and this type of setting would normally calm my nerves, but not this time. Not now, as I’m waiting at the end of the road for a stranger to arrive. My heart races and my breath quickens, as I realize, with sudden alarm, that we might be in danger.
“Should we have brought the gun?” A question I never thought I’d ask. Even though I despise America’s love affair with arsenals, in this position, I wish I was holding a gun.
“What gun?” He’s barely paying attention to me as he checks email on his phone.
“The one in the garage.”
Charles laughs. “It’s a 22.” With sarcasm he insinuates that if we find ourselves going head-to-head with a coyote or a tom cat it might come in handy. A hardened criminal? Not so much.
“Well what if it’s a setup. One of those Craigslist crimes?”
He doesn’t answer. Just keeps emailing.
11:49. No sign of the white Ford truck we are waiting for. “Of course it’s a white Ford,” I say. “Does anyone drive anything else around here?” I’m sure we’ve passed at least forty-seven white trucks since we left the interstate. Forty-six of them, Fords.
I open the door and get out to stretch my legs. The sounds of rubber tires and gasoline engines roar in the distance. Somewhere, within earshot, the newer highway ribbons through these fields, and I feel a little comfort thinking I can run toward the noise if it comes to that.
Then the engine noise comes closer, and the white truck we’ve been waiting for eases its way into a corner field and comes to a stop in front of a metal gate, a rusty chain locking the gate closed.
In the movies, headlights would have flashed, drums would have punched a dramatic rhythm, and a heavy pause would have filled the screen. Instead, Charles’s phone rings. “Yep, I see you. We’re headed that way now.”
I return to my passenger perch and close my door just in time, as Charles is already putting the truck in gear.
“You have the money?” he bites his nails, a habit he’s had all his life.
“Yes,” I check my purse, just to make sure. Cash only, I remember the stranger’s instructions. My pulse shoots flares.
And then it happens. We climb down from the bench seat and enter an isolated pasture with a man we’ve never met.
What’s this scene about? Do you suspect this couple is about to engage in some sort of illegal transaction? Are they in danger? Or is it just a creative twist on something as ordinary and realistic as buying a cow?
If you guessed a cow, you’re right. This is part of a creative non-fiction proposal that enabled me to become the 2012 recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Literary Arts Fellowship, an honor I am privileged to accept.
Whether writing about cooking or canines, remember non-fiction doesn’t have to be dry.
Try these tips:
- At some point, let us know exactly where and when the event takes place, but use subtle hints to set the scene (music, tv, news, technology, etc., to hint at the era.)
- Use sensory details – smells, sounds, sights (avoid writing “I see… I smell…I hear…”)
- Involve more than one person in the scene…it’s not all about YOU. Describe something specific about the other characters. Use a few snips of dialog and let unique personalities shine.
- Elicit an emotional response from the reader. How do you want them to FEEL when they read the story?
- What is the main point of the story? What question do you want to answer? Try to leave the reader with one main thought, all while trying to show rather than tell.
When you write, what approach do you take to make the mundane magnificent? Share your thoughts about creative nonfiction and learn more about this interesting genre by visiting http://www.creativenonfiction.org/