Last week I spent a few days on the road, hip deep in leg work for a research project on the oral traditions of mountaineering in the age of social media. Since Christmas, I’ve been stuck in a rut. My wheels spinning. It’s been weighing on me like a wet, cable-knit sweater. This week my wheels finally hit the road and my perspective changed the further I got from home.
Now don’t assume that I’m a never-drives-twenty-miles-from-the-holler-where-she-was-born kinda gal. I’ve lived in several states (even California), with extended stays in South America and Europe. The difference between my hometown drag and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées is as profound as the disconnect between my own south Appalachian twang and Marion Cotillard’s French purr.
This difference this week, however, was far more subtle. Driving my beat, I know every corner, nook and, yes, holler. Every road that branches off my route leads to someplace I know. A left at the light past the Country Cupboard gets you to my aunt Tammy’s place. A right will take you all the way back around the mountain. Every roadside shack had a name, had an owner and still has a story. I know every business by name — not just what it is, but what it used to be and what it was even before that.
Even thirty minutes from home, the landscape stays the same. It looks just like what I wake up to every morning. It’s the possibilities that change. Two towns over, I know the main arteries, but most of these little roads lead to unseen destinations just around that turn up ahead. That first turn off the bypass? Never taken it. No idea where it goes. The red barn with the gas pumps and scorched roof? Not sure how it got started. Not sure how it ended. It’s all a mystery to me. The not-so-great unknown.
To most readers, the unknown evokes one of two sensations: the thrill of endless possibilities or a dread fear of that which we can’t yet see. When swimming in deep water do you dream of shipwrecks and buried treasure or do you anticipate something (hungry, no doubt) brushing your leg? Does that road up ahead lead to a romantic, mountaintop vista covered in wild blueberries just waiting to be picked? Or does it lead to a trap set by treacherous mountain folk (hungry, no doubt)?
This, honestly, is why I love writing in the horror and romance genres. They both play off the excitement of the unknown. Both, when done right, set our hearts racing in anticipation of what we’ll find when we turn that corner.