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Author Guest Post: Libba Bray

Today I have a guest post with NYTimes Bestselling author, Libba Bray! She just recently released a new novel called, Going Bovine (Amazon/Indiebound) about a teenage boy diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (aka mad cow). Thanks Libba for stopping by!

“On the Road”

I have always been a sucker for a road trip novel. From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to On the Road to Don Quixote and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (road trip in space), the idea of a pilgrimage that takes characters somewhere else physically as well as emotionally has always appealed. So it was a joy to finally get to write one myself. (Going Bovine is loosely based on Don Quixote, so it’s not like I could avoid the quest trope, anyway.)

I’ve taken quite a few road trips, and I borrowed threads from them, here and there, in crafting Bovine. When my brother and I were kids, our parents would force us into our boat-like Chevrolet and drive from the Texas Gulf Coast through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on our way to our grandparents’ house in Georgia and then up the coast to the other grandparents’ house in West Virginia. These were brutal drives marked by the sort of boredom that has been outlawed by the Geneva Convention, which thoughtfully provided a Marshall Plan in video games devices, iPods, and personal DVD players. Back then, we had to make up games like cow poker (every cow you see on your side counts as one point; horses are two points; if you pass a graveyard, you lose all your points), spot-the-out-of-state-license-plate, and YOU’RE ON MY SIDE OF THE CAR brawl-to-the-death (or until given the laser stare by the Mother). We stayed in budget motels where the air conditioners were noisy and too cold and ate in questionable restaurants where my mother whispered to us that we shouldn’t try anything that didn’t seem “safe.” There were a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches-and-orange sherbet meals. Those trips were awful and wonderful, like surviving boot game and coming out stronger for it. Certainly the landscape of the American south—the old churches and abandoned buildings, kudzu and sudden, five-minute squalls—worked its way into the pages of Going Bovine. If you’re only driving through a place, it’s the visual that stays with you.

One of the most memorable road trips happened while I was in college at the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘em, Horns). My friend Laurie and I had both been through miserable break-ups (like there’s any other kind) at the same time, and to mend our bruised hearts and egos, we decided on a spur-of-the-moment escape visit to our pal Mary in New Orleans. “You have to come. It’s only six hours!” Mary promised. (Mary promised a lot of things.) Turns out, the drive from Austin to NOLA is one of those “six-hour drives” that clocks in at a solid ten or eleven.

But we had a great time out there on the road, making up ridiculous contests and games, singing to mixed tapes, talking about the guys we romanticized and objectified and glorified and occasionally vilified. There was time to talk about the sorts of things that feel too intimate to discuss when you’re not miles away from the uniform you wear most days. When we hit the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, the twenty five-mile bridge that stretches across the water as far as you can see, Laurie, who was driving, nervously said, “Uh, tell me we’re not going over that?” and I said, “Okay, we’re not going over that.” Both of us suffer from a primal fear of bridges over water. Of course, we knew we were going over that—it’s the only way into the city—and just as we entered the bridge, the Jim Carroll Band kicked in singing, “People Who Died,” about Mr. Carroll’s various friends who met their tragic demises. It was a long way across and a long way down. We sang that song at nosebleed-decibel-level the whole way.

We felt like we owned the streets of New Orleans. I sang with a jazz band and then danced with them in the streets while carrying an umbrella. (Full disclosure: There was a lot of champagne involved. Even fuller disclosure: Champagne hangovers are brutal. If you do not want to feel as if demons are setting up a pain palace in your skull for an entire day, I suggest moderation or skipping it entirely.) The shops and cafes, cable cars and street musicians seemed like set pieces from a fantastical, magical movie. We crashed a table reserved for a plastic surgeons’ convention. We played darts with Scottish bartenders who hated Margaret Thatcher, which made the dart throwing particularly spirited. We ate in greasy spoon diners and sat by the water and had our fortunes told and dabbled in identities as if we were trying on clothes at Macy’s. To stay awake on the long drive back, Laurie and I sang Stevie Nicks songs while pretending to be Elmer Fudd on helium: “Elmer Fudd IS Rhiannon!” We used the grody bathrooms at truck stops and gassed up the car next to weary men pausing for a cigarette break before driving their tankers into the anonymous night.

We felt different on the road. Freed from the constraints of our everyday roles and routines, we could imagine lives as spies or traveling blues musicians or champion fencers in the south of France. If that sounds like some Keroauc-ish romance, well, maybe it is. But maybe there’s a somnambulist quality to our regular lives, and being taken out of our environments can be a liberating experience. It allows us to wake up to other possibilities. It can even be a balm for broken hearts. (So can cute Scottish bartenders.)

I only know that writing the book felt every bit as real as traveling those roads by car or bus, and I feel different for the journey.

You can check out more stops on Libba's tour at Book Chic and Shaken & Stirred.

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