From Song to Story
I have a love bordering on sickness for classic Motown hits. One of my all-time favorites is Gladys Knight and the Pips’ Midnight Train to Georgia.
Now, before someone jumps on me for spreading lies. Yes, I know that song came out after Gladys Knight and the Pips left Motown for Buddah Records, but for me Motown isn’t about the record label it’s about the sound.
OK, back to that awesome song. Midnight Train to Georgia won the 1974 Grammy Award for best R&B vocal performance by a duo, group or chorus. There’s a reason why it became Knight’s signature song - because it’s amazing.
The story of the song is of a woman who falls in love with a failed musician. They’re in L.A., but he’s decided to chuck it all and move back to Georgia. She decides to follow him on the midnight train to Georgia because, as she sings it, “I’d rather be with him in his world, than be without him in mine.” Really, this doesn’t do the song justice, you have to go track it down on You Tube and hear it for yourself.
So I’m driving down the road one day when the song comes I on. Much to my three kids’ dismay, I blare it in the minivan and start singing along. Maybe it was just the kind of day I was having or maybe it’s because my eight-year-old daughter was in the car with me, but the lyrics hit me wrong. Here was the woman giving up her dreams and moving across the country for a guy. Sure, I’m all for true love and self sacrifice, but why does it always have to be the girl who moves?
This thought came to me as I was developing the hero and heroine for my debut romantic suspense, Up a Dry Creek. Claire and Jake needed something that would help keep them apart, a hurdle that they had to overcome to make their love a reality. How much better could it be than living in two completely different places? Claire lives in a small, rural Nebraska town called Dry Creek. Jake lives in the big city of Denver. Neither has any intention of packing up and moving anywhere else.
In my first draft of Up a Dry Creek, Claire was singing Midnight Train to Georgia right before she found a dead body. That opening didn’t make it to the final draft, but I can’t head Gladys Knight and the Pips’ amazing song any more without thinking of Claire.
Up a Dry Creek By Avery Flynn Excerpt
Desperate to ignore the niggling apprehension, Claire focused on keeping her hands busy. The living room still needed work. She grabbed a well-worn copy of Gone with the Wind, and a hardcover copy of a Nina Simone biography to put back in the bookcase.
A crack of thunder broadcasted the storm’s arrival. Nerves already frayed, Claire jumped. The books dropped from her grip. She looked over at Onion who cowered under the coffee table.
Another crack of thunder. The house lights brightened, then flickered out. Onion, never one for storms, crawled out from his hiding spot to Claire’s side.
“It’s okay, boy. Let’s go flip the fuse.” She fought to keep her voice calm. The sudden gloom strummed her already tightly strung nerves.
Claire felt her way along the walls to the fuse box in the back bedroom. She flipped the switches back and forth. No luck. Onion shivered at her feet.
“Flashlight and candles in the kitchen, come on.” She scratched behind his ears, tried to impart a reassurance she didn’t feel herself.
The storm turned the dusk sky to night. Claire tripped over the books piled on the floor on her way to the kitchen, but caught her balance before she landed face first on the floor. As soon as her foot crossed the kitchen threshold, another bolt of lightning lit up the sky. Claire caught a flash of something in the window over the kitchen sink.
She stifled a scream and instinctively stepped away from the window. Darkness blocked her vision of whatever, or whoever, had been there.
“Jake? Is that you?” Her shaky voice barely lifted over the sound of hail pinging the roof.
Claire froze. No one answered. Dread filled her veins, chilled her skin.
The shotgun was in the living room. Should she go for it? A bang of thunder shook the window panes. She used her left hand to pull open the junk drawer and fumbled around for the flashlight.
Onion’s throat vibrated as he let out a low growl. He stood, tense, by her side. At last, she felt the plastic tube. Her pulse ratcheted down a tad when she clutched the flashlight. With the push of a button, light poured forth toward the window.
Claire screamed at the face that glared at her. Only it wasn’t the killer who stared back. The light showed her own petrified reflection. She couldn’t see who or what, if anything, was outside.
Never looking away from the window, she shuffled backward into the living room and grabbed the shotgun down from the mantle. She snatched up a box of shells and shoved them into a pocket. A few strays slipped out and plinked against the brick hearth.
The flashlight didn’t help make her feel safe. But Jake would. She hunched low and scurried to the bay window. Lightning flashed. For a moment she saw Jake’s SUV, too brief to confirm if he was in there. She scooted toward the door, the living room wall firm against her back. Her goal, the front door and Jake beyond it. Another burst of light. Onion stood growling at the kitchen door. The hair on his haunches stood straight up. The dog burst into wild, ferocious barking.
Claire swung the shotgun over. Pointed it at the kitchen door. “Who’s there?” Her voice sounded stronger than she felt. No one responded.
Jake would have called out.
Her finger caressed the trigger.
If the Voice of Doom lurked outside, she couldn’t afford to be a damsel in distress. She took in a steadying breath. Gritted her teeth. A calmness descended. No more fear. She felt certain. She knew what she had to do. She took in a deep breath and let it out. She was ready to fire at whoever came through the door.
Onion stopped, trotted across the kitchen and took several long, deep sniffs at the bottom of the door. He jogged back to Claire, his tail wagging.
“Good boy, Onion. Good boy.”
She looked down at the shotgun in her white knuckled hands. Unable to hold it any longer, she placed it on the fireplace’s brick hearth and tossed the shells next to it. Her blood rushed through her body so fast, she could swear she heard the ocean.
Claire slumped against the wall and slid to the floor. She ran her trembling fingers through her hair. The rain beat down nearly in time with her hammering heart, but the thunder and hail had passed.
A rapping at the bay window startled her. She jerked her head up. Jake stood on the other side of the pane, his dark, rain-soaked hair plastered to his head.
“Are you okay?” His words, muffled by the window, shot straight to her heart, calmed its beating.
Unable to form any words, she pushed up off the floor and crossed to the door. She tugged it open and cool air stroked her cheeks. The breeze brushed the hair off her shoulders.
Jake folded her into his arms. His chin rested on her head, a warm drop of rainwater slid down one side of her face, a baptism of sorts. She’d acknowledged her fear. Asked for help. Received it. Found safe harbor. Wanted more.
“It’s going to be okay.” Jake stroked her hair. “I’ve got you.”
And that’s what scared her more than the storm—or the killer. She teetered on the edge of falling for a man she knew nothing about. After Brett, she’d worked hard to block access to her heart. Jake shook down her barriers like an earthquake.
He’d be gone as soon as they trapped Kendall’s killer. She couldn’t take another heartbreak. It had taken so long to come back from the last one.
A car horn interrupted him. She peeked around his arm and saw Beth’s Mini Cooper in the driveway.
“I have to go.” She stepped away. Confusion was clear in his eyes and gut checked her. Claire stood on her tiptoes, gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I can’t do this. I’m sorry.”
She trudged across the muddy drive with Onion at her heels, her tears camouflaged by the rain. If it hurt this bad to walk away, what would staying have been like?
Part of her wished she’d been brave enough to find out.
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