Thursday, July 17, 2014

High Tea In Sweet Grass

In keeping with the recent series of how we writers get our ideas, I would offer up the improbable scene of three girls having an English high tea in a hotel room in an obscure Montana border town.  Oh, and the girls are spirits with no real corporal bodies.

This is a sample of my creative process as I craft the next novel "Storm Child" in my Hobohemia series.  Those who've read "Tracks", my first stop in this fantasy universe of hobos and rail barons, will quickly recognize the ladies as steam children - those free spirits who help knit Hobohemia together.  We are in the unlikely stub of a town of Sweet Grass, Montana.  The question to be answered is how we got here and why.

Things started out with a simple plot requirement – I had to get my main character “Red” up into Canada, as part of this story involves the famous “spiral tunnels” through which mile-long trains wind their way past an otherwise dangerous incline in the Rockies.  Red has anger management issues (see title) and I realized that she couldn’t be trusted to go up north alone.  Red has a mentor, a “steam mother” if you will.  That would be Midtown, who had decided to take Red north to both cool her temper and meet with another steam mother who knew how to handle Red’s tantrums.  The intended new teacher is Whimsy.

So, first of all, I need to find a way up to Canada by rail.  Google maps comes to my rescue as I find a turnoff from the “Empire Builder” train route that skirts the northern region of the United States.  Sure enough, we have a track that will lead to Calgary where Whimsy calls home. 

But we’re talking about two rare “steam mothers” meeting – surely this is a special occasion, yes?  Also, is there not some amount of territorial concerns honored by two powerful steam children?  Sure, why not?  So I figure that Midtown (who hails from North Platte, Nebraska) would meet with Whimsy at the border.  Enter a small stub of a town out in the middle of nowhere called Sweet Grass.  This is where we have a border station sitting astride both a highway and set of tracks. 

The idea of having a nice little get-together rather than “Here, take her off my hands” appealed to me, and since there is a Victorian flare to most steam children, it didn’t take too much prodding of the imagination to see the three girls indulging in a tea.  In this case, a proper high tea.  There are problems to deal with, of course, as neither of these three ladies could physically lift a tea cup under normal circumstances.  Nor could they consume the contents.  I decided they would have to have a pretend tea, albeit with all the proper utensils (they will make good use of a steaming teapot to fully take form).  The only correlation I had was when little girls set up a cute little tea service and let their imaginations supply the cakes and tea.  This meant an appropriately dainty d├ęcor not to be expected in the pickup and truck driver atmosphere of Sweet Grass, but every small town has a general store.  The steam children came in on a locomotive whose crew was more than happy to temporarily outfit one of the local hotel rooms.

And now we have lace and high tea in Sweet Grass, Montana.



Big Mike said...

What can I say, but .... wild.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)