The Sideways NZ novel research road trip begins. Thanks to Pacific Horizon Motorhomes and a whole host of other great Kiwis it’s finally happening. Today, I’m disembarking from Central Otago (south of the South Island of New Zealand and prime Pinot Noir country) and heading north. Miles (my alter ego) is on a book tour with Jack. A bit of a bait-and-switch with the parsimonious publisher and they’ve dismayingly ended up in a camper van instead of the rock star bus and the five-star hotels they had been promised. This is a real road trip that will then be alchemized into fiction. I have to live it in order to write it. There are things that happen in real life that can’t be made up. I will fictionalize, and I will take liberties, but I don’t like to abstract things out of thin air. I prefer to draw from reality.
A lot of events are lined up for this massive, 1,000-mile research road trip. The first night will be a book signing of Sideways at Fat Sally’s Bar & Restaurant hosted by the Tough Guy Book Club (I can’t make up any of these names) in Oamaru on the east coast of New Zealand. Just confirmed an event a week later at the Welsh Dragon Bar in Wellington, an institution, and one I’m really thrilled about. Many more book clubs and winery visits along the way too numerous to list. Thanks to archivist and write Kate Saeed for the idea of the camper van (if I go over a cliff, she’s to blame!). And thanks to writer Marco Mannone for the idea of my Miles starting in Central Otago.
Central Otago has been an eye-opener. As I’ve written, it is stunningly beautiful, even in winter. I’m told every season is epically different and spectacularly gorgeous in its own right. I believe it. But, there’s a novel to research, a novel to write, with Blackstone Publishing hovering above me waiting that first draft. This is not a vacation, though at times it feels like one. I’m on the qui vive for material wherever I go, whomever I meet.
The camper van arrived last night and I got checked out on it and I depart with a great support team because if it was just me I’d probably be having a panic attack – I’m not exactly the camper, backpacking, van life type. However, I am a road movie guy. A long time ago I saw Kings of the Road, a three-hour road movie directed by the great Wim Wenders. It is incontrovertibly the ultimate road movie. As soon as I saw it I knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life: make road movies. I made two in the analog days, one a 1,000-mile road movie (California Without End) and the second a 4,000 road movie, From Hollywood to Deadwood (Island Pictures). When those two films nearly killed me and destroyed my marriage I turned to road novels. There’s something about the open road, something about that next unknown stop. A road novel almost always buys you conflict through automatic change of scenery and setting. But there still have to be characters, a story, a spine to that story. The road trip doesn’t write the novel, but it supplies the grist. I know the spine to Sideways NZ, I now just have to live its, forgive the word, entrails, in order to write it.
The prepping and planning is over, but this trip will be unrehearsed. Though there are now locked obligations, anything that takes me off the beaten path, or the set itinerary, will happen. I will go where this novel takes me; i.e., where my imagination takes me. I know where I’m going, I just don’t know how I’m going to get there.
Here we go!