This story was started in the somewhere middle of 2007, when I first got into SPN.
And because the story was started in 2007, naturally, there are no angels or demons, no outside influences, no nothing that wasn’t Sam and Dean. I think that it brings a kind of pure, early season quality to the story; it’s all about the boys. And sex, of course.
I noticed in 2007 that a lot of the stories were being written in the present tense (though nobody could offer me a clue as to why), and so I decided to try it myself. I eventually figured out, I think, that the present tense gives the story a different kind of energy than a past tense, and so the only hard part there was attempting to figure out when the present tense should stay present, or when it should go to immediate past tense, such as when one of the characters is remembering something.
I don’t know if I like writing in the present tense as much as the past; it’s okay to read, and it might just be habit, but I prefer writing in past tense because it allows me to go slower and take my time and mull over everything. If you’re in present tense, the characters are always moving and thinking and there’s not much time to mull.
Then there is the other part, about how the story came to be. At the time, I started a story called The Haircut, in which Dean gives Sam a haircut (which creates an erection for Sam, and thusly, a reason for Sam and Dean to have sex. Little did I know that those boys are far too slashy not to slash and they really don’t need a reason, eh). And there are lots and lots of memories about John, and the story was a bit cumbersome and far too short for the heavy weight of a grief like that.
Then I’d started another story about a kelpie, which seemed like fun. And seeing as I’d just driven through a town called Mammoth Spring, where the water was, truly, this amazing shade of jade green, I thought it would be fun to put the kelpie there. Then I wanted to do a story about a black dog, because to me, SPN was all about the urban legend and old country legends come to the states. I’d also driven from FL to CO one November and drove through Canadian, which, as I attempted to describe, proved to be an amiable little town, built in a little dip in the road as you go down to the river bottom, flanked by pecan trees.
And, naturally, all those ideas and places swirled around in my head and I wanted to write about them. Well, things got busy in my neck of the woods, so the haircut story and the kelpie tidbit and the black dog idea rather languished in a drawer, and I went on to write other things.
Then this year’s big bang came up, and I decided it might be worthwhile to put all those ideas together and make a story out of it. I will probably never attempt this again: kids, don’t try this at home. Trying to blend a story that I wrote in 2007 with a story I wrote in 2010 was not impossible, but was still a thick, heavy, draggy project. I think I write better now than I did then, at least I have tons more practice, so slogging through all my old, dumb 2007-era sentence fragments, and weird ideas about how dialog should go, not to mention my lack of experience with present tense, AND my lack of knowledge about Sam and Dean (in contrast with the knowledge I have now) and it was like trying to wed apples and oranges. Sure, they’re both fruit, but it’s not a level playing field.
One of the worst parts of the rewrite was having to cut the scene where Dean says that Sam needs a haircut, and then brings up John. Originally there were at least two pages where Sam recalls the cremation ceremony and what they said to each other and how the ash danced in the wind. At the time, I had just seen Everybody Loves a Clown, which is one of my favorite eps, and the death and funeral of John Winchester was huge and important. Thusly, I wrote this overdone, purple scene. I hope I got it out of my system because I had to chop and chop and chop to get it down to one or two paragraphs. It feels like I’m missing a body part, but the longer scene slowed the story down and it had to go.Here's a link to the entire of the cut scene
One of my favorite scenes in the story were the one in the bar in Mammoth Spring. I made up the song about “giving her a whirl, cause she’s daddy’s girl” but I couldn’t resist using “Flowers on the Wall” which is one of my old favorites. Also, when I googled “great country western song,” Google gave me “Forever and Ever, Amen,” so that’s why I chose that. And I loved working with Sam figuring out that Dean means Sam to get laid, and not Dean, and how quickly Sam’s jealousy grows into awareness, and how quickly he hightails it out of there. (I also made Dean a bad dancer on purpose, because he can’t be perfect at everything!)
My other favorite scenes are the ones where Sam is reading in bed, making notes to himself, thinking about ideas of where they might go, and burying himself in the relatively safe area of research. I loved making him lose the books and then find them again, and how he’s completely done reading the second Dean gets home.
I loved researching the supernatural things for this story. Naturally, the internet is my best friend in this, and so I poked and searched and found tons of stuff and used some of it. The kelpie storyline borrows heavily from my reading of The Kelpie’s Pearls by Mollie Hunter, which was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. The ghost in Canadian I made up entirely, partly because I figured Sam’s favorite things to hunt are ghosts because they are predictable. The black dog idea had to go, I figured three hunts was enough for one story, so I only mention it in the end. Which, actually, seems more in keeping with the show, since the black dog idea is only mentioned there, as well.
And lastly, there is the Yukki Onna. Would that I had more time, I would have gone further with this idea. It came up about a year ago, when I was deeply into watching Numb3rs. I had come across an article about the FBI who were researching several weird disappearances in Nome, Alaska. The FBI and local police naturally figured everyone was walking off drunk into the snow, but I could tell it was, of course, some kind of snow ghost. Which I then looked up and found the Yukki Onna. Naturally, since it was the FBI, I thought about Don and what he would do with a crime like that.Here is a link to the article
And some nice pictures that show how hot Don would look while investigating the crime....
That is, when he wasn't doing slashy things with Charlie...
Two things. First, regarding the legend of the Yukki Onna
, in most of the stories, people can’t see her feet, nor her sandals, though there are one or two pictures of her with them. I liked the idea of John doing a little drawing of her, and I think he would include the shoes. Second, I had this wild idea of doing a very long, complicated story wherein Charlie had encountered the Yukki Onna when he was ten. Naturally, because he’s so beautiful, she lets him go, if he promises to be faithful. Years later, when he and Don are in the mountains, they get caught by a freak snowstorm and the Yukki Onna comes back to claim her prize. Don rescues Charlie and then they fall in love, naturally.
I had picked out a place in the California mountains that gets a lot of heavy snow in winter. I even thought about throwing Sam and Dean in there, to make it even that much more interesting. I had all kinds of ideas, and had even planned a trip to the Sequoia National Forest outside of Bakersfield, and the tiny town of Idylwild just to make sure I got it right. I figured out how to get Sam and Dean and Charlie and Don all in the same spot at the same time. (That was the easy part; they’re both investigating the same thing, but are coming at it from different angles.)
Problem is, the more I thought about it, the more complex it got, and so weighty and cumbersome that I didn’t have the heart. The idea of a crossover was fun, and I even asked around as to what made a crossover work for most people, but it was the problem of slashing everybody in the story that made it too much work. Like, for example, if Sam is in love with Dean, then I would want to write it from Sam’s pov, right? But then I would miss out on the fun of watching from inside of Dean’s head as he is surly and obnoxious to Don.
Not to mention that I couldn’t figure out how to get Don and Charlie together; they’re not like Sam and Dean, they’re law abiding citizens and to get them to cross the incest line would take a huge amount of time and planning, and I just couldn’t do that to them. Or myself. But there the idea sat for a while, and I incorporated the seeds of that idea into this story, hopefully to good effect.
I did two things this year related directly to this story. First, I took a road trip with my sister and we travelled to Puxico, MO, where our ancestors are from. We took a billion pictures. Part of the bargain for my taking her there was that on the way back, we stopped in Mammoth Spring for lunch, which we did. We took a billion pictures there, as well. I’ve included a few in the story, but the touristy town that’s in my mind is a far cry from the empty, echoing little Podunk place that actually is. The water was as green as I remembered it, and all colors of green that the camera simply couldn’t capture. There are no weavers there (though there should be!), and unbelievably, no bars. Or at least none that I saw while in town, and none I could find on the interwebs. Believe it or not, the closest bar is in Thayer! But I couldn’t have Sam walking all that way in the dark, so I made up a bar, which kills me to no end.
The other thing was that I drove to Canadian over the 4th of July weekend. People warned me against going, Texas would be an oven they said. Would you believe it rained most the time and wasn’t very hot? It was a lovely little road trip and I saw other places along the way that might make for a good story; I think the realism of going to a place helps my writing and besides, it’s a great excuse for travelling.
At any rate, the first morning I was there, I trundled out to the intersection that Tom Hanks made famous in Castaway. I’d not known it at the time, but when I was researching for my road trip (I always overdo it), I found out that the intersection at the end of the movie is right outside of Canadian. It always makes me wonder how the location people know just the right place to make an impactful shot like that. It was a lovely lonely place.
I took pictures all over town, and had hoped to eat at The Bucket and The Railroad Bar and Grill because they are real places and I wanted to do it right. But alas, based on the fact that it was a holiday weekend, all the places either closed at weird hours or weren’t open at all. I only managed to go to some local steak house that served bread from The Bucket, but overall, I ate at Dairy Queen, which just made me want to scream. And, just sos you know, I tried to go to the River Valley Pioneer Museum because I figured Sam would go there. And lo, the place was closed for the holiday. I jiggled the handle and stomped my feet and in the end, went back to my hotel room at the Canadian Courts and pouted for a bit. Then I found the flyer for The Citadell, and off I went because I was desperate for something to be open.
Let me tell you about The Citadelle, and not what you can read at the website, either. It’s a real place. It’s all true, every word, though it seems like it stepped right out of an episode of Real People or That’s Incredible or something. Swear to god, it happened just as I described it. I was given something that looked like a portable phone and a pair of white gloves, and I was allowed to roam freely all over this house that was made over from a church. And there was tons of art. TONS. Plus, I liked the excuse it gave me to have Dean do something very nice for Sam.
First thing I noticed was the hideous carpet. The lady of the house designed it and then hired some local women to weave the pattern into the rug. The flowers are bright yellow and green and red against blazing white shag and just. No. Ug. Please go away. It was the ugliest rug I’d ever seen. And hanging not very far away were the church panels. They might have been from the 12th century, I can’t be certain. And next to that was a 16th century gold gilded mirror and the painting of the three guys doing a plien chant, and then a dresser, some old German piano, and on and on and on…the art was a total jumble. The rug was just an unhappy accident amidst all that creativity.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Everything was labeled, and yes, you could look at the number next to most things and get Mrs. Abrahams telling you all about it with this sweet little southern voice. There were three church sized stories to look at and enough real estate to warrant around five bathrooms (all of which were done in tile from some country that they’d travelled to.) The whole place was climate controlled, and, I’ll warrant, the security was top notch. If I’d touched anything, I’m sure the sirens would have gone off.
But really, the problem was that the organization of the art made no sense. There was no arranging by era or style or anything like a museum. Okay, you say, but this was someone’s house, couldn’t they arrange it as they liked? This is true, but if you’re going to turn it into a museum, at least try to make it make some sense! There were a couple of paintings that blew me away, like the original Norman Rockwell Mr. Abraham’s was sold while walking down some street in New York with only $5 in his pocket. If he was that poor, how could he afford this? I could never figure it out. I guess he was a doctor, but honestly, I think the owners had more money than sense. They bought everything they liked, whether it had value or not, and it seems like they’re trying to raise the cultural bar in a town that is resisting with all its might. Trouble is, some of the art is just junk, and some of it’s priceless, and all of it is shoved onto any bare wall that’s available.
I especially liked the little story I read on one of the placards about how one morning the heat was on, and one of the boys (they had three, and they all slept in what was known as the boys’ dormitory part of the house) remarked, “If the heat’s on, it must be Christmas!” So, okay, here’s a couple of folks that can buy an entire city block and travel around the world and buy anything that even remotely resembles art, but they can’t turn the heat on in the boys’ bedroom? It made me wonder how far the idea of not letting the boys sleep in a warm room went. As in, hello, if you make your boys sleep cold, do they have to run laps barefoot in the snow before being allowed to eat their thin bowls of gruel? Not that this has anything to do with my big bang story, but it was weird and I wanted to share that.
Here's a link to their website, and on the main page you can catch a glimpse of that ghastly rug:http://www.thecitadelle.org/mansion/
One of my favorite parts of writing is what I call “getting it right.” That’s when I write a scene and then do the research and find out that I got it right. I got the details, the shading, the nuances, the schedule, the layout, whatever. I got it right.
I had driven through Canadian in 2007 and remembered the pecan trees and the little curve in the road, and the fact that there was this amazing bridge. That in fact, there were three bridges, the highway one, and the trestle one, and then the one for the railway. What town, I wondered as I drove up highway 83, would need three bridges? And such a little town, too. (Turns out the trestle bridge used to be the main bridge, and was almost torn down before someone felt it would make the basis for a nice park/walkway over the river, which it does.)
So, when I wrote the scene where Sam and Dean go after the ghost, I wrote it from memory, and figured that there would be a dirt road that led to the river, and barbed wire of some type in the fields. When I went back in 2010, I found exactly what I had written: a dirt road that parallels the highway bridge and leads to the river, and barbed wire that follows the road and that would intersect Sam and Dean’s path as they took a shortcut back to the car. Okay, I remembered it being grass (it had been November after all) and not any bushes, but there are bushes and barbed wire and cows, and overall, I was well pleased. I didn’t follow the dirt road all the way to the riverbank, partly because I didn’t think my car could make it over the deep ruts. But I’m pretty sure I could have walked it had I someone with me.
I don’t even mind “getting it wrong” if in getting it wrong and making a change means that the story is better than it was in the first place. For one, there are no boarding houses (that I could see) in Canadian. Most of the houses are single level, or just not the type that you could have rooms to let. There was one apartment house, which I jumped on and took pictures of; it’s the seediest place in town and the folks hanging out in stairwells or on the sidewalk looked at me like I was the devil. I figured that poor Edgar might live in a place like that, and I really liked the idea of him surrounded by happy pictures and his mean cat and then Betty coming over to feed him.
For another, there’s Virginia. She started out being a saloon girl, and she worked at some place called The Wash. Alas, there are no saloons or bars in Canadian. I’d be willing to be corrected, but I think that it was in a dry county. Seriously, no bars, and believe me, I drove around and around, and I couldn’t even find a building that I could pretend was The Wash. Plus, when I got home, and started looking for three women dressed like saloon girls, I couldn’t find them. Yes, I found flappers, but none looked like I wanted them too, they were always in groups of two or seven, etc.
Then I came upon the picture of the four women lifting their skirts on their homemade dresses, trying to be fashionable, where the date says 1926. I looked at that picture and realized that Virginia wasn’t a saloon girl, she was just a regular girl, and what happened to her was horrible. I revised the scene from being about three girls with too much dark makeup and dresses with fringes on them, to what you read in the story, four regular girls in homemade dresses playing around for the camera. I think my lack of ability in finding my flapper girl, which forced me to create a real, non-cliché girl, made the story warmer and more believable somehow. And I made up the part about Canadian being an oil well town, but then it turned out it had been, so that was pretty nice.
Then there’s Jack’s Grill. Jack’s Grill and its great breakfast exists only in my head. I wish it weren’t true but it is. I made up the name and just flew with it. But then, when I was finishing up the story, I went on the internet, and of course, there are plenty of places named Jack’s Grill. I was lucky enough to find pictures of one that exists in California, and naturally, the place is notorious and a diner type establishment, so this makes me glad. (Also, the biscuits and gravy description is from a real meal I had once, entirely by accident. I was on my way through Limon, headed to Lamar, and had the best biscuits and gravy. EVAR. Sadly, the place doesn’t exist anymore. It’s been paved over by a Flying J café.)
Speaking of Jack’s Grill, lets talk about food for a minute. Anyone who’s read my stuff knows there’s food in my stories. In this story, there’s LOTs of food, lots and lots of it, and lengthy descriptions of both good food and bad. I’ve had several betas (my beloved amothea among them) tell me that reading about food is boring and I should consider taking it down a notch. Well I’m a foodie, so I can’t do that.
To me, food is integral to who a person is. The kind of food you like and dislike tells me something about you, and it tells me something about the characters I write about. If you think wine with dinner is a sin, and you won’t put a little butter on that delicious hot roll that just came out of the oven, then I don’t think I want to have dinner with you. If you don’t like gravies or sauces on your meat or your noodles, I don’t think I even want to know you. If you can’t understand why hot buttered popcorn is God’s gift to us and why beer is God’s proof that he loves us and wants us to be happy, then just go away.
More importantly, if you’ve ever been on a road trip, you’ll know how integral eating at these little roadside eateries is to the trip. Stopping to eat breaks up the long stretches of driving, moreover, it gives you a taste, so to speak, as to how the locals live. That is, if you’re adventuresome and think it’s fun to go to some place you’ve never heard of rather than a chain restaurant that you have. At any rate, Show indicates through many many scenes that Sam and Dean eat at these little places, and there are so many scenes where Sam and Dean are eating and drinking and why not. They’re growing boys. They love to eat. Hence, the food scenes.
Overall, I think that’s it. What did I learn? Not to try and rework something from three years ago. Start fresh with something new. Draw on the older writing, but don’t try to fit into the way you write now.
Also, after writing Blue Skies, I feel I already had Sam and Dean fall in love in the most realistic way possible for me. I mean, if you look at my pattern, I have two or three slashy stories for every fandom I’ve been in, and that’s it. I can make ‘em fall in love once or twice, but after that, they’re in LOVE! And I can’t make it happen again, just for yucks. Of course, I love reading about first time stories over and over and over again, but I can’t write them. When I’m done, I’m done. Not to say that I can’t keep writing about the characters, I’m planning on continuing the Sparta verse stories, and beating Sam till he can’t stand. But that’s different, because each story in that verse builds on the one before it. I did the same thing in Dark Shadows, because beatings lead to beatings, because I like building on that kind of misery. Happy endings? Of a sort. : D
Lastly, there is what the story is about, which took me the longest time to figure out. On the surface, the story is about Sam and Dean and getting them in bed because nothing is more important, right? But it’s also about going on a roadtrip with your brother, and falling in love along the way. It’s about the food you eat, and the maps you follow. It’s about saving people and hunting things.
But I couldn’t figure out what the theme was, what I was trying to say. Well, about three months ago, I was reading through what I had written, and I came to the part where Dean loses the scissors, and where his boots get ruined. And it occurred to me that I kept mentioning the things that Sam and Dean worked with, the shovels and cans of gas, the clothes they wore, the books in Sam’s case, the laptop, the maps, Dad’s Journal. All of it. Hmmm, I thought to myself, it’s about things. The things they carry with them. Hence the title.
Then, about two months ago, I was doing a more careful read through (in preparation for a revision), and came upon the text I’d written in 2007, several years ago. In it, Sam remarks to himself that there are some things, like memories, that Dean never leaves behind. At the time, I was struggling with the end, and how the drama would play out when Dean rescues Sam in the cave. And I realized that even if Sam felt Dean was going to leave him there, Dean wouldn’t. I’d already pointed it out, and Sam already knew it (really) but it needed saying. Which got me to the end, where Sam says what he does, and Dean delivers his chick-flick line about not leaving the most valuable thing in his world behind. Scissors and boots be damned, as long as he has Sam, right? I love how these things work out, because of course the point of it all is not the things we carry with us, but the people we travel with.
(The main picture for the title, incidentally, is from the 1978 blizzard somewhere in the country. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest, because I’m sure the car is an Impala. I dare anyone to prove me wrong!)
And here's a picture of the very pretty road that leads up Highway 40 into Canadian, TX. I couldn't really find a place for it in the story.
And here's the map of the Salt and Burn:Master Fic Post