**On Bent Road, a battered red truck cruises ominously along the prairie; a lonely little girl dresses in her dead aunt’s clothes; a boy hefts his father’s rifle in search of a target; a mother realizes she no longer knows how to protect her children. It is a place where people learn: Sometimes killing is the kindest way.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I have no idea, though I’ve really tried to remember, when the moment was that I decided I was a writer. I had an English teacher in high school, Mr. Thornburg, who taught me about Shakespeare and the wonders of analytical thought, and once gave me an A for a paper comparing The Faerie Queen with Out of the Silent Planet. I do remember that.
I remember, as a semi-grown-up, maybe age 22, writing a story for Rolling Stone about Susan Ford’s prom at the White House. I remember seeing that in print, and staring at the page in wonder.
I remember when I finished Prime Time. I typed ‘The End” and burst into tears.
Lori Roy, though, does have an idea when she began. She’s come a long way since then—and now her first novel, the lyrical and moving BENT ROAD, is an Edgar nominee. Something must have gone right.
Grab a cup of tea or coffee, and maybe curl up in a chair. And listen, for a moment or two, as Lori remembers—it all began on a
Brother flips on the radio and rolls the dial until a familiar voice speaks to us. I stand in mismatched socks and faded flannel pajamas, a patchwork quilt wrapped around my shoulders. When the heater clicks on, I shuffle a few steps until I stand over the floor vent. My quilt traps the warm air that begins to flow. Brother gives me a shove because no fair hogging all the hot air.
In the kitchen, Mother pulls a skillet from the shelf over the oven and fishes a spatula from the utensil drawer. The announcer begins to read from his list. We shout for Mother to please be quiet because we can’t hear the radio. USD 320…that’s Wamego. USD 475…that’s Junction City. Brother pounds both hands on the table, one on either side of the radio. Come on USD 383. Come on USD 383. I slide one foot after the other until I again stand over the vent, trap all the hot air and close my eyes. Silently, only mouthing the words, I say the same as Brother. Come on USD 383.
The announcer says, “USD 383.” It’s official. Our school district is closed for the day.
Brother gives the table one last smack, runs for his room and his mattress springs creak as he dives back into bed. I join Mother in the kitchen and sit at the table while she scrambles half dozen eggs. She’ll add ham and cheese before she’s done. Outside, the drifts have piled up against our front door and the plows haven’t yet reached our street. A lone set of tire tracks cuts through the fresh snow. At the end of May, when we should be getting out of school for summer break, we’ll have to make up this day, but for today, it’s a snow-day. No school.
Unlike Brother, I don’t want to go back to bed. I am awake, wide awake. Too windy to play outside. Maybe later if the snow stops, but it’s too cold for good snowballs. The snow won’t stick. So, instead, I’ll write a book. I have the whole day. How long could it take? How hard could it be?
This time, I sit alongside the vent in the floor, again trap the warm air with my quilt and tap a number two pencil on the tablet Mother found for me. I keep tapping, and while I can’t think of anything to write, I do see a picture in my mind. A boy. He’s thirteen or fourteen—about my brother’s age. He’s sitting on the ground, leaning against a tree. He’s lonely, I think. I don’t know who he is, what has happened to him or what will happen to him, but my novel is definitely about this boy.
I ask Mother if she has any cardboard. She tells me no, but she does have a small shirt box—a leftover from Christmas morning. Perfect. It’s thick like a novel would be. I fetch a box of Crayolas from my room, return to my spot over the vent, and design and color my novel’s cover art. It’s a picture of the lonely boy leaning against a tree with no leaves. I’m no good at drawing the leaves.
In the year since my first novel—BENT ROAD—came out, I am often asked when I started writing. This is the story I tell in answer to that question. I wasn’t disciplined in those days and never made it past designing the novel’s cover. In truth, I wasn’t disciplined enough until I hit my thirties.
So perhaps I should say that’s when I started writing.
For about ten years, I wrote every day. I gathered rejection slips for unwanted short stories, attended a few writers’ conferences, met some great writer-friends, won a small award here and there, gathered more rejections slips and finally wrote and sold BENT ROAD. And while the novel I started on that snow-day back in the mid 70s never made it beyond a hastily colored shirt box, I’d like to believe the young boy I envisioned did find his way into print. He is Daniel Scott, one of my point-of-view characters in BENT ROAD.
Given this, I will continue to say I first became a writer on that snow-day when I was eight-years-old.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ah. I'm reading Bent Road right now, and it's absolutely original--you can tell, from this essay alone, how special it is. So, Reds—if you write, when did that happen? If you read, when did you realize how important it was to you? A copy of BENT ROAD to one lucky commenter!
Lori Roy was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas where she graduated from Kansas State University. Before beginning her writing career, Lori worked as a tax accountant in the public sector and later for Hallmark Cards. Bent Road, Lori's first novel, was named a 2011 New York Times Notable Crime Book and has been nominated for the Book-of-the-Month Club First Fiction Award and the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. Additionally, BENT ROAD was named One of the Best for 2011 by the Library Journal and one of the top 100 books for 2011 by the Kansas City Star. Lori currently lives with her family in west central Florida.