We’re so excited to have Sophie Littlefield stop by XOXO and tell us about the research she did for her new book THE MISSING PLACE. Not many people are willing to pick up and move to North Dakota in subzero temperatures with only an outline for a novel, but thats exactly what Sophie did! Enjoy her chilly anecdote and photos from the comfort of your warm home! THE MISSING PLACE is available Tuesday, October 14, 2014!
Black Gold & White Out
Traveling to North Dakota last year was the farthest afield I have ever gone in researching a book. I didn’t yet have a contract, much less a story outline—all I knew was that I wanted to see how the people of our nation’s oil boom lived and worked. I was certain that the seeds of many stories waited for me, but it was still a gamble. So when my tiny plane touched down, bumped, heaved, and finally taxied in the small town of Williston on a sub-zero morning in January of 2013, my fingers were crossed and I was full of more than a little trepidation.
If you’ve been in any of the hundreds of tiny public airports in our country, you’re probably already familiar with the felt-board schedule, the shuttered car rental counter, the vending machine with only a few lonely packets of peanut butter cheese crackers left, and the pervasive scent of burnt coffee.
But you may never have seen a sight like the airport parking lot. Huge banks of snow—taller than me—were evidence of last week’s storm; this week’s storm was just starting as I searched for my rental car. I was lucky to get any car at all, but they certainly didn’t bend over backwards in the customer service department: there were no signs letting me know if I might be close; no one had scraped or brushed the snow off, so the cars all looked like identical snow-capped lumps; and while it’s understandable that a wash wasn’t possible in the subzero temps, no one had bothered to dust, vacuum, or even discard the fast food wrappers from the previous driver.
That, however, was the last time I was disappointed by any of the local merchants or service providers or public servants. Everyone was helpful and polite, reminding me of why I love the nation’s midsection (and miss my home state of Missouri). As I slid and skidded along Williston’s main road without snow tires, praying and cursing and quite certain that when I inevitably wrecked it would be well deserved due to my own stupidity, I was passed by large pickups, massive pickups, and pickups so enormous and tricked-out that they seemed like movie props. Also flatbed trucks hauling all manner of equipment and supplies, construction vehicles, pump trucks and cement trucks and highway patrol vehicles. Mine was one of very few sedans on the road—and certainly the only one without chains or four-wheel-drive.
Check-in at the lodge where I was staying wasn’t until later in the day, so I stopped in at Wal-Mart. I’d read that it was the top-grossing Wal-Mart in the country, and I soon learned why: not only could you buy everything you needed to get by, but you could also get your glasses made, your portrait taken, your nails done, your hair cut, and—at least with the checkout clerk who helped me–a blessing on your way out.
Anticipating down-time in my room that never materialized, because there was so much to see and learn, I bought a forty of Miller High Life (hey, I could chill it in my car!) and picked up the local apartment and real estate fliers, as well as the Auto Trader and the local papers. Back in my freezing car, I waited for the windows to defrost before heading back into the snow. I felt both intrepid and scared, but without even knowing it, I was already absorbing the landscape that would come to form the backdrop of THE MISSING PLACE.