Something Wicked welcomes the uber talented Valerie Bowman, author of Regency-set historicals that Publishers Weekly calls, "enchanting and engaging." We just call them fun and witty. She's giving away a copy of her new book, Secrets of a Wedding Night today on Something Wicked!
The Time I Almost Killed a Guy with my Luggage: A Lesson in Simplifying Things
I think we’d all agree that the characters are one of the most important parts of a story. Some would argue they’re the most important in fact. Picking out personality traits and building a character from the ground up is a large part of any good storyteller’s job.
When I began writing my debut historical romance novel, Secrets of a Wedding Night, character was extremely important to me. One thing I decided early on was that I wanted my heroine, Lily Andrews, to be “down-to-earth.”
Someone recently asked me what type of character Lily is. I said, “You know, she’s the type of woman who wouldn’t kill a guy with her luggage.”
Hmm. I realized that particular statement needed a bit o’ explanation.
When I was seventeen years old, I went away to Brown University for the summer for a three-week-long creative writing course. It was my first extended trip away from home and to a seventeen-year-old (at least the kind of seventeen-year-old I was) three weeks seemed like a lifetime. I was convinced I needed to bring with me the entire contents of my bedroom. I’d make friends, after all, and of course they’d want to see my photo albums, wouldn’t they? Plus, I couldn’t go three whole weeks without my favorite blanket. And it went without saying that I’d need a change of clothing for every five minutes.
My mom—who isn’t exactly a light packer herself—promptly went out and bought me the biggest suitcase in the world. Yes, my middle name is hyperbole, BUT this thing was B-I-G! Let’s just say I could fit in it myself barely curling up (full disclosure: I’m 5’2” but STILL!) It was an old-fashioned black nylon rectangle sort of thing with a tiny handle and it came with a set of plastic black wheels. (Note: This was before the days o’ ubiquitous vertical rolling luggage.)
Delighted with my new suitcase’s sheer girth, I happily set about loading every single piece of clothing I possessed and a good quarter of the contents of my bedroom into The Suitcase That Ate New York.
When the day arrived for my flight to Providence, my mom and stepfather drove me to the airport, unloaded me and GS (that’s short for giant suitcase) and waved goodbye. And there I was, on my way to independence, just like the college student I would be merely one year later. Hooray!
It wasn’t until hours later, when I arrived in Rhode Island and stood waiting at the carousel for GS, that I had an awful realization. How the heck was I supposed to carry this monstrosity by MYSELF?! My stepfather had handled lugging Godzilla Suitcase (hey, still GS!) when I’d been in Illinois, but now here I was faced with its awesome size and weight all alone.
I saw GS as soon as it barely cleared the plastic flaps of the luggage carousel. It loomed large, blocking out the sun (ok, that part is sheer hyperbole), and with every passing second, my anxiety grew…how was I going to get King Kong’s suitcase to the curb and the car service supposedly waiting for me there?
My palms sweaty, my heart beating fast, I waited for GS to slide closer…closer. There was no help for it. I was just going to have to put every bit of my (at the time) 100 pounds o’ weight into this effort. I squared my shoulders, braced my feet, and grabbed the handle with both fists. I pulled on that sucker as if my life depended on it. (And for a seventeen-year-old who doesn’t want to be embarrassed in public, it sure felt as if my life DID depend on it.)
The GS nearly jerked my arms off, but somehow I managed to get it off of the carousel and (using every ounce of strength I possessed) pulled the colossus about five toward the exit.
And that’s when the wheels cracked and flew off.
Oh, shame and mortification!
Luckily, two men standing nearby took pity on me and helped me wrangle the embarrassment that was the GS out to the curb where the car service employee thankfully took over.
All right, so flash forward three weeks. The morning I was about to leave to return home (I had a fantastic time by the way, learned a lot and made great friends) I’d gotten all of my worldly goods back into GS and somehow (I think praying and a lump of sugar were involved) got the thing zipped up. Next, I needed to find a way to get Ginormo across campus to the spot where the car service was set to meet me.
Now, if you’ve ever been to the Brown University campus you know that it’s a little…hilly. That’s actually a kind way to put it. For a girl who’d come from the flatlands of cornfield country, the campus seemed like it was on the top of a mountain. So not only did I have to get the biggest suitcase in the universe across campus, I had to traverse some rather steep terrain along the way.
I was sitting in my room, contemplating my dilemma, alternately staring and cursing at GS, when one of my new friends happened by with her dad. She lived within driving distance of the campus. “Hey, Valerie, do you need any help?” she asked unwittingly.
Do I need help?! Oh boy, do I!
Dear Reader, I shall spare you the gory details, but let’s just say my friend’s dad was a rather heavy-set fellow and by the time the poor man lugged GS across campus, he was an extremely unhealthy shade of purple (I’ll call it rutabaga), sweat was streaming down his face, neck, and back, and he was breathing so heavily, I was wondering which building I should race into to call 911 (also before cell phones).
He immediately sat down on a nearby bench and wiped his brow with a tissue, desperately trying to regain his breath. He looked ill. His daughter looked frightened. And even though he assured me he’d be fine and he hadn’t minded helping me in the least, I was completely mortified! I wanted to sink into a hole in the earth.
The car service came soon after and I profusely thanked the nice father and daughter team who’d almost met with doom that morning and quickly jumped into the backseat, waved goodbye, and winced, hoping to high heaven I’d never see them again. I could just picture the girl’s mother saying, “Who’s on the phone, dear?” “Oh, you know, Valerie Bowman. The girl from Brown who almost killed dad.”
I honestly cannot recall the details of how I got GS into the airport. I’m sure some poor soul must have helped me. I can’t be sure. All that remains burned into my memory is the visage of the man I nearly murdered with my luggage and the overwhelming, bone-deep conviction that I would never, ever overpack again. Ever. Never. Ever. I would not put myself in such an uncomfortable, embarrassing, helpless situation again.
It’s been many years since that fateful day. Cells phones were invented and luggage now comes with really useful telescoping handles and sturdy wheels, but I’m pleased to report that I’m now known among my family and friends as the lightest packer EVER. I pride myself on the fact that I once went to Italy for ten whole days with nothing more than a carry-on. Woot!
Who knew a potential luggage crises could so mold a young lady? Yep, because of a traumatizing incident in my teens, I know how to pack light and that’s the type of person I like to think I am too. Simple, unfussy, easy-going. So when I create a character like Lily who would never kill a guy with her luggage, that’s exactly what I mean.
So tell me, are you a light packer or an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sort? One commenter will win a copy of Secrets of a Wedding Night!
Valerie has a degree in English Language and Literature from Smith College and lives in Jacksonville, FL with her rascally dog, Roo. You can find Valerie on the web at www.ValerieBowmanBooks.com and on Facebook and Twitter.