(This is Lake Champlain, not Bear Lake. But it's a nice lake.)
The gentleman sitting next to me at dinner leaned back in his chair and said, “Bear Lake, huh? I was at Bear Lake the first time I saw someone drown.”
He’d been quiet all evening, listening to the rest of us telling stories, but when he spoke everyone else grew still. At that moment, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. And as he went on to tell the rest of the story, I knew I’d heard something magical, something that would become a story.
Bear Lake lies right on the border between Utah and Idaho. It’s ranch country, and a prime vacation destination for locals who like the great outdoors. My dinner companion had gone there every summer for camp, and that particular summer, one of the other campers was impossibly cool. Taller and more muscular, bolder and more handsome, he had the interest of all the girls and the envy of every boy.
He had a knack for skating around the edges of trouble, at least until that fateful afternoon. Someone dared him to swim out into the deeper part of the lake, and he couldn’t pass up the challenge. He started out . . . and then he went under.
When he surfaced, choking and waving, everyone assumed it was a prank. Then the water closed over his head, and he didn’t come back up. By the time anyone realized he wasn’t joking, it was too late.
At least, that’s the version my table neighbor told us. My writer brain was working overtime, though. I wondered if he felt guilty, for staying on the shore, or for disliking that perfect, ill-fated boy.
If you don’t think of yourself as a creative person, if you’ve ever wondered where we get our ideas, that moment is my favorite example. A year or so later, I wrote a short story called “Adrenaline Blue,” about rivalry, envy, and sleep deprivation, and it became one of the first stories I sold. It appeared in Hadrosaur Tales magazine many years ago. The main characters were sisters rather than acquaintances, but the core of emotion I sensed at dinner remained.
I’m hoping in 2016 I’ll have more of those moments, when stories grab me by the throat and shake me. I've missed that feeling. I'm looking for the magic again.