Thursday, March 26, 2015


Why is thrilling and spooky better without graphic blood and gore?

The best kind of scary is not explicit, but is left to the imagination.

            Achieving scary is more of an art, than a science, especially since what is scary to one may be just dumb to another.  In the author’s book of fright, broad rules with general applications are few and far between.  While most formulas for fear quickly lose potency with age and use, there is an old proverb that is always sound advice:  There is more scare in the anticipation, than in the revelation.
It is always what we don't know
that is scariest!
            When a threat is left to the imagination, we all tend to imagine the worst, meaning our own personal version of the worst, and scary is a personal affair.  Very early in childhood, we are all introduced to scary.  We know so little about the world in general, but we don’t lack for imagination.  It is actually a miracle that we don’t scare ourselves to death before we can grow up.
            We grow up by learning the rules that govern the real world.  Whether those rules are actually correct is not relevant.  What’s important is that rules define the world, giving us a false sense of stability and certainty.  As adults, we don’t need to use our imaginations.  We already know the rules of reality.  But, when we allow our imaginations to wander, we find that scary is still there.  Nothing has changed, not really.
            Scary is child’s play—it has always been child’s play.  Some of the scariest games are the ones we played as children.  In telling scary stories, we just have to remember how to play those games again.
            Slowly, I pushed the door open, straining to see into the bedroom without actually stepping in.  The door opened wide, all the way to the sliding closet doors behind it.  I could see that both closet doors were closed, so I knew there was nothing immediately behind the door I was pushing, but I had no idea what might be waiting in the closet.  The hallway lights were off, but there was still enough light behind me to cast a black pillar across the room and onto the far wall.  Nervously, I crouched to minimize my dark shadow, knowing there were hidden eyes watching me, waiting for my next move.
Watchers are watching!
            I could feel those eyes heavy upon me, drilling holes through me.  I couldn’t see the watchers, but I knew they could see me.  Each one waited for me to carelessly stray too close, where I would be easy prey.  It was mandatory that I see or hear each one first, before I came within reach.  The sense of doom was palpable.  So many times, I had tried.  So many times, I had failed.
Reaching carefully around the corner into the room, I flipped the light switch, hoping a light might come on, but nothing happened.  Though it was hopeless, I flipped the switch a couple more times, thinking it might elicit a reaction from someone in the room--still nothing.  Except for a dim lamp, stuffed under a red sheet in a far corner, the room was dark and hidden in heavy shadows--nothing moved.  A blanket hung across the outside window, blocking all daylight.  Another blanket hung from the non-working ceiling light across to one end of the window blind, completely hiding one corner of the room.
Evil can see in the dark
This was a new configuration.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Dropping down to hands and knees, I tried to see under the beds, but blankets on both beds hung all the way to the floor.  Hoping to see underneath, I flipped up a corner of the blanket on the bed by the door, but it was too dark to see anything.  Holding my breath, I listened for any sound that might betray a nearby watcher, but heard nothing.
The first move had to be mine.  Standing, I leaned into the room.  Piles of blankets and pillows covered the bed to my right.  I decided not to go that way--who knew what was under those piles.
Sliding into the room with my back against the closet door, I kept a hand on its handle to prevent anyone from sliding it open from inside.  I stepped quickly to the middle of the wall on the other side.  Back to the wall, facing out, I watched for any movement, listened for any noise.  I was now close enough to the second bed that with a quick step, I could hop on top.  This bed had no blankets or pillows on it that might be hiding someone--it looked safe.  I stepped forward, getting ready to jump, but a hand suddenly shot out from under the bed, grabbing my ankle.  I yelped in surprise as I stumbled and fell.  Already, they had me, and I hadn’t seen it coming.
In a sudden rush, the tension was released.  I was safe once more.  Of course, I had never really been in danger--it had just felt that way.  And that was the fun of our small haunted house.
This was a game invented by our cousins, Sandra and Steven, fraternal twins.  When they came to our house, there was usually something scary going on, and one of our favorite games was “Haunted House.”  Because the grownups didn’t want us ransacking the entire house, it was really just a haunted bedroom, but that was all we needed to create some serious haunting.
The rules of the game were simple.  One kid was sent away to wait in the front room while all the other kids turned a bedroom into a haunted house.  When someone in the haunted house yelled, “Ready,” the designated victim would try to find (see or hear) all the monsters hidden around the room before one of them could grab the victim by surprise.  Everyone enjoyed the mystery and suspense of being the victim.  It was a challenge trying to anticipate where all the monsters would be hidden.  Sometimes a monster would be put in an obvious place to distract the victim from another monster carefully hidden nearby.
We all enjoyed being monsters too.  It took a lot of creativity to not do the same thing every time--there was no mystery or suspense in repeatedly doing the same thing.  In addition, a good haunted house required more than just mystery and suspense.  In order to be really scary, a good haunted house, or a good horror story, needs one or both of the following:  (1) a grave threat from a hidden source of danger, and/or (2) a warping or distortion of something that is normally familiar and friendly.
The victim in a haunted house (or the reader of a horror story) must feel a personal threat (either to him or herself directly or to a significant other, like the story’s main character).  The more significant the danger, the scarier the threat, with life and death threats being among the scariest.  A good horror story creates a bond between the reader and the character at risk, so the threat will hang heavy over the reader as it hangs heavy over the character in the story.
One way to make a hidden danger feel eminent, or to increase the sense of alarm, is to create a sense of revulsion through a warping or distortion of the familiar.  Few things are more fascinating, and at the same time more scary, than something familiar, even mundane, that has been horribly warped or distorted to the point of being painfully repulsive.  Even without feeling a direct personal threat to oneself, or a significant other, an encounter with a repulsive distortion of the familiar can elicit gut wrenching feelings of disgust and fear.  This has been done successfully with clowns, birds and even mothers.
When it comes to scary, a subtle presentation of a hidden danger coupled with a distortion of the familiar will beat a stream of blood and gore every time and will keep your readers (victims) coming back again and again.  Though you will need to be creative in building the mystery and suspense anew in each new story (even each new chapter), your readers will love you for it.  Good haunting!  Good horror!

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Are Two Storytellers Better Than One?

A Co-Writer Can Help You Tell Your Story

Please don’t get me wrong.  My brother doesn’t need a keeper, though sometimes my wife says that I do, but if he did need a keeper, he has a bunch of sisters who would be happy to take the job.  We grew up in the Mojave Desert near Death Valley.  Our father was a dentist, who had a practice in Trona, California, a small mining town.  He was the only dentist in town.  As the good citizens of Trona mined the minerals of Searles Valley, Dad mined their teeth.
When Andy and I went off to college, we left the desert, thinking never to look back.  We thought we were done with Trona, but couldn’t have been more wrong.  For 35 years, I was a business lawyer for international commercial finance companies in Ohio, Michigan and Colorado.  For 25 years, Andy was a trial practice lawyer, working in Southern California.  We have kept our law licenses current, but are now writing fiction full time.  Though some say that’s what we did as lawyers, this is different.
As lawyers, we were always solving other people’s problems.  After we each moved to Colorado, we talked about starting a business together where we only had to solve our own problems.  We both have many years of formal writing experience, and we have always been storytellers, first to siblings and friends, then to our children, and now to our grandkids, so writing fiction made sense.
The Brothers Washburn
Louisville, Colorado
A few years ago, I started writing a young-adult science fiction series, so when Andy also tried his hand at writing fiction, it didn’t take long for us to come together as The Brothers Washburn on a young-adult horror series.  Scary stories are a family specialty.  The tale is set in Trona, California, which is a perfect setting for a horror series.
Growing up, Andy loved A Collection of Short Stories, by O. Henry.  Later, Stories Your Mother Never Told You, by Alfred Hitchcock, was a favorite.  As a teenager, he was fascinated with The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury.  For my part, I was always on the lookout for anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs and always searching for new sci-fi authors.  It is no surprise, then, that we are currently writing both a YA horror series as well as a separate YA sci-fi series.  We find that once we start telling a horror or sci-fi story, the bounds of the story are limited only by our own imaginations.
Trona is located in
Searles Valley
As brothers, we get along well and have healthy levels of mutual self-respect.  We can freely share ideas and challenge each other without worrying about egos.  We are more creative when bouncing ideas off each other and discussing a general storyline, but we actually write separately, and then confer later on what we have been doing.  Sometimes we disagree on specific wording, and there is some friendly give and take as we consider alternatives, but then we agree quickly on the final wording.  We both appreciate the different perspective and skills the other brings to the joint process.
In key ways, we are different in how we approach a story.  Andy was a planner (a habit from writing like an lawyer), but in fiction, he no longer plans ahead.  He likes to develop his characters, and let them take the story wherever it is going.  On the other hand, I am definitely still a planner.  I make lists and outlines, not only for a current story, but for future stories too.
Andy doesn’t like having people around him when he is writing, especially when he is creating new material.  Sometimes people just bug him.  When I’m writing, I have to organize my surrounding environment.  Once everything is in order, I can detach from the world and write.
If Andy hits a tough spot in the story development, it is usually because of outside distractions.  If he can get rid of distractions, he can keep writing.  If I hit a tough spot, I don’t try to force it.  I stop, leave the house, and pick up some fast food where I can watch people.  I come back refreshed and ready to move the story forward.  I find that fresh ideas come naturally when I’m eating--Chipotle is always good.
Background research is important to us both in two areas:  theoretical science and local Trona geography.  First, the Dimensions in Death series is an ongoing horror story based on principals of science rather than on demons, devils or magical creatures.  An understanding of extremes in scientific theory is necessary and fun.  But, this series is not science fiction with a few scary scenes.  It is horror and suspense in a fast-pace narrative with a little science, by way of explanation, sprinkled on for spice, as the truth is gradually discovered by our heroes in the story.
Second, the local geography in the story plays a critical role in setting the mood of the tale.  Trona, California is a real place in this world located in a desolate region of the Mojave Desert by Death Valley, and we try to keep the scene settings as real and correct as possible.
The general outline for the first book, Pitch Green, came together one evening in November of 2010.  We were attending a writer’s seminar in Manhattan, listening to panel discussions by top literary agents.  As we rode the subway from one end-of-the-line stop across town to the opposite end-of-the-line stop, and then back again, we mapped out the basic elements we would need to expand a favorite childhood, scary story into a full-length novel.
Andy wrote a first rough draft, and then I took it over to edit and expand the tale.  In writing the first book, the ground work was laid for both the sequels and prequels in that series.
In Pitch Green, we meet two teenagers, Camm and Cal, who are destined by their wit, pluck and luck (not always good) to become the balancing force in this world against predators that keep showing up around an old mansion, which is something more than just a mansion.
Our heroes must make a stand against the mansion’s guardian, any unearthly visitors who might want to come through the mansion in search of easy prey, and the forces of the U.S. Federal Government, who are using the mansion to access unlimited natural resources.  Camm is the brains; Cal is the muscle, and together they make a formidable team when they decide to work together.  They are joined by an FBI agent, Special Agent Linda Allen, who is smart, resourceful and not intimidated by either those who are using or those who are protecting the mansion and its secrets.
Hurled from one scene of horror to the next, the protagonists barely have time to catch their breaths, let alone to comprehend what is really happening.  They do not understand the nature of what they face.  Though their intentions are good, by the end of the first book, they have left a dimensional doorway wide open and unguarded.  Pitch Green is the opening act in a long and complex tale in which Camm, Cal and Agent Allen will be intrepid explorers in the dimensions in death.

            The Brothers Washburn Author links:

            Social Media:

            Book Dealers:    see:  Pitch Green  or  Mojave Green
            Kindle Editions & paperbacks available on
Barnes and Noble:
            Nook Books & paperbacks available on

Miscellaneous Dealers:    see:  Pitch Green  or  Mojave Green

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Creating Props with Character

The Right Props Help You Tell Your Story

            We’re still talking about drawing clear word pictures by setting the stage in your story with the right props.  The best props have their own character or personality.  So far, I’ve talked about the roles that the Bell Family pickup and my own dune buggy played in my youthful adventures in the desert and mountains between Trona, California and Death Valley.
            During the summer before my senior year in high school, my family moved from Trona to Ridgecrest, California, 25 miles away, but still deep in the Mojave Desert.  Dad said that after the summer ended, I could drive back to Trona each day during the school year to finish high school there and graduate from Trona High, but in the meantime, all my old haunts and friends were gone for the summer with only dry, mountainous desert stretching between us.  I was left with every teen’s worst nightmare, making a new group of friends.
            Ridgecrest had almost 20,000 people then and was ten times bigger than Trona.  Meeting new people there, I soon realized that new opportunities for adventure had opened up.  As I shared stories of my Trona adventures with my new Ridgecrest friends, I wondered what we could do in the nearby China Lake area.  China Lake is a dry lake bed located in a Naval weapons testing zone, so we couldn’t actually go there, but there is lots of desert around it, open to the public and just begging to be explored.
Ford Truck by creativauy
            I knew we’d think of something, and an idea was born one blistering-hot, summer afternoon.  Sweat painted thick, dark marks on my T-shirt as I dug a trench through cement-hard Mojave Desert caliche, hiding under a thin layer of sandy topsoil.  A new friend, Barry Edwards, and I had gotten summer jobs with a local landscaper.  Digging trenches for sprinkler systems was back-breaking work, but the hourly pay was good.
            The solution to our hunger for adventure came in the form of Barry’s old pickup truck.
            That day, as we chipped our way down the trench, one of the other workers cocked his head at Barry’s 1950-something Ford pickup.  “You know, if you’re truck is the right year, the axle width is the same width as the railroad tracks.  As long as you don’t try to steer, you can drive that truck on the rails.”
            That was it.  I looked at Barry.  “We should see if your truck fits.”  He smiled.
            Our workday started around 4 am to beat the heat and often ended around 3 or 4 pm. After work, we had the afternoon free, so we drove out into the desert on a dirt road that led to an isolated railroad crossing.  We didn’t want anyone watching, and this dirt crossing sloped gradually away from the tracks.
            I jumped out, directing as Barry maneuvered the truck back and forth in the intersection until it was perpendicular to the road, heading in the same direction as the rails.  With both hands waving, I guided him, shouting, “This way.  Now that way a little, good, good ... come straight,” until all four tires had rolled onto the tracks.  The middle of each tire sat perfectly on the middle of a rail.  Success!
            Hopping inside, I said, “Remember, we’re on rails now.  You can’t steer or you’ll drive us off the tracks.”  Barry nodded, holding both hands up, off the steering wheel.  Slowly, he pushed on the gas pedal until we were going about 20 miles an hour along the tracks.  The ride was so smooth, like gliding on air.  The tracks curved gradually, and then started up a hill.  We exchanged looks as the truck started to slow, but with more gas, we purred up that hill like the truck was flying.  The feeling was exhilarating.
            We were literally on a roll, and eventually got the truck up to 55 mph!  We didn’t dare go much faster for fear we’d jump the rails, so we just cruised along, windows rolled down, radio blasting, scrolling the wind with our hands and watching the jack rabbits jump out of the desert bushes that covered both sides of the ten-foot-high berm that formed the foundation of the rail bed.
            Barry peered through the windshield, then pointed ahead.  We could see the faint trace of another dirt road cutting across the line of our tracks--another railroad crossing.  We worried the tires might pop off the rails inside the intersection, but we sailed through no problem.  By the time the next intersection loomed in the distance, however, we decided we didn’t want to push our luck any further.
            “Better get the speed down if we’re getting off,” Barry said, taking his foot off the gas, letting us coast.  The brakes on Barry’s truck pulled to one side, so we didn’t dare brake.  At the next crossing we were going slow, so with a touch of the brake, Barry slipped us off the rails onto the dirt road.
            Next day at work, we both agreed, “Let’s do it again!”  We spent the rest of the workday talking about ways to upgrade our rail-riding experience.
            That afternoon, with just a couple quick stops along the way for supplies, we were back at our favorite isolated railroad crossing.  Once we were rolling along the tracks again, we positioned a large, flat rock against the gas pedal with one end lying on the driveshaft hump in the middle of the truck and the other end resting on the floor below the pedal.  By scooting the rock up or back against the gas pedal, we could steady the gas flow until we had leveled our speed out at about 35 to 40 mph.
            We then scrambled out the side windows, climbing along the slick metal to sit on top of the cab.  Our legs dangled down onto the windshield as we ate our picnic of Hostess pies and soda pop.  We had our .22 rifles loaded and in hand for the shooting gallery.  We hadn’t forgotten those jack rabbits.
Train Tunnel by adamr
            The breeze swept our hair back and the whole Mojave Desert stretched out on every side.  With no one working the gas, the pickup slowed down when we climbed hills and gained speed on the downward side, but otherwise drove itself.  After cruising and shooting at jack rabbits for half an hour or so, we noticed a tunnel looming up ahead.  Not thinking much about it, we rode inside.  Pitch blackness enveloped us.
            “Uh, I think we need lights,” Barry said, and inched over to climb carefully down into the cab and switch on the headlights.  Deep black stretched beyond the reach of our light beams with no end in sight.
            “So what happens if we see a train coming?” Barry asked.
            I shook my head in the dimness.  “Depends on which way the train is going, but there’s no way for us to get off the rails in here.”
            For a mile or more we rode through the tunnel, eyes and ears alert for the stabbing light and clicking sound of rails that would signal an approaching train.  Relieved, we finally saw the approaching daylight at the end of the tunnel.  Once we had barreled out into the open again, we agreed, “That was dumb.  We should check the train schedules before going through a tunnel.”
            Back in town, Barry got to work, talking with people, who worked for the railroad, getting an idea of who used the tracks and when.  Not a fail-proof plan, but good enough for our purposes.
            Our next question was, “Who do we want to invite along on the next trip?”
            We tried out several friends, and first responses were always the same.  “Are you kidding?”
            “No, we ride the rails.  It’s great.  Bring your .22 and chips or pop.  We’ll bring Hostess pies.”
            A slow smile would come with belief, telling us we had made another convert.  Not all wanted to brave the slippery path onto the cab, choosing instead to slide out the door and climb around into the back bed.  Either way, everyone enjoyed the ride, eating and shooting.  We traveled for miles with no one in the cab, no one driving.  The tunnel was always a thriller.  Fortunately, we never saw a train.
            The large, flat rock stayed permanently in Barry’s truck that summer—always ready anytime we wanted to put the truck into auto-pilot.  I don’t know when he finally threw it out, but I wish now we had thought to keep it.  After all, that rock was a special kind of prop, a non-standard part of the truck.
            Thanks to Barry’s Ford, with the right wheel gauge, I made friends in Ridgecrest that summer.
            In the Fall, my new friends went back to Burroughs High School in Ridgecrest, and I went back to Trona High, but we stayed in touch.  I saw my new friends on weekends.  At the time, I was not aware of any rivalry between the two high schools.  They were in completely different worlds.  Trona was in a totally different league, too small to even show up as a blip on the Burroughs’ radar screen.
            To this day, I still have family and friends in Ridgecrest and Trona.  I go back to visit as often as possible, and as I drive along U.S. Route 395, I look over at the railroad tracks and think of the carefree hours spent perched on the outside of a driverless truck, just cruising, talking, shooting, munching, and ridin' the rails.
            It didn’t get better than that.

Friday, March 6, 2015


Setting The Stage

Drawing a Picture With Words

            From the beginning of my writing career, my wife Carolyn has been my working editor.  She pulls no punches and helps with so many things, like not switching character point of view, not losing reader momentum in backstory or subplot tangents, focusing the direction of character dialogue, and clearly setting the stage for key story events.  She is also good at reducing and simplifying my sentence and paragraph structures.
            She has always loved theater and thinks in terms of what the set (background, scenery and props) should look like.  Properly staging the story in crisp, clean wording helps the reader form a complete mental picture of what is happening, which keeps the reader oriented and engaged.
            Using the right props can make or break a key story event.  In addition, a good prop can be woven into the story to tie together a chain of events or people.  Certain props can even have their own character, almost a personality.  My first car was just a stripped-down dune buggy, an engine on a frame, but it still had lots of character, which contributed to the success of many of my teenage adventures.
            I got my first car because of someone else’s Christmas gift.  Gerald Rana and I played on the football team together throughout high school.  He was a hard-charging full back; I was a center.  One year, Gerald’s neighbor got an arc welding kit for Christmas and that very day, the neighbor pushed an old Pontiac into his front yard.
"Pontiac Straight-8" by User Bill Wrigley on en.wikipedia.
 Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
A straight-8 engine in a still intact Pontiac.
            No one worried about the lawn; Trona had no lawns.  The alkaline soil killed any grass (and even most weeds) that tried to grow there.  With no lawn to worry about, the neighbor decided to use the space in front of his house to turn an old car (with a great engine) into a dune buggy.
            Cutting arc in hand, the neighbor dove in and stripped off the car body, even removing the dash board with all its gauges. Then he sliced right through the middle of the car, drive shaft and all, so that the car lay in two separate pieces.  Cutting all the way through the car again, but now just in front of the rear wheel assembly, he hauled the whole middle section of the car away to the dump.
dimasobko/123rf Stock Photo
Arc Welding a Steel Frame.
            He was energized!  Work continued for days in every spare moment.  He welded together the front and rear pieces of both the drive shaft and frame.  The car was now less than half its original length.
            The straight-8 engine, with its eight pistons in a row, took up half the length of the buggy.  Behind the engine on the shortened frame was just a bench seat with a gas tank tucked behind that.  The car ended there.  With no real weight to pull, that straight-8 knew no bounds.
            The next step in the plan was to weld on roll bars and side supports, but Gerald’s neighbor ran out of steam at that point.  The project sat idle for weeks.  All along, Gerald had been observing the project next door with interest, so one day his neighbor called him over.
            “Hey, Gerald.  You like this dune buggy?”
            “Sure,” Gerald said.  “It’s going to be great.”
            His neighbor chewed his lip.  “I think I’m done.  My wife is tired of this project and keeps reminding me that I’ve got other things I should be working on.”  He raised his eyebrows at Gerald.  “If you want it, I’ll sell you this buggy ‘as is’ for just my out-of-pocket costs.”
            “Yea?  How much you talkin’?”
            “Fourteen dollars.”
            While you couldn’t beat the price, I think Gerald realized there were going to be ongoing costs of upkeep, and it would be good to have a partner sharing those costs.  There were a number of guys he could have partnered with, but he chose me, and the next day in school, he approached me with a proposition.  He would let me in on the deal as a 50% owner if I paid half the price to his neighbor.
            This sounded like a sweet deal to me.  I was 14 or 15 years old at the time and crazy about cars.  Though I didn’t have a driver’s license yet, I had been driving (mostly off road) for some time.  The buggy had no lights or plates or anything else that was required by law for street use, but it was after all, just a dune buggy intended only for off-road use.  I figured I could sell the concept to my Dad on that basis.
            Early the next morning, when no one else was around, I approached Dad as he ate a solitary breakfast at the kitchen-bar counter.  “Hey, Dad.  Gerald Rana’s neighbor has a dune buggy for sale.  Gerald and I want to go in on it 50/50.  Can I buy half?”
            Dad looked at me closely as he chewed another bite.  I could see dollar signs flashing in his eyes and knew he was wondering how many hundreds of dollars this was going to cost him.
            “It won’t cost much,” I said encouragingly.
            Dad smiled and shook his head.  “How much?”
            “Fourteen bucks is the total cost.  If I pay seven dollars, I’ll be half owner.”
             Surprise flitted across his face, and he stopped chewing.  Then his grin widened.  I was prepared with a list of logical reasons why this purchase would make good sense, but without another question, he stood up, pulled his billfold out of his pants pocket and peeled off a five dollar bill and two ones.
            Handing the money to me he said, “Here you go.  Just don’t kill yourself.”
            I had a dune buggy (half a dune buggy), but to us, it was a car.  We couldn’t drive it much at night, without using flashlights, or drive it to school, but otherwise it had many practical uses.  Since the County Sherriff only came through Trona on Thursdays, most of the time we drove it all over town.
            It was an educational purchase as well.  I learned a lot about auto repair.  Whenever anything went wrong, we’d drive out to the city dump and rummage around in the abandoned cars for a new part.  We didn’t care if it came from a Pontiac or not.  We could make just about any part from any other make or model work in our Pontiac.  Once, the starter motor went bad.  We found one that didn’t look too corroded in a Ford and drilled new holes in the frame to make it fit into our Pontiac.  The buggy started up like a dream.  Already a Frankenstein creation, we constantly attached more miss-matched parts, always trying to make it run better (faster).
            The real joy was what that buggy could do.  And the freedom we enjoyed.  We drove all over the desert, exploring places a regular car could never go.  We did tear up a lot of old tires, but there were piles of replacements available at the dump, and we were always trading out the buggy’s tires in a constant tradeoff between better traction or greater speed.
            For a while, we were excited with a set of rear dual tires mounted on dual rims from an abandoned, flatbed truck, but in the end, we decided the duals slowed us down too much and went back to single rims.
            Sometimes, we considered the cost of getting a set of roll bars added to the frame, but we worried about the extra weight the bars would add to the buggy.  Long term, the only things we really missed were the gauges, especially the gas gauge and a speedometer.  We were always dipping a stick into the gas tank to see how much gas was left, and we never knew how fast we were going.
            Though we didn’t know our speed, we did know, in a drag race, we never had any trouble shutting down all the other buggies around town.  None of those new V8s could hold a candle to our straight-8, and with the right tires, we would leave the competition in the dust.
            Once when Gerald’s parents were out of town, he drove his Dad’s car behind me as I raced the buggy down the Trona-Wildrose Highway as fast as I could go.  We wanted to see what the buggy’s maximum speed could be on a paved highway, but in just a few miles on a straightaway stretch of road, Gerald’s car fell back quickly.  He wasn’t matching my speed, so I slowed, waiting for him to catch up.
            When he pulled up beside me in the opposite lane, I yelled, “What’s the matter?”
            “When you got past 120 mph, my Dad’s car couldn’t keep up anymore.  You were leaving me in the dust like I was standing still.”
            We never did find out what the buggy’s maximum speed was, and I never did tell my Dad about the speed test.  However, I am sure that buggy was the best $7 investment I’ve ever made, and to this day, I sometimes sit back, close my eyes and imagine that I’m flying through the desert behind a Pontiac straight-8 engine with the pedal to the metal and no cares in the world.
            That first car was a first love of a special kind, which takes on the magical characteristics of the best kind of prop found in any story, fiction or otherwise.  Whenever I think of setting the stage in a story with a powerful prop, I will always think of my first car in all its stripped-down glory, and then attribute the quirky characteristics needed to give my story’s key prop its own, one-of-a-kind personality—one that any reader could love.