Yellowstone: The Story Generator

I blogged last week about some of my fascination with Yellowstone National Park. In response, I heard from one of my writing friends that I should write more about Yellowstone. In fact, it doesn’t take much encouragement for me to do so. As I mentioned, I frequently write stories set in Yellowstone, although I didn’t go into details about any of them in that post.

I started writing about Yellowstone about fourteen or fifteen years ago, which was also when I started working on my MFA in creative writing. My MFA thesis ended up being mostly Yellowstone-based, although it wasn’t the complete collection I’d envisioned, for both length and the needs of satisfying my advisor in order to graduate. In my last post, I mentioned that a picture from the Yellowstone Facebook page called to mind a scene from one of my stories—that story is called “Feather Tracks,” and it’s the lead story in my thesis collection.

My overall intent for the collection is to have a series of stories from a variety of Yellowstone historical eras that explore the nature of storytelling. Several of the stories are “stories within stories.” For instance, “Feather Tracks” is about a park ranger in 1945 awaiting his son’s return from the war; he becomes obsessed with a historical paper trail about a cavalry soldier who went missing on patrol in the park in 1894. The ranger uses the story of the soldier as a means of helping him understand and come to terms with his own son. 

For many years after completing my MFA, these stories and the idea for the collection lay dormant. I started but didn’t complete a couple of pieces, but I discovered that the MFA process had destroyed my joy in writing. (That’s perhaps a story for another day.) Although I wasn’t creating, I also wasn’t forgetting, and eventually the right inspiration came around to jump back into the Y-Stone world. I recently completed a draft of a new Yellowstone story, have workshopped it with my writing group, and am ready to set upon some serious revision.

The genesis of the new story goes back to a 2010 camping trip to Yellowstone. I’d had my first smartphone for about six months, and since I was then writing about mobile computing and technologies for work, I used that vacation to test as many features of my phone as I could in the “remote” Yellowstone wilderness. As it turned out, most of the park is covered by a pretty strong mobile signal, so I was able to post pictures and updates to social media throughout the trip.

Around the backside of the Old Faithful Inn, I took a picture of a door that struck me as funny and posted it to Facebook. Here’s that picture and the comment thread it spawned:

Brian Yellowstone: It’s All a Hoax!

The boiler room door around the back of the Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park

Catherine Very funny. You could do a story about the people who run the operation.
Brian While on an unscheduled hike on an unmarked trail around the historic Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, I happened upon the door pictured here, which is clearly labeled “Boiler Room.” Inside this semisecret door will be found the controls that activate each of the hundreds of thermal features located there at the Upper Geyser Basin — and possibly throughout the whole of the park.
Or so I suppose. I didn’t actually look inside for fear of dispelling this new certainty: Yellowstone is a hoax perpetrated on the world since the nineteenth century.
Prove me wrong.
Catherine ‎(I just showed the pic to my husband and he didn’t get it.)
Andrea LOL!
Brian Yeah, Catherine, didn’t you say he’s some kind of engineer? He was probably playing dumb because he’s in on it from the beginning. It’s a conspiracy of epic proportions.
Catherine That’s right. His old firm DID have some work in Wyoming.
Caroline OMG, the secret is out! It’s supposed to be revealed only to people who graduate from Wyoming high schools. Now you can never leave Wyoming–the state patrol will stop you at the border and demand your green and white license plates and sentence you to life in Cheyenne or Gillette or Casper. Drastic punishment? Yes, and rightly so….
Catherine Okay, I think the story is getting better and better.
Caroline Whew. At least he hasn’t discovered the secret of Devil’s Tower.
Brian Yes, and thanks, everyone, for helping me write this story in real time.
Linda been an interesting story

Although it took me three years before I wrote this story, it’s all pretty much laid out in this little exchange. And I knew at the time that I wanted to write it; I wasn’t quite ready to do so, however.

Now that I’ve got a draft done, I’m fairly happy with how it’s going. As the source material might suggest, the story is a farce, a playful romp, with some smashing action thrown in. I think it will make a nice foil for some of the subtler stories already done for the collection. Yellowstone is a vast and varied landscape; the stories it generates deserve to have the same variable character.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins

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3 thoughts on “Yellowstone: The Story Generator

  1. Pingback: Writing Obsessions | The Weird World of B. K. Winstead

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