A road trip is a rite of passage at any age. For Cale and Penny, recent high school graduates who grew in the Nevada desert, the road has defined them and mapped their future. Their desire to explore has also led to a lot of trouble.
Ruchika Tomar’s “A Prayer for Travelers” reminds us of the people we grew up with and the mistakes that can be made as we come of age. Her portraits of the desert make you want to start your own adventure right away, while the events she describes will make you wish to turn back.
Authors say their manuscripts have a way of emerging from the page in a way that surprises them. As this story played out, and Tomar became better acquainted with her characters, she knew she felt strongly about seeing their story through to the end. The process of writing “A Prayer for Travelers” was almost as intriguing as the plot, as Tomar initially had no idea it would take 10 years to complete the book.
On How Characters Emerge and Co-exist
As a writer, even when you’re not writing, you’re thinking through some problems. At the outset, knowing it’s going to be narrated by a young woman, Cale, I spent a lot of my subconscious time thinking about her voice. When Penny came on the page, she was, at first, to be almost like a placeholder. When she disappeared, I wondered where she went, and so I just sort of followed her. She was just so interesting and so familiar to other young women I had known – beautiful, and yet kept you at a distance. Kind of mysterious which, for someone like Cale, who is kind of introverted herself, is really attractive. She wanted to know people who were unlike herself and wanted to learn from that.
On Road Trips
I still love the road. I think it’s one of the places in the world where I feel the most like myself. I don’t think you can write about the West without these kinds of open landscapes. It’s a part of writing about the West that is essential to me — these kinds of landscapes where you can spend all day driving in California and Nevada. I love that about the West, so I just wanted to take the opportunity. When you’re thinking about settings, why not take every opportunity to bring to light the backdrop of the story? In the West, we’re so reliant on our cars that it’s just a part of life out here, and you don’t know, when you’re taking a road trip, even if you think you’ve planned it out, exactly what will happen. It’s part of the appeal and also part of the danger. It’s about taking chances, which at that age, you’re very interested in doing.
On the Bad Choices of Youth
Coming of age is about choices that you learn from, choices that you wouldn’t necessarily make if you were older because you don’t know the repercussions of those choices. That’s what coming of age is about. It’s figuring out why you’re not supposed to do these things. Or if you do these things what may or may not happen. And can you live with those choices? There’s no judgment about whether you do or you don’t, but just to be aware. Just being honest and upfront about that in the book was important.