I got to take a trip back in time last Friday—all the way back to the 1980s.
If you live around the Fayetteville area where I do, and you like old skool arcade games, you owe it to yourself to visit Arkadia Retrocade in the Evelyn Hills shopping center. It’s in the back of the plaza, just up from Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters.
I was looking to chase down my cousin’s husband and get a legal document from him—not germane to the discussion here, except to say it has to do with a car trade (so you know I’m not in trouble lol)—and he’d said to meet him there. He’s taking an electronics class and he’s helped get a lot of these old machines up and running again.
And when I say old, I mean old. Here’s just a partial list: Asteroids, Tiger Heli, Ms. Pac Man, Centipede, Millipede, Tempest, Magic Sword, Street Fighter, Street Fighter 2, Tron, Discs Tron, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Back in Time, Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace…I wish I could remember them all.
Standing there in the middle of all that, hearing those sounds again, I felt like I was sixteen once more. I walked around with a smile on my face the entire time, thrilling at each “new” discovery.
Just so you know, you don’t have to feed these monsters quarters like we did back then. Just pay a five dollar cover charge and play to your heart’s content—but be nice about it and don’t hog a machine.
But this post isn’t just about plugging Arkadia—though I’m doing that shamelessly. It’s also about going back in time in another sense—storytelling.
This means I have a germ of an idea, and it’s one that won’t quite let go of me, so it might very well turn out to be one that flies.
I’ve talked about my Rural Empires setting, and of how I’d like to tell stories in that setting from multiple POVs, but that it hasn’t really worked out that way so far. Every story that has suggested itself so far has done so from Lyle’s POV, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of them don’t continue to do so.
But I’ve got an idea for what I am calling a Rural Empires Origin Story—or maybe just Rural Empires Origins (might as well get some free keyword association from a popular line of movies/comic books, eh?).
See, there’s this documentary out there called Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja, and it’s about the wave of illegal marijuana imported in Florida in the 70s. It’s done by the same filmmakers who did Cocaine Cowboys, a documentary I’ve talked about elsewhere on this blog. Square Grouper is like the prequel to Cocaine Cowboys, because before the cocaine became popular, pot was the big thing. In fact, if you watch Cocaine Cowboys, there’s a part of it where they talk about there being so much pot in South Florida that you couldn’t give it away.
But before it got that way, apparently there was some serious money made.
What’s this got to do with retro?
Well, just this: I have a family called the Ledbetters in my Rural Empires setting. Lyle gets involved with them in Hillbilly Hunt, the half-finished novel—and it will get finished, trust me on this—that takes place about a year after the events in Startup and Franchise. If I get the prequel written—tentatively titled A Temporary Thing—Hillbilly Hunt will be the fourth Lyle Villines novel.
The Ledbetters trade in marijuana. The idea I have at present is that Ralph Ledbetter—who is dead by the time Lyle becomes involved with the family—is the one who got the clan involved in the marijuana trade. My thought right now is that he’s been trying to make a go of the family farm, but it’s the hard economic times of the mid to late 1970s, and especially the Carter Administration. Like the people who once harvested fish from the Everglades to make a living and turned to marijuana when that revenue was taken away from them, Ralph turns to pot as a way to save the family land—and possibly even becomes involved with the folks in South Florida. He’s got to get his weed from somewhere, after all, so why not tap into a story that’s already rich with potential?
Sure, it’ll require some research, but I like doing research when the story has me fired up like this one is starting to. And I have the advantage of having lived through the 70s, even if I was a kid when a lot of this story will happen and largely ignorant of the problems at large in the world.
It’s good to feel a story that wants to be written after such a long dry spell. I still have other works I need to finish—such as A Temporary Thing—and I’m still time-poor as I said in my last post, but this makes me hopeful. As I said in that last post, I just have to organize my time better and include some writing time in there somewhere.
Rural Empires will come alive for me, so stay tuned.