50 States by Richard R. Becker
An Idaho farmer who aches for absolution after a tragedy is given one more chance at redemption. Two runaways cross paths in a Tennessee bus station with only one ticket between them. A family sees looters racing toward their home as they escape an Oregon wildfire. A young couple takes a reckless turn off a state highway in Utah and find themselves in a nightmarish government biohazard area.
These and 46 more shorts make up an anthology that will surprise readers with each new thought-provoking story as they skip effortlessly across different genres, moods, and states of mind. Together, they provide a character-driven sampling of the American experience over the last 60 years — the kind and the cruel, the heroic and criminal — in unpredictable and exciting ways.
50 States is a debut collection of short stories that captures the human condition and reveals how perception shapes destiny. The book spans several literary genres with each short story set in a different state across America. It is soon to be released as an audiobook, narrated by a 5-time Emmy winner.
Targeted Age Group:: All
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
50 States started as a project to write one story a week for 50 weeks. As the project evolved and stories took shape, it felt natural to start setting each one in a different state.
Originally, the idea of writing one story a week came from friends and colleagues. As a commercial writer, I write other people's stories and advertisements all the time. My friends encouraged me to put my own project first, set deadlines, and then finish the story within that time frame no matter what. My immersion in this project became an inspiration.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters come from anywhere and everywhere. They almost always begin as some tiny characteristic or demographic and then develop organically as each story unfolds.
She hung the cigarette he had lit for her out the window of the Pontiac Sunbird, the car handling the desert highway nicely at 65 mph. Steady as she goes. Liam lit his own, sitting back in the seat and putting a foot up on the dash.
The air blowing into the cabin was hot, but neither of them cared. The ride was smooth, and the drive back to St. George was long enough that his head started drifting along with Pink Floyd’s “Momentary Lapse of Reason.” Her car always surprised him on the open road.
His only mental reference to Pontiac was the dark blue Grand Prix his grandfather drove in the '70s, back when everybody drove them until GM hurt the brand in the '80s. His parents had been more practical, favoring compact cars like a Vega, an Omni, and even a Gremlin. He couldn’t imagine rumbling through the desert in any of those.
Somehow the Sunbird had saved some of the brand’s stigma, and he could see why every time they took a trip. GM had made the car for road trips, and he and Evelyn had taken plenty together, long hours exploring the American west, which was not what her dad had in mind when he bought it seven years ago as a college commuter.
“You’re riding that centerline an awful lot, Ev,” he said. “Want me to drive?”
“No, I’m fine,” Evelyn lied. “It’s the music. Floyd makes me sleepy.”
“Ah, what do you want then?” he asked. “Sing-alongs with Paula Abdul — Opposites Attract. You be the damsel, and I’ll be the skat cat?”
“Very funny,” she laughed. “Maybe we should just get off the highway for a while.”
He put his foot down and untucked the map he had inserted between his seat and the center console. They hadn’t seen anything for several miles, so he was sure there had to be a turnoff, side road, or easement access somewhere up ahead. A break would do them both some good.
“What’s that ahead?” she asked, pushing the map down so he could see.
“I don’t know,” he said, flipping it back up. “It’s not on the map.”
“Awesome,” she said, tossing the cigarette out the window. “Let’s take it!”
Her declaration gave him a feeling of déjà vu, which he mostly attributed to a flashback from last year when they had cut across Death Valley along poorly marked back roads better left forgotten. The thought of it still made him queasy, that chronic nag every time they crested a summit not knowing if the road would fall off the edge of a cliff. Or the contrast, that strange and oppressive loneliness that came upon him in the middle of an expansive valley when the only lifeline to civilization was the thin, well-worn tread on the tires.
The back end of the Sunbird fishtailed as it hit gravel, throwing up a cloud of dust and bringing him back to the present. She laughed as she took the turn too fast and he thrust the open map down into his lap, ripping it along the centerfold. Then she steered in the direction of the slide, slowed slightly, and sped up again.
The highway fell behind them, like a ship losing sight of its harbor while heading out to sea, an ocean of deep beige with tufts of green sage in place of white caps. The road rolled along, gravel giving way to two ruts as they approached the opening of a distant fence line. There was no gate, only a cattle grate and the remnant of what was probably a no trespassing sign.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I think it’s an adventure,” she said.
He asked her if she still thought so when they passed another sign a mile in, and then again when they passed a newer sign about a half-mile beyond that one. It wasn’t until they came upon an old tire with the words “Keep Out” written in orange fluorescent paint that she seemed slightly deterred. Just beyond the tire, about three hundred yards ahead, a newer gate with a larger yellow sign sat before them — type too small to make out. It was flanked by a smaller black, red, and white sign that screamed DANGER.
“What do you think it says?” she asked after stopping the car near the tire.
“I can’t read it clearly,” he said. “But I know what this one says.”
He was looking out the passenger-side window at a smaller sign below the tire.
“Trespassers will be shot,” he said flatly.
“Think we should turn around?”
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