The Inspiration behind Matthew McKern's I Didn’t Go Looking for Trouble


You know when you come across something and just think, 'that sounds so cool'? Well, that's what happened when I got the invitation to 'friend' Matt McKern on facebook. I clicked through and saw the title of his book and I just needed to know more about it. So I approached Matt and asked if he'd like to write a guest post about what inspired him to write the book. I was thrilled when he agreed. Read on to find out more...

When my aging in-laws asked for someone to help with the driving on a road trip tour of the upper Midwest, I surprised my wife by stepping forward. My father-in-law, Bob, had grown-up in Chicago, spending summers on a farm in Wisconsin. He'd been invited to a pair of family reunions by cousins he hadn't seen in decades. Bob wanted a chance to see them before they got called up to Heaven. In my mind the trip instantly became “The Before They Get Called Up To Heaven Tour” and I immediately printing-up t-shirts in my mind.
The character of the various landscapes left a distinct impression. The meandering roads of Southern Wisconsin seemed perfect for getting lost but the checkerboard maze of Iowa had a different sort of potential. One could easily get disoriented in the endless maze of cornfields were cut through with any number of dusty white roads with little to distinguish them from one another.
The first true hint of inspiration for I Didn’t Go Looking for Troublecame from my daughter and this tiny firefly with an outsized personality that my daughter named Glowie. There’s a certain magic that comes at nightfall in a city park in a small town like Waverly, Iowa that might have lost its luster for the local crowd. Seeing the fireflies rising from the grass just that once preserved the magic for me.
Another source of inspiration came in the form of a corner store in Klinger, my mother-in-law Arleen’s home town. The store was of the type that requires isolation to survive. There were pipe fittings, canned foods, overalls, boots, buttons all in a narrow space with a hardwood floor that just dared you to even think about going barefoot. We visited the graves of my wife’s grandparents and found confirmation photos of Arleen taken some fifty years earlier. We didn’t have to hunt for them. They were bound-up in books displayed in the lobby.
There are other ingredients that helped add body to the stew of my novelincluding a legendary yard sale find that I can’t go into with any specificity—let me just say that finding a priceless treasure hidden a picture frame behind a worthless print wasn’t something I just cooked up on my own. But the heart of the story started beating in Waverly—the old storefronts struggling to maintain relevance when there’s a WalMart just up the road, fishing in the Cedar River in a rented canoe with borrowed gear, seeing the combines driving into town for the demolition derby, white Amish country road dust, these are the bits and pieces as well as the glue that holds the story together.
But the spirit of the story comes from watching my daughter gaining a taste for a bit of adventure. Thankfully, she’ll never make the same kind of mistakes that the protagonist of I Didn’t Go Looking for Trouble, Willy Storey falls into. Willy doesn’t necessarily feel rules were always mad with her in mind. So far, my daughter is quite the opposite, knock on wood.
I started writing when she was a tiny baby on a schedule all her own. When she woke at 4:30, I would often take her for a drive in the country so she could get a nap before daycare, which started at about 7:30. In these quiet times behind the wheel, I would often write entire chapters in my mind that might not be written down for hours, days or maybe even weeks. I Didn’t Go Looking for Trouble was also born of the road, but these particular roads are halfway across the country, a stop on the “Before They Get Called Up to Heaven Tour”, leading to a tiny store in an even tinier town where two roads just happen to run into one another.

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