Road Movie was my first story based almost entirely off of events that had nothing to do with my personal life. Fun fact, I have never even been to Chicago, nor have I ever been in a long-term relationship, experienced the loss of a significant other, or worked in a marketing firm. That being said, I had to do a ton of research on the Greater Chicago area, reference a lot of the emotions of feeling love and loss, and luckily, I have taken multiple marketing classes, worked as a marketing coordinator, and spoken to enough marketing executives to gain a vague idea of what it means to work in marketing, albeit for hospitality and engineering, not medicine. That being said, as challenging of a story it was to write, Road Movie was one of my favorites to do for that very same reason. Having to push myself beyond my own limitations and life experiences and pull from others, it was a real eye-opener. I greatly enjoyed the message of this story, which was to make life a constant pursuit of moving forward and finding happiness.
I literally conceptualized the story based on the Maaya Sakamoto song “Road Movie”, which spoke a lot about being lost, finding happiness, and remembering the love in your heart. From there, I had to think about different cities. I considered several, but ultimately wanted to do Chicago, mostly because I had never been to Chicago before, and it would be a much more interesting challenge to do something like that as opposed to a more familiar city. I originally wanted the story to be set in the 1980s, or just an earlier time when drive-in movies were more popular, since the title of the story was “Road Movie” and drive-in movie theaters fit that bill perfectly. But then I realized it would be too difficult writing both in a real life location and in a time period that I have never experienced, and cross-referencing Chicago locations in the 1980s would be difficult and hard to keep consistent in my story.
Hillary Jenkins is a fictional marketing company, and I decided to do a marketing company mostly because I was currently taking a marketing course, and I figured I could easily cross over what I was being taught in class with Dakota’s career, just because it would not be completely inaccurate.
Dakota Logan was originally going to be named Vivian Logan. I wanted her nickname to be Viv, so a pun on viva or vie, which means to live in Spanish or life in French. I ultimately changed her name to Dakota for one sole reason: her entire character, I took inspiration from Dakota Johnson. I had this idea for a timid, seemingly helpless, and easy-to-victimize female brunette character in mind, and Dakota Johnson tends to play those roles in her movies, so subconsciously, I kept typing Dakota instead of Vivian, and decided to just roll with it. The nickname Ducky, unfortunately, there really was not much meaning behind it. It became more of a cute nickname than anything with deep symbolic meaning. I made her from Naperville mostly because I have a friend from there, and it was the first suburb that came to mind: coincidentally, it was close to the Cascade Drive-In, so that worked out in a lot of ways for me. Dakota never leaving Illinois became a focal plot point when I was almost done writing the story, because I wanted to focus on that being the driving reason for her wanting to leave Chicago: I knew that no matter what, she was going to watch a movie in the drive-in, and then leave for somewhere new by the end of the story. I just needed to figure out what drove her to that conclusion.
Phillip Hopkins, I wanted him to be this sort of reliable, smart, do-it-all, very mature figure. Somebody who, when you pair anyone with him, would feel like they are being nurtured and watched over. That’s the main rationale behind making him want to be a pediatrician. I wanted to develop his character a lot because I knew once he gets killed off, there would be no other opportunities to really get to know him, since the remainder of the story, I wanted it to focus solely on Dakota’s moving forward. I wanted the reader to relate to Phillip’s growth, because I am almost positive that everyone can relate to doing silly things during puberty. Phillip becomes much more relatable during those chapters, and I wanted him to narrate them in a first person perspective, just for the reader to gain more closeness with him.
Out of Dakota’s coworkers, only Maria and Frida were based on people I knew in real life. They were both actually sales managers and directors at a one of my old workplaces, and I kept them pretty similar to their real life counterparts, not even changing their first names, personalities, or ethnic backgrounds. Maria was always this open-minded, hardworking, and kind person, somebody who I felt Dakota could come to trust and grow from. Frida was this ridiculous, over the top old lady who would indeed do crazy things despite her age: fun fact, the heart attack and drinking story was actually something she did do in real life. Overall, I felt like those two personalities would help bring more characterization to the workplace.
Virginia and Justin were completely fictional. I wanted Virginia to be this stone-cold Betty type of character, very cool and aloof to Frida’s antics. Making her come from Hawaii made sense in that she worked closely with the hospitality industry, and it helped give her character purpose when it came time for Dakota to talk about leaving Illinois. Justin, I just wanted somebody there for Frida’s crazy to be directed towards, so that was more of what his role was expanded into. A motif I subconsciously created was the idea of father-figures being more muted, something that is noticeable with both Justin and Mr. Hopkins.
For the parents, we had Peter Logan, Marisa Ellis-Logan, Jessica Hopkins, and Matthew Hopkins. I knew that I wanted to expand upon the parents’ backstories in this one, similarly to how I did with Sky Bird, but in this case, not because of any internal conflict, but so that Mr. and Mrs. Logan can provide full understanding and insight to Dakota’s situation. I did not want them to completely mirror their daughter and Phillip’s lives, so I made them meet in completely different circumstances and focus on different career goals. Mrs. Hopkins was only ever formally introduced via dream sequence, so by no means is that what she really is like. The dream sequence version simply represented Dakota’s own fears of inadequacy and reluctance with continuing her relationship with Phillip. Originally, Mrs. Hopkins was killed off the same way as her son, but I changed it from a truck crashing into her car to just her crashing into the DuPage River and freezing to death, just because I did not want everyone who died to die via trucker. Mr. Hopkins, I regret not developing his character more, because it would have been great to see his reactions to the loss of his wife and the loss of his son, but for me, I always felt like father figures tend to hide their pain, so that was the sort of route I took with him.
Pamela, Dakota’s therapist, was loosely based on Pam Poovey from the show Archer. Mostly in appearances though. I wanted Pamela to be this insufferable personality that was aggravate Dakota to no end, just to show how frustrated she was at her then-current situation. She was originally going to make more appearances, but then I decided to push up the chapter when Dakota decides to quit work, and Pamela became obsolete to the plot at that point, so I wrote her out of the remainder of the story.
Lastly, there’s Monique. I wanted Monique to be a complete foil to Phillip’s personality. Rather than being incredibly career oriented and busy, Monique was more free-spirited, young, and unburdened by her past. She has a different outlook than Phillip entirely on her life, but she does have her doubts on whether or not the life she is living is the one she wants to have. I did at one point consider having her end up with Dakota, but ultimately decided against it because I felt like Dakota did not need to come out as bisexual for the story to really progress or end on a strong note: coming out and the ending message may potentially eclipse one another, so I stuck with the ending instead and was happy with that. As for Monique’s grandma, originally, all four of her grandparents were going to die in a plane accident, but again, too many deaths via motor vehicles, so I just wrote off a grandma in a corn fire instead. Overall, Monique’s character was a huge surprise to me. I did not write her in until much later in the writing process, and decided that her character was much needed if Dakota had to go through therapy and could not return to work first.
Overall, I am happy with the fact that Road Movie wound up being a story based off of experiences that were not my own. I do want to visit Chicago, now that I have done so much research on it. The idea of Road Movie was moving forward and remembering the happiness we gained from love, while not constantly dwelling on or missing the love itself. We can find new things to fill the void left behind from the old, new things that can maintain that happiness. I hope that the story was able to perfectly emulate that message