By Jenn Bennett.
I wasn’t always a writer. In one past career, I used to travel to the Far East a lot, dealing with factories. It was my job to come up with new products, and I’d take my crazy new ideas to China, where they’d translate them into working prototypes. On one trip, I was paired with a soft-spoken Chinese man named Larry from our Shenzhen office, whose job was to be my guide and take me deeper into the mainland, far away from the big cities, where the factories were smaller and specialized in carving wood.
At that point in my career, I’d spent most of my time in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Taipei—all big cities, all fairly easy for English speakers to navigate. (Hong Kong especially. To this day it remains one of my favorite places, and the people there, some of the kindest I’ve ever met.) But Larry hired a driver who would steer us away from my familiar anchors. When I asked him how long it would take to get there, he said, “Not long.” I had no idea what to expect.
The first day’s drive was fair. We spent the night in a decent-sized city that still held traces of the West. Good: There was a McDonald’s outside our hotel. Bad: The hotel’s mini-bar food was all expired and there were bugs in the bed. I didn’t sleep. Day two, I spent in a restless state in the back of the car, staring at the changing scenery as rain fell over lush green mountains. We stopped to eat at a crumbling traditional house with a courtyard straight out of a historical Kung Fu movie. They butchered a chicken in front in me with a large cleaver and washed greens in a forest stream. There was no modern plumbing, so I was forced to pee in a hole in the ground around the back of the house. I had a small mental breakdown and cried, pulled myself together, and went back inside and ate that chicken; it turned out to be one of the best meals of my life.
Day three: In the middle of a rural town, both the sidewalks and the road just…ended. Like, actually abruptly ended. We were driving along, and it was as if the workers ran out of material, packed up their things, and stopped constructing the street. It was at this point that I turned to Larry and started laughing. He laughed, too. It didn’t really matter anymore where we were going. The whole thing was so absurd. “Is this the end of the world?” I asked him. He thought that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. “Yes. We’ve travelled to the end of the world. What do you think of it?”
In Night Owls, my character, Beatrix, takes a journey on a midnight bus in San Francisco, where she runs into my hero, Jack, an anonymous graffiti artist who’s been spray-painting giant gold words across the city. She didn’t plan on taking that bus, and she certainly didn’t plan to meet Jack. But sometimes unexpected journeys can have strange and wondrous outcomes if you open yourself up to them.