Last time, we talked about the origin of the title: Morning Blood in Mio. Today, I want to shift focus to some of the nouns—the people, places, and things—that helped bring Morning Blood to life. These are tangible places I used to ground this wacky and, at times, absurd story. Keep in mind I took a lot of liberties–enough to where the locations in Book Mio hardly resemble Real Mio anymore. Like when someone tells you they think you’re attractive but you think, “Have you seen me in the mirror?!” In this case, Real Mio is whichever happens to be more attractive… Book Mio is a caricature drawn after a few passing glances. The nose is too long, the head too balloony, and its eyes are a bit further apart than they have any right to be.
A lot of unique locations inspired the book, none more so than the shrine itself (we’ll take a closer look at that in the next post). Here are, in no order at all, some places that left a profound impact on me long after leaving Mio in my rear-view:
One of the first things you notice coming into Mio on M-33 (if you bother to see beyond all the green pines and swaying grass) is pink. There’s the pink, abandoned grocery store/strip-mall, which I’m not entirely convinced is still standing. And there’s Leroy, the pink elephant, standing vigil outside Mio Pizza Shoppe (I’ve added the ‘pe’ at the end because, let’s face it, shop doesn’t quite have the same ring as shoppe). Leroy, of course, is the name I’ve given him. Pinky was too obvious a moniker for anyone besides the rugged, tank-like pizza chef slinging pies within the walls of that very shoppe. While Leroy isn’t the main subject of the book, he might be the most important character. He’s my favorite, at least. And, if you pay attention to the personal life of Pinky, you might catch Bigfoot in the woods of Huron National Forest. It’s a ruffle of the leaves, a print in the mud, and a growl on the wind.
On more than one occasion, I enjoyed a relaxing float down the AuSauble river. Before the sewage leak, mind you. Yes, that part actually happened. So did the fire at the courthouse, although by different means than in Morning Blood. Anyway, as you pass the McDonald’s (the most hopping restaurant in town), and come around the shallow bend in the road, you find yourself trapped between Gott’s Landing and Hinchman Acres. I’m convinced they’re the same: places tourists flock, places that charge per hour (as they should) for use of the river. Their river. In my experiences with either, large, tanned, bearded men (intimidating at first, but *probably* big ole teddy bears) check you in, drop your canoe in the river, and send you on your way with a firm boot. Some miles down (21 in our case), they’re waiting to pick you up, Five Finger Death Punch blaring through the speakers of repurposed school buses. I can’t imagine anything more rustic or more natural. The elements of the experience combine to create a scene of arboreal splendor twice removed from modern living, whatever that happens to mean for you. I just hope you enjoy metal. If not, you’re going to have to close your ears.
And then you have the AuSable River Motel. A quaint, two-story deal with a communal fire pit out front and a side deck that looks as if it might crash and slide into the woods at any moment. A clean place, as far as these kinds of places go, with a pool and wonderful service. In short, it’s the perfect setting for Chase Cross to discover there are things in the world he can’t possibly understand; and, if he ever wants to change his predicament, he has to change his ways first. Our first trip with the U-Haul all but bursting with rejected worldly possessions, we stayed the night at the AuSable River Motel. We, like Chase, discovered a lot of things that night. We discovered that Mio people don’t like Lewiston people, that beer costs a lot more in Michigan (but somehow tastes better), and that a late-night bonfire surrounded by strangers in a strange place heals the soul better than anything.
Plenty of places in the book aren’t based on Real Mio. Gus’s Yum-Yum, for example, and Agatha’s Eats. I think every town has to have a cheesy Chinese restaurant with a horribly stereotyped named. Us American’s eat this kind of stuff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as long it’s served from a buffet in heaping scoops with lots of sugary sauce. If someone can really cook, and enjoys doing so, they might as well take advantage of this character flaw. It works every time. Oh, for all of you not wondering, the name Gus’s Yum-Yum was stolen… er, borrowed from a restaurant in Perrysburg, Ohio. Some things you can’t make up.
While there are a lot of liberties taken, there are also a lot of truths in Morning Blood in Mio . There are an unreasonable number of real estate agencies and insurance companies. Like with Gott’s and Hinchman, something has to be going on behind the curtain. A war for power in the town between Mio’s officials, the boat launch folks, and the white-collar criminals, perhaps? Sounds like a perfect secondary arc for a book about God, the Devil, and the end of the world as we know if you ask me. And the overall layout of the town is almost spot on. I did, however, make the decision to plop Huron National Forest right next door. It’s a ways down the road, but who are we trying to kid? If you’ve seen one stretch of northern forest, you’ve seen them all.
When you take all of these places away, you still have the heart of Morning Blood in Mio: St. Mary Catholic Church; Our Lady of the Woods. The shrine. Where it all begins, and where it all ends. But that’s a story for a different day. Until then, thank you for reading. I can’t wait to share the book with you and with it all my personal experiences, both lived and imagined.