Would you believe one of the inspirations for “The Devil in Midwinter” is a college drinking game?
In the town where I worked as a university professor for eight years, the students had (and probably till have) a tradition for celebrating their 21st birthdays, called the “21 Run.” In this decades old hazing ritual, the celebrant was taken to the town’s five bars, and forced to drink “every single drink bought for them, until they totally passed out.” The horror stories told about the ordeal used to make me sympathetically sick to my stomach—shots of tequila, followed by a Sex on the Beach, followed by a double Cuba Libre, followed by a Long Island Iced Tea, followed by puking in the alleyway and then after that, a few more shots. Needless to say, many mornings I entered my classroom, worried that the inevitable had finally happened, and one of my beloved students had expired of alcohol poisoning, just as his or her life was beginning. (That never happened, by the way, but I always worried about it).
And of course, the symbolism of being “forced into unconsciousness,” and “drinking to black” on the very day one is finally free to choose one’s own destiny was never lost on me. Actually, I thought about it the whole time I was writing “The Devil in Midwinter.”
In the book, I put my heroine Esmeralda through her own harrowing 21 Run, although not a single Long Island Iced Tea crosses her pretty lips. Instead, for her 21st birthday, she has to solve a mystery, fight a fire- breathing demon, save her family and claim, once and for all, her true love. In doing that, she chooses not to fall into unconsciousness, but instead runs into her destiny with her eyes and arms wide open. She uses all of her wits and all of her skills, rejecting convention, turning down the easy offer, and risking everything for love.
Now that’s a 21 Run!
Okay, not really. I’m not actually asking that my university students conquer dragons on their 21st birthdays. But dammit, I would so like to see that frigging“21 Run” replaced by something totally awesome. I long for the day that one of my students tells me, “It’s my twenty first birthday and so I’m fulfilling a cherished dream of riding in hot air balloon at sunset with champagne,” “It’s my twenty first birthday, and my friends and I are going river rafting and then cooking a feast on the beach,” “It’s my twenty first birthday and I’m taking my parents out to dinner to thank them for getting me here,” “It’s my twenty first birthday, and I’m collecting checks for a year-long trip to Australia.” Whatever. But something that says, “It’s my life now and I’m living it fully.”
In the meantime, I cross my fingers every time one of my favorite young people bows to the inevitable Central Washington ritual. After all, one can always get to the dragon conquering after the hangover is gone.