I have an idea, and I have a protagonist (me, roughly) but as you say damned if I can string it together. I've always been a hack writer worshipping at the feet of King and his ilk, those folks able to churn out passable prose and a few good ideas seemingly at will. I tried writing a bit more stylishly but it seems so damned hard to sustain through an entire novel. Here's my opening for a book:
Bullitt, Nelson, Marion. Now I know where I am, sort of. I'm "over" in the sense that Marion County was the first wet county, so on a Friday in high school we always asked "You going over?" Trying to find someone willing to travel with our money and bring back liquor, beer, whatever they could manage. When you have one source it doesn't need a proper name, you give it one, so Marion County was known as "going over."
Grow up in a dry county, a poor county, with the nearest city over an hour away suddenly a 35-minute trip two counties over becomes a serious undertaking. That's with no job and 48 hours of leisure every weekend. Hell, you're sixteen. Never mind that once you really grow up, grow out, get the hell out and pick a city that same 35 minutes becomes your goal, your best possible commute time during rush hour to a job that something is telling you is necessary but you still aren't sure that particular something is right.
So Marion County. If you've been away long enough you get hit again by the beauty in the middle of the state where small hills break the horizon and everything grows, grows, grows like it's trying to hold off winter for just one more month. That ring around the world, north and south, where the seasons swing most violently to either extreme means that all life shoves forward at any opportunity; there's no telling when the rug might get yanked out from under. Bourbon whiskey owes its life to the outliers, the pushing out in the summer and the sucking in of winter giving it the oakey character of the barrel, unique in the world and lost on the filthy rabble in Tennessee, where football matters for some reason. I remember in Costa Rica shocking the cab drivers with my stories of weather, how we went above a hundred in the summer and below zero in the winter. I'm a firm believer that steady weather lets you live longer, and by God my half-assed research has borne this theory out with various near-equatorial countries constantly winning the longest-lived category but damned if I'd trade them. Ninety years of stasis is no reward at all. I'll gladly ride eighty years of action.
But Kentucky, my God, longevity has been long discarded if it was ever on the table at all. On the West coast it would be anger, but here resignation is a better description. It's never been great, sometimes it has been good, but damned if we're going to worry about how it could be. We just get fat and smoke and drink and bitch about having to drive two minutes to go to the IGA until we can't stand to get out at all. That's when the booze really kicks in, when you figure out that the back yard (and often the forest beyond) is just as interesting as your friends and a lot less argumentative. Might as well stoke up the inherited thumbprint glass with an acceptable bourbon, (can't go too cheap or you're a drunk, or too expensive and be labeled a snob) something like Old Forester and Coke and wait for the hummingbirds to light on the feeder while you hold so still. They will, it just takes a summer or two to train them to it.
I could have taken the easier route across the interstate and then down the state highway, saving twenty minutes and a lot of stopping and starting but I didn't get back here very often and wanted to see green. I was heading to the horizontal center of the state but vertically at the bottom, down by Tennessee. Just quiet poor land where we don't even get to be infamous like coal country and the nastier bits of Appalachia. I wasn't sure what to expect when I would roll up the driveway, half a mile from the road before I could see the old house. It had been a while since I visited and as the years passed I got better at coming up with busy-sounding excuses why my visits would become less frequent. It was hard for me to lie, I had been raised (reared, my mother would often correct) with the nearest neighbor nearly a mile away and was a quiet person as a result.
That neighbor was a crazy man, sad to say, and rode a delicate line between ugly crazy and harmless. He liked to put random letters on his car, the sticky reflective letters used on mailboxes, spelling out things in his own private language. I only saw him a few times growing up when we needed bait; he kept a good stock of minnows swimming in his dining room. The nasty bit was that he would go into town in his lettered car, five to ten black dogs in the back and take Polaroids of local shopgirls, then cut out their heads and tape them onto Playboy centerfolds. As far as I know he never did a thing overtly wrong in his life, and we liked him well enough to trade a small eight-inch chainsaw for a pistol once, but he was one to keep an eye on.
But now Mr. Spears was long dead. I vaguely recall him dying when I was around twenty, and his house had undergone many changes in the years since. My father was especially glad that there were no longer twenty or thirty black dogs (mutts all, and the number varied but was always on the wrong side of shocking) harrassing the cattle that we kept to pay for the land.
I tapped the brake pedal to stop the cruise control in anticipation of the enormous Grand Marquis ahead doing something dangerous. In the country old people drove big Fords, big Chevys, or if they were a bit fancy big Buicks. I naturally slip into a slower rhythm on these roads, anything else will drive a person crazy in a second.
I like this quite a bit but I'm not sure how to bend it to dialogue and simple exposition when necessary.