Friday, October 2, 2009

Location Location Location!

I was researching (read: asking co-worker) interesting things to do in Ann Arbor yesterday for the pending visit of my Digressionista, Mari—you see, said co-worker has no children, spouse or book she’s writing, so she gets out more. Specifically, I was asking about Fairy Doors. Apparently in the mid-90s, a group of Fairies, tired of rural life, began to take up residence in a home here in town. The family was accommodating, allowing Fairy constructions around their home: doors, windows, stairways… The trouble was, the Fairies liked it so well that they told their friends and there were soon too many for the one house (or so I’ve concluded from what I can find). So the house owner began petitioning local businesses to allow the Fairies to use THEIR spaces. And you know what? This is Ann Arbor, so there were quite a number of takers…

You know what else… You couldn’t WRITE this stuff. If you wrote a town that bought into one man’s vision of artistic insanity to the degree that they would leave offerings for Fairies on a daily basis (I kid you not—I walk by one of them on my way to work, there is always a little something outside the door)… it is just WAY too charming for fiction. Nobody would believe you. (note: the one in the picture is in the district library—there are windows in the books even) There are even pretenders! [Goblin Door]

It all got me to thinking about writing. (big surprise there)

Clear Springs

The location inspiration for CONFLUENCE originated in the Eberwhite Woods in Ann Arbor, so a lot of the setting details stem directly from Ann Arbor’s physicality. The second story line though (community split by divided philosophies—a scientific/religious divide) required a change of venue—you see, Ann Arbor doesn’t allow Republicans. I had a perfect model though, in my own home town of Moscow, Idaho. Moscow has a University, and therefore liberal balance to the reddest state in the country. People from both tails of the political spectrum coexist, mostly in a friendly way, but it planted seeds… that led to using the surrounding geography and local lore—it gave CONFLUENCE its flavor. But every setting detail required some thinking, some decisions (map drawing). Which place modeled what?


I have Athena to thank for Portland. My ‘spy novel’ was set in a Midwest college town until Athena decided to live on the streets of Portland and edge her way into said spy novel. And you know what? I am SO GLAD she did. I lived in Portland for twelve years, from college graduation until 2000—a time in my life when I was mostly pre-children. My husband sold his car to buy me an engagement ring in 1990, and since then, all but two years we have only had one car (and when I say WE had a car, I mean I made payments and he drove it) so I know Portland streets, buses, and hang-outs in a way only a pedestrian, young, professional can. It has opened avenues and given me ideas, and I believe helped LEGACY fall out of the pen as fast as it has. My only ‘work’ on setting is things like checking the timing for when Union Avenue became Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (in the story, it is still Union and MAX and Pioneer Square were BRAND new). The REALLY nice thing, is in a real location, I can use real quirks, real details, and real knowledge, allowing for a much more heterogeneous fiber to the city.

Anyway, I am curious how other writers approach location: real, total fiction, combo?


Elspeth Antonelli said...

My WIP takes place in a real time (1935) in a real country (England) in a real location. The house it takes place in is fictional. Actually, because one of my plots has a historical (late 1400s) tie-in the house HAD to be in a certain location for the plot to work.


Joris said...

Surely mapping an American town is easy? All the streets run in the same directions...

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

My dad has visited Portland and *raves* about it.

I made up a town for my Myrtle Clover series. The setting is actually based on a real town (with some people similar to my characters living there) and I didn't want to be like Thomas Wolfe and 'never be able to go home again.'

Memphis is my setting for my other series. I had to visit and do research for that setting (I was asked to use Memphis as a setting by my Penguin editor.)

Mystery Writing is Murder

M.J. Nicholls said...

I mingle fictional details with factual ones, creating a familiar but distorted sense of place.

I find this especially effective if the work requires a skewed sense of reality.

Skewed is fun. Factual is big-yawn time.

Not Hannah said...

My work in progress takes place in a little town that is a combination of the one I live in now and my hometown. The story itself was inspired by a plantation house near my home. I find that it's often like that for me: a house, a tree, and--speaking of fairy doors, which are SO COOL--once a tiny little door in a coffee shop that apparently lead to nowhere.

Watery Tart said...

Joris: It isn't the streets that are hard, it's the authenticity!

Love hearing about the routes people go! Thanks all! An MJ, I need to look for your books. Distorted is my kind of thing (I am currently skewing by choosing the darkest possible kind of character that I know really exist. I feel like keeping the environment real, adds to the disgust at how awful the people can be)--that is the psychologist in me.