Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mis-Mapped Meanderings

For my current Work in Progress (WiP for those of you new to this network of writers thing) I had a great brainstorm for the WHERE of the start of my final action sequence. I've started writing it, but I went yesterday to Google Maps to get some specifics... streets, parks, churches... boy am I glad I did. I had about a dozen mistaken premises and found some GEMS that will make this not only more 'possible' but also more gripping.

The Challenges I KNEW About

This action is occurring in a part of Portland that, when I moved there in 1988, was considered 'bad, dangerous, etc.' (it was poor and high crime, and unfortunately, it was largely black—I say unfortunately because I think it is too easy, when there are problems, to look to what is VISIBLE as the cause, rather than looking at the underlying stuff—I don’t think the problems were black problems; I think they were poverty problems). By the time I left in 2000, it was gentrifying (see park pics—before and after for the North Albina Triangle Park), or at least starting to, but I gotta say, when you LIVE someplace, you sort of get into routines on where you go and don't go, and I only had a handful of causes to go to North Portland. Punchline: unlike the other parts of this book/trilogy, this part occurs in an unfamiliar area.

This action also occurs in the mid-1980s. Google maps is FABULOUS in real time, but old maps and pictures dating from a certain time period are a lot harder to come by—in fact I haven't found any appropriate maps. I found the before and after pic from a gentrification program called the I-5 Corridor Project and I found a couple histories, though honestly, the most useful piece I found was a Realtor description of the Boise Neighborhood. She was touting the gentrification, which by definition means she had to say where they started

What I Didn't Know I Didn't Know

I was SO under-informed about Vanport! I knew Portland had an ugly time in its racial history when blacks couldn't live in the city. And I knew Vanport had been a city on the Columbia River where the blacks lived. And I knew something about a flood... those were the ONLY facts I had right. During World War II (1942 to be specific) the largest Public Housing project in the country was completed at Vanport, Oregon. I'm willing to bet (now that I've read a little, though I didn't see this, specifically) that the call for it was because of the white men gone to war and the need for reliable labor—so give people a place to live nearby, so they can come work. Vanport was 40% black—Oregon's first integrated community—1942, you can imagine, means it was early for integration more generally. But the building was shoddy. In 1948 there was a breach of one of the Columbia River dams and the equivalent of the levy breaking during Hurricane Katrina brought enough water down on Vanport to FLATTEN it. Fortunately, time of year and time of day meant it was fairly empty—school children and workers gone to their schools and jobs. Only 16 people died (amazing considering more than 16,000 lived there). I am schooled enough in history however, to know people only count when they 'count' and so it would not surprise me to hear numbers were greater, but if nobody is looking for somebody... you get what I mean. But even with a relatively low loss of lives, those people lost everything.

Anyway, thus began the absorption of blacks into North and eventually Northeast Portland (Northeast being where I lived—a relatively diverse part of town—one of few I've seen that has multiple races living all together in largish numbers, rather than just two, or else one dominant with tokens of others.)

Needless to say, I didn't even mean to and I learned some stuff, and it is likely to make the book better. There is some stuff you just can't make up... like historically registered roadside landmarks: see Paul Bunyon, put up in Kenton in 1959 for the Oregon Centennial.  Oh yeah... he's in the book.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Wow, that's a lot that you uncovered while researching!

It occurred to me that we learn about world, national, and state history in school, but we rarely learn anything about the town or city we live in. And they're so rich in history sometimes...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

Especially when so often the history that is available is the spit polished pretty version. Fortunately, in 2000, Portland had a big-deal event of facing it's racist history and proclaiming a policy toward making it right. I know those proclamations are only on paper, but they do a TON for public awareness. It was pretty moving, and I think opened doors for people to look into the things I found yesterday.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I have blessed Google maps and Google earth more than once. I'm happy your research gave you gems. Your WIP sounds very interesting.


Galen Kindley--Author said...

You’re right, there’s some stuff you can’t make up. The thing is, if you can’t find it, or very little about it. The odds are the general public will know precious little about it. Further, the odds of that one person who DOES know that your…expanding the truth…reading your book and catching your “elaboration” are pretty slim. Still, it’s best to stay close to the truth if you can. I generally only wander when I’ve made a good faith effort to run some factoid down, can’t and believe it’s not germane to the storyline. If someone calls me on it. Okay, it means they at least read my book, and if I’m lucky even bought it. When I do book signings, I always tell customers it comes with a money back guarantee, just contact me. No one ever has. The end. (8>)

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Watery Tart said...

Thanks Elspeth! Hopefully it WILL be interesting... and I forgot Google Earth--that lets me go 3D, doesn't it?! *puts on list for morning*

Galen--I am a real believer in taking license on some details, especially if it can't be DISproven. Paul, in fact, will have a symbol pressed into the pavement behind him--surely the sidewalk had been redone since 1984!

Jeanne said...

Interesting use of Google maps. The novel I'm writing takes place in Munich in 1938, so I went to Munich last fall (great excuse for Oktober in Germany). A librarian at the city archive there had dozens of photos and period maps for me to see and I was able to purchase copies. She also pointed me to some diary-style books written there during that time period with first-person descriptions of the way things were. Great reference material, a tax write-off, and a whole lotta fun.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

One line I liked so much I just have to copy paste it-
I say unfortunately because I think it is too easy, when there are problems, to look to what is VISIBLE as the cause, rather than looking at the underlying stuff—I don’t think the problems were black problems; I think they were poverty problems

So very very true!!!

Watery Tart said...

Jeanne-that is a WONDERFUL way to do your research! I think having a true deep feel for the place really does help a lot. It's part of why this book has flowed so well form me--most of Portland I really do know well (at least the east side and downtown).

Natasha-working in health disparities makes some truisms that have always SEEMED so, much more apparent. My interest in grad school was poverty and the effect on health, but in reality, you just can't separate the issues of race and poverty very well (you can study poor whites versus rich whites, but there aren't rich minorities in large enough numbers to meaningfully say much)

Terry Odell said...

Knowing that you don't know something is always the hard part. Researching when you know you need information, despite the difficulties it might present makes a stronger book. It's when you screw up something basic because you didn't realize you didn't know it that makes you pull your hair out.

Watery Tart said...

I actually started down that road, Terry--fortunately it was only about 3 pages lost because I'd had my assumptions wrong.