Wonder Boi Writes

Location Location Location and Weekend Play

Happy Friday the 13th,

My first book, Learning Curve had a pretty generic setting, a middle-sized, middle-American college town.  I wanted readers to feel like the story could happen anywhere, and therefore I didn’t go into a great deal of detail about the setting and instead focused on the types of people who filled it.  That was easy, and quite frankly I had so much to learn about character development that it was probably best for me to just focus on that, so thankfully the setting fit the story.

For my second novel, Trails Merge, I took on a more vivid setting at a small ski resort.  As an avid skier I understand that life on the slopes is outside the realm of a lot of my readers, and therefore I had to deliberately paint detailed pictures not only of the scenery, but also of the ways that the setting shaped the characters.  It was foreign and fun, with dramatic elements like steep slopes, slick roads, cozy fires, and harsh ice storms.  It was challenging to fully integrate a detailed setting, but it was so much fun to get to interact with one of my favorite places in the whole world that it didn’t feel like hard work.

The Long Way Home is a new story, with a new setting, and it brought a full slate of new challenges.   The Long Way Home takes place in a small town in central Illinois called Darlington.  While Darlington itself is fictional due to the fact that I needed to take a lot of creative license with locations and dates, the essence of the town is real.  I’m from Carlinville, Illinois,  a small town in south central Illinois.  It’s the place I know better than any other, it has shaped almost every aspect of who I am, and my connection to it dictated the very heart of this story.

A setting I am so very familiar with should have been easy to write, right?  Wrong.  As is often the case with the places that shape us, I had a hard time stepping back and looking at the location from the view of someone who hadn’t been raised amidst those Midwestern corn fields. My own personal love/hate relationship with my home town further complicated the writing.  In early drafts I’d find that in one scene, Darlington was a hell hole of small-mindedness and a dirth of culture, while in other scenes is was a freaking Thomas Kincaid painting come to life, filled with smiling neighbors and idyllic interactions.  How could I possibly paint an accurate picture of my small town if I couldn’t even decide what that small town was supposed to be.

It took a lot time, a lot of rereading, and a lot of examining my own biases to settle on a picture of Darlington that was authentic, honest, detailed, and most importantly true to the experiences of the characters.  So which one won out, the sad/scary version of narrow-minded stubbornness, or the picture perfect home of all things polite and welcoming?  Honestly, the answer is both, and the answer is neither. Both of those collectively accepted notions are stereotypes, and both of them reflect realities.  I think that it’s only as I’ve worked through The Long Way Home that I’ve learned to be comfortable with that.  I really can love my home town and hate it at the same time.  I can find it simultaneously charming and embarrassing.

You see, the town itself can be whatever we want to see it as, good or bad, or everything or nothing, because the town isn’t anything but a collective understanding, pipes, buildings, and lines drawn on a map.  When I go home, I don’t have dinner with Carlinville.  When Rory returns to Darlington, it’s not the streets she’s afraid of.  When Beth can’t bear to leave her home, it’s not the city limits she worries about missing.  Darlington, like every other town, exists in the people, in the institutions, in the memories we associate with the place.  Darlington is real, it is a place so many of us live or have lived. It’s the place we escaped from, and the home we long for. It’s a nightmare and a dream. It’s prison and it’s home.

In the end the location really is everything because a location isn’t simply the sum of its parts. It can’t actually be added or subtracted, because it’s not sum that matters. It’s the individual parts, and the part we allow it to play with us gives it meaning.

The above video is of my own small town and some of the places that hold memories for me.  There are pictures of my old church, a few of my old houses, and the high school I graduated from.  There are also pictures of a few of the spots that inspired scenes in The Long Way Home.  There’s a shot of the small liberal art college like the one Beth and Rory work at.  There’s a shot of the local softball fields (what’s a lesbian novel without a few softball scenes?), and finally there’s some videos I shot while we were driving through town, or “cruising,” which is similar to the tour Raine gives her friend Edmond.  I hope you enjoy the video, and I hope it enhances your enjoyment of The Long Way Home.


August 13, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: