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Friday, February 1, 2013

You Are Here

 

                    Or, actually...   here.



To put things into perspective,
this is Earth from Voyager 1 in 1990.
First off, thanks to all you ABNA-ers who have stopped by. That’s why I love the contest. Such a good kick in the pants to do productive writerly things. While I didn’t have much work to do on my manuscript (since I’ve been fanatically editing all year and have rewritten the pitch more times than I’m willing to admit) you guys have inspired me to beef up my blog.
     Today I’ve got geography on the brain. I wonder if you are like me in thinking that where you're born (and where you live now) affects your writing.
     I am from Detroit. I grew up here. I get the D. Granted, I don’t live downtown, but Detroit is the nearest metropolitan area, not to mention the skin crinkle on my hand to which I point when people ask where I’m from. I attended college there, which was a wonderful, formative experience, and worked for many years on automotive ads that symbolize the city and its peeps. Detroit seeps into my writing in sometimes subtle, sometimes glaring ways. Do you feel the same? Perhaps there are cities you’ve lived in that show up in your writing more than others? Let me know in comments, s’il vous plait.
Not Imported From Detroit. Just set there.
     In my case Detroit adds a layer of rage, drive and grit to my characters. (What do you expect from people living in the shadow of a huge fist?) I sense a like feel in the works of other writers who hail from the area. By the same token, I can always spot an author who tries to “write Detroit” without ever having been here. An example that comes to mind is Linda Howard in Mr. Perfect. She does her research and tries to get it down pat, but there is something lacking. I can almost envision her as she picks some Detroiter’s brain via phone (she admits as much in her acknowledgements), instead of making the requisite road trip. (In all fairness, who wants to come here?) As a result, the worship of cars isn't as seamless as it should be, and appears to be photoshopped in, as incongruous as a Hemi engine on a Volkswagen bug. Howard has no grasp of how the love of cars is woven intricately into our lives. 
     Similarly, I remember reading somewhere that Stephenie Meyer resorted to Google in her search for an atmosphere in which vampires could thrive. That's how she came up with Washington. Because of this, I'd argue that her depiction of the area is as soulless as the Cullens. In contrast, Debbie Macomber’s work (Yeah, Debbie, Linda Howard. I read romance. Wanna make something of it?) brings to life the majesty of the Pacific Northwest in her Cedar Cove series. Her love for the geography she's chosen for her characters shines out of every paper pore (or pixel for you ebook junkies).
     I feel strongly that we must build our worlds on a firm foundation of reality if we are using a real-world locale. Take my advice. Don’t try to fudge it. The people who populate those actual places will end up feeling resentful, and that is hard to get around, no matter how good the story.

 

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