Inspiration from Place #UpbeatAuthors

Note: This was a previously-committed to post for the #upbeatauthors group. If you want to read about my response to Hurricane Harvey, it is the post above this one. I am not ignoring the suffering.

Trish Milburn‘s topic for the day is “Places that Inspire”. That covers a lot of ground. I can find ANY place I visit inspiring. I keep detailed travel journals when I go anywhere, and write up the details, especially sensory details. I collect maps and historical information. I collect contact information for chambers of commerce and tourism boards, so when I write about a place, I can go back and get the emotional geography correct.

Because setting is a character in my work (and I teach courses on it), it’s important to me to get the physical and emotional geography of a place correct. I’m pretty good at discerning when an author hasn’t visited a place and hasn’t done enough research to understand its unique feel/personality. Yes, it’s fiction, and it’s important to use imagination. But, if you are going to use a real place, or do what I call “stretching geography”, where you add the fictional places that support your story into a real environment, you need to get the physical and the sensory details right.

That’s a lecture for another day. 😉

For today, I am going to share with you some of the places that have inspired specific pieces of work. I’m having trouble posting photographs, but clicking through the links will get you all kinds of great images and information.

New York City
I grew up in a suburb of New York City, and spent plenty of time there. After a year of college elsewhere, I transferred back to NYU for film and television production, and then, after two years in San Francisco and a miserable year in Seattle, I moved back and worked my way up in theatre until I worked on Broadway. I loved the city, especially Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the various New York Public Libraries, NYU itself, and all the neighborhoods. I lived through 9/11, in which 42 people I knew (firefighters, mostly, and cops, and people I’d gone to school with who worked in the towers). New York is an important part of my work.

It’s the primary setting for the Nina Bell Mysteries, which are in the 1990s, following a college graduate trying to build her life in the arts. She lives on E. 6th Street, and is an NYU alum, and works at theatres similar to the Public. I use my diaries from those years to make sure I have the geography right, and the events and how they affected those of us trying to ignore said events.

It’s where TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan mystery starts and ends. The book starts in the Gramercy Park area, and has major events at the main New York Public Library and a chase scene inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
(The book re-releases in January 2018. Visit http://gwenfinneganmysteries.devonellingtonwork.com for more information).

PLAYING THE ANGLES, the first Coventina Circle mystery, releasing on October 2, takes places in various NYC locations, most of it in the Broadway neighborhood, since much of the action takes place backstage on a Broadway show. So that’s midtown. I used to live in the area, on the corner of 42nd St. and 8th Avenue, over a strip club which is now a comedy club, across from the Port Authority bus terminal, and a short walk to the Broadway theatres at which I worked. I’d regularly walk back from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so I could spend time in Central Park. ANGLES also has scenes in Greenwich Village and Morag’s Upper West Side apartment. The second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY is mostly set in Greenwich village, around the publisher for whom Bonnie works, and the bookshop that Rupert owns, with forays to the Upper West Side and down to the Bowery. Most of the books in the series will have NYC locations, although I plan to get them out of the city at times! (http://www.coventinacircle.devonellingtonwork.com)

SAVASANA AT SEA, the first Nautical Namaste Mystery that releases in November, starts in New York City, at Union Square, where yoga studios have bloomed in the last few years. It also has locations at the cruise ship piers, and Sophie shares a brownstone in Brooklyn, inspired by one owned by a friend of mine.

I love the city deeply; I just don’t want to live there any more!

SCOTLAND
I have a deep love of Scotland. Two of my shows have been produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I lived in Edinburgh for a month at a time with each. I’ve visited the city frequently, and travelled a good deal throughout the country: St. Andrews, Skye, the borders, but especially Ayrshire, where I’ve rented an apartment in Culzean Castle through the Scottish National Trust a couple of times.

The area is amazing — friendly people, beautiful scenery, great food. A basic conversation in passing can be the seed of a story.

A big chunk of TRACKING MEDUSA is set in a fictional town in Ayrshire, not far from Culzean, where Gwen and Justin confront Gwen’s past and discover the secrets of the Medusa statue.

Eastern and Western Scotland are very different from each other, in atmosphere, in geography, in sensory detail. The jet stream allows Culzean to grow tropical plants. The coast around St. Andrews can’t mistaken for the isle of Arran in the west. And the Highlands are a world unto themselves (not to mention that the signs are in Scots Gaelic first and sometimes English underneath). Someone from Glasgow speaks differently than someone from Edinburgh than someone from Skye. The cadence is difference, the timbre is different. Yes, there’s a “Scottish” accent different from English or Welsh or Irish, but there are also regional differences within it. Each one is delightful in its own way, but easy to pick up a false ring in a piece.

It’s very obvious when a writer sets something in Scotland and has never visited — it comes across more like a Rennfaire in upstate New York than genuinely in Scotland.

Northumbria
This is Hotspur Percy country, which is why I originally visited when I first graduated high school, and I keep coming back. The border shifted — it’s England, it’s Scotland, it’s England, it’s Scot– you get the idea.

Northumbrians have a thick north England accent, thicker than Yorkshire, but different from Scotland. They are very proud of their area.

My favorite places are Alnwick (now famous because the castle is used for Hogwarts) and Alnmouth. But my ultimate favorite is Lindisfarne, Holy Island, still cut off by the tide twice a day.

Lindisfarne has the ruins of a Priory, where illuminated manuscripts were created, and a castle. Two hotels, several pubs and shops, holiday cottages, a few people, a lot of sheep. When the tourists leave and the tide comes in, and it’s cut off, it’s magic.

I first learned about Lindisfarne when I was a kid, reading HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN magazine, when they had a story about monks saving the illuminated manuscripts. I vowed to visit, and did, right after high school. I can’t stay away. I have photographs that show the erosion of the ruins over the years.

A section of TRACKING MEDUSA is set there, at some of my favorite places, including the Abbey, the beach, and the kilns.

I’ve also visited the battle site of Otterburn. It was autumn when I was there; no one else around. I walked through the darkening woods, it got quieter and the birds stopped chirping. You could feel the weight of the dead. I had similar sensations when visiting Glencoe and Culloden in Scotland, but because Otterburn is smaller, more isolated, and more overgrown, it stayed with me more strongly.

Prague
Prague is an amazing city, centuries of history handled like they happened last week.

Locals sigh and talk about how nothing has been the same since The Battle of the White Mountain. I thought that was in WWII, and understood how it could still have an impact. Then I looked it up at it was in 1620! That gives you a good sense of the emotional geography of the place.

One also always has the sense of being watched. It’s not “Big Brother” or left over from Soviet occupation. It’s all the statues on the roofline that stare down at you.

I plan to use Prague as a setting for several pieces, but it’s in an upcoming serial novel about filming a television show, and part of the pilot is shot in Prague. There’s a lovely sequence on the Charles Bridge between Old Town and Mala Strana, because it’s so different on either side of the bridge.

Cape Cod
One of the reasons I moved here is because the place inspired me so much. My family’s visited since 1968. The National Seashore at Eastham and Race Point Beach in Provincetown are two big favorites, as is the Aschumet Sanctuary with all its holly trees, closer to where I actually live.

I’ve set a lot of pieces on Cape Cod. Morag’s family has a house here in PLAYING THE ANGLES. I’ve used it in quite a few short stories, and in an upcoming novel called THE TIE-CUTTER (Ayrshire, Scotland, is also heavily involved, as is Iceland).

Living here and visiting are very different, so I encourage any author who writes about the place to do more than a flying visit, if you expect me to believe your characters are more than summer people! No matter how many years I live here, I will always be a washashore, which is fine with me. It’s also a term I’d never heard in all the years I visited, but everyone made it clear to me once I moved in!

Any place can provide inspiration, if you look for it. Take time and get to know your home region. When you travel, don’t just post on social media and take video with your phone — experience the place directly, and then it will resonate in your writing.

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Mon. June 26, 2017: Traction to Getting Back on Track

Personal Revolution Cover

“Personal Revolution” — A Cabot’s Crossing Mystery — Independence-Day theme.

99 cents on Smashwords here.

Monday, June 26, 2017
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Sunny and pleasant

A slower-paced weekend than I probably should have had, but I needed it. My brain is tired, my soul is tired.

Saturday morning, I took a wrong step down the stairs and wrenched my knee. The good knee, not the Broadway knee. The outer tendon. My poor hockey players had that often enough, although not from going down a flight of steps. I treated it with arnica and gentle yoga. As long as I keep the leg in alignment, from hip to foot, it’s okay. The minute I go out of alignment, I’m in pain. That certainly slowed me down, because I need to move with more care.

I managed eight loads of laundry over the course of the day. A lot of it consisted of the blankets and fleece covers on the furniture for the winter. They’re now washed and ready to be packed away, with lighter cotton covers on everything. It’s finally warm enough to put the winter things away. Also in the process of washing, blocking, drying, and then putting the winter sweaters away with cedar shavings.

In between the laundry, I’ve been clearing out things that have accumulated — the big stack around my big reading chair, where I tend to nest; starting to go through drawers and boxes. I’m weighed down by too much stuff I don’t need; we haven’t even unpacked everything since we moved here. I wanted to get through everything in the winter and didn’t; so I better buckle down and do it now. A little bit at a time eventually adds up to big bits.

In and around that, I also wrote nearly 2500 words on the piece with the two older protagonists. I’m writing my way in, to see if I have something viable. I like the characters a lot, especially how they’re trying to heal from their damage. It’s naturally set itself in Ayrshire, Scotland, near Culzean, where I’ve stretched the geography a bit to add a small, fictional village between the villages I spent time in when I was there.

I’ll set something else in Cornwall, eventually!

I’m reading Alix Kate Shulman’s DRINKING THE RAIN. It’s a wonderful exploration of a writer’s need to balance solitude and companionship. I’m not as adventurous as she is, as far as where she chooses to stay. I’m a modern woman who appreciates indoor plumbing, and I’m no longer willing to stay in places without it. That doesn’t feed my soul; it merely irritates me. My soul is fed when I’m comfortable.

The book is from the library, but I’m going to hunt down a copy to buy; it’s something I will re-read.

I’m also reading Helen Bevington’s The Journey is Everything: A Journal of the Seventies. I love her writing, and it’s interesting to see her perspective on historical events we both lived through (although I was much younger, just a kid).
I originally read her books shortly after 9/11. I was staying with my mother, in the NYC suburb in which I’d grown up. I got a new library card at the library I’d practically lived in growing up. Wandering the stacks, I found Helen Bevington’s memoirs and journals, and loved them. A few years later, I found A Book and a Love Affair in Niantic and bought it; I keep an eye out for her other books, so I can add them to my personal library. I re-read Book recently, when I came across it, unpacking a box, looking for something else. I wanted to re-read the rest. The Cape Cod libraries don’t carry her books, so I had to order it through the Commonwealth Catalog. This volume is from U Mass-Amherst.

Sunday, I didn’t feel much like doing anything. I read a bit, and then went to S. Yarmouth library, where my friend and fellow writer Arlene Kay gave a program as part of their Author Series. It was wonderful, but then her programs always are. She had a nice turnout (thank goodness, it’s always hit and miss around here), including some mutual friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was nice to catch up.

Came home, read on the deck, cooked dinner. I’d created a new-to-me salsa recipe on Friday, and combined two recipes from one of Barbara Ross’s mysteries (and then added some bits of my own) on Saturday, so Sunday was mostly leftovers.

I think I’ve got the opening of “Miss Winston Apologizes” in my head. Now, to write it down, so it’s ready to add when I’m done with the proofread of “Ramsey.”

I also have to write down the opening of “Labor Intensive” — and then write the rest of it.

Did some work on the Devon Ellington media kit. Did another 1000 words on the older protagonist piece. I think it’s viable. As I’ve been writing my way in, the plot is getting clearer. Pretty soon, I will stop and outline it. I worried the premise was a little too close to Death of a Choleric, but this morning, I figured out how to fix it.

I have a long list of things to do today, both fiction and non-fiction and pitching, and administrative work, and catching up on some correspondence. And, of course, mowing. I have to pause in my work on the meadow, because the damn front needs to be mowed again!

The roses are magnificent this year. We have vases of them all over the house and they smell lovely.

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