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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Thurs. Dec. 12, 2013: Writing and Timing

Thursday, December 12, 2013
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Cloudy and cold

Good writing day yesterday on the novella, one of the screenplays, TRUE HEART, and the television pilot. Also got some correspondence done. Still struggling with the climactic sequence of the other screenplay, but I think I’ve got it now.

I HATE working in Courier font, but for screenplays and teleplays, that’s the standard, so that’s what I’m working in. The same way one should draft the novel or short story in Standard Manuscript Format, because it’s easier to change OUT of it than INTO it per submission guidelines, it’s easier to work from the first draft in Courier for scripts.

The morning look-for-internet-because-Comcast-continues-to-behave-like-a-douche was at Sturgis Library, which was a zoo. Kids running around unsupervised, screaming. Excuse me, this is a library, you have a children’s room. KEEP them there. But I managed to work with students, send out a short story and a requested manuscript, get out some interview questions, pitch for jobs, and catch up on email.

The editor with whom I thought I’d straightened things out is back to random payment dates again, and I am not amused. I only have one more set of articles due at the beginning of January, and then I’m done.

Got some more writing and research done at home in the afternoon, then headed over to Wheldon Library for a quiet hour on the internet. A few things to catch up on, but mostly, under control.

Having to go elsewhere for a connection certainly makes me realize how much time I WASTE jumping on and off the internet all day. The mileage and drive time are annoying, and I have to keep running lists going in both directions of what needs to be done before I go in the other direction, but I am being productive, for the most part.

Iris has decided that it’s too cold to sleep outside the covers, so now she’s sleeping curled against my lower back. I have to be careful when I roll over in the night not to squish her.

Watched the BBC remake of THE 39 STEPS last night. Wow, was the continuity a mess. He’s got a briefcase in one shot; it’s gone in the next. He’s running down a lane without anything in one shot; he has a lantern in the next. He’s in his pajamas in one shot; he’s wearing a fisherman’s sweater (miles away from civilization or anyone who could have lent it to him) in the next. Drove me nuts. The leads were pretty good, the locations and camera work were great, but the continuity and the overly-melodramatic music took away from the piece.

Reading Danny Danziger’s book on behind the scenes at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fantastic book, and makes me miss the museum terribly. During this season, I always visited the Angel Tree in the Medieval Hall. I have the calendar and the book about the tree, which is a comfort, but it’s not the same as making the yearly pilgrimage to SEE it.

The only thing I miss about New York are ethnic food delivery at odd hours and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Devon

Mon. June 3, 2013: Intense Ending in NY and Coming Home

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The Hatshepsut Sphinx next to the Temple of Dendur

Monday, June 3, 2013
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Rainy and cool

Friday was yet another intense NY day. It started on a sad note — my hosts had to take their sick, elderly dog to the vet for the last time. I cancelled my morning appointments so I could be there when they got back, and make sure they were as okay as they could be under the circumstances before heading out.

I went up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I gorged myself on beauty — visited my favorite Hatshepsut in the Egyptian wing, wandered through the Sculpture Garden, the Greek and Roman galleries, European painting, Contemporary painting (saw some Hoppers — nothing compares to seeing the actual painting in person), some of the furniture and design, the Armory, a wonderful exhibit on musical instruments. It was wonderful. I didn’t realize how much I missed that museum — I went there regularly when I lived in the city.

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This is a musical instrument, a Javanese piece called a “slento”.

Walked down along Central Park. Stopped in at the Plaza Hotel and was horrified by their renovations. They’ve rearranged the lobby, stripped it of its classic elegance, and put in a food court downstairs, which looks like a tacky, overpriced New Jersey mall. Horrible. Tacky. Revolting. Not at all in keeping with the history of the place. Made me sick.

Didn’t have time to swatch in the garment district, which was disappointing. Went to the Algonquin — their drinks are now outrageously priced and they’ve come up with gimmick drinks instead of keeping the classics, like their amazing Sidecar, on the menu. Big disappointment. I met Teri Brown there, and her cousin, and a couple of blogging friends. We quickly ditched the place (so disappointing, it used to be THE place to go if you were a writer) and went to my favorite Scottish bar, The St. Andrew’s Pub, for some Belhaven lager and tasty appetizers. And, of course, great conversation, amongst all of us. Great fun.

Headed back to Brooklyn and my friends. We sat out in the garden, chatting and catching up. I went upstairs to pack and get things sorted for the trip home.

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Manhattan skyline from the rooftop garden at the Met

Saturday morning, up early. Packed the last few things, rearranged the luggage a few times. Said goodbye to all the animals and my friends. One of them, a caterer, packed me a lunch.

Getting to the bus wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. We were right across from the Javits, so I watched people stagger out with bags full of books — some people had four or five tote bags overflowing. Wow. What was great about this year’s BEA was that the publishers really made their AUTHORS feel appreciated, along with the readers. It’s so important to know one’s publisher gives a damn, and understands and appreciates the work that writers put in. It’s also important for publishers to do their part in promoting the list and the authors, something which a lot of publishers can’t be bothered with anymore — and then wonder, when EVERYTHING is put on the author, why the numbers aren’t high. When it’s a partnership, everyone benefits. When it becomes an attitude-laden pissing contest, everyone loses.

I’m really happy for my author pals who were celebrated by their publishers here at BEA. They’ve earned the right to feel special and treasured.

Got settled on the bus. Everyone was jealous of my lunch! Steak sandwich on toasted baguette, rice and beans, salad. I wished I had business cards with my friend’s info to give out.

Trip back up to Providence was fine, although traffic was heavy and I was too tired to read or do much of anything.

My mom picked me up and we drove home, stopping to do a few errands on the way. The cats were happy to see me.
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By 6:30, I had a load of laundry in the washer, was showered, barefoot, and out on the deck with the cats and a very dry martini. Heaven!

Sunday, I was exhausted. Couldn’t light much of a fire under myself. I have a respiratory irritation — too many bus fumes, probably, and had headache, muscle aches, overall ick feeling. Dug into the still room and have solved everything except the lingering effect of the respiratory irritation, which I hope to fix by the end of the day.

Three loads of laundry. Took down the winter drapes. Put up the lace panels for summer. Took off the fleece chair covers. Put on the cotton summer covers. Mowed the terraced back area. Tended the flowers. Played with the cats. Tried to read a bit. Worked on some notes from the meetings and runnings-around. Watched GAME OF THRONES.

Slow start this morning. I have to get back in the saddle today, do all the follow-up from last week, and get going on some fresh assignments. Lots of meetings this week, and I have to make sure I’m properly prepared.

I had a great time in NY. I’m so glad I went. It was a good business move. It was a good personal move. I could genuinely enjoy the city and my time spent there, while knowing I made the right decision to leave. The best of both worlds.

Devon

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Snowing
New Year’s Eve

“First Feet”, the Jain Lazarus adventure, unfortunately, won’t be up today. Due to computer glitches which, because I have to leave, I can’t fix this morning, it probably won’t go up until Friday, January 2. My apologies. It’s got a lot more comedy than “The Possession of Nattie Filmore” – I think you’ll enjoy it. It will be a free download once it’s up, and it deals with the New Year’s tradition of “first footing” – but I can’t get it up today.

Buckle up, bunnies. Saturn went retrograde today, to kick your butt into the new year. If you continue to make the same mistakes and refuse to learn life lessons in the coming months, you will get your butt kicked.

Every time Saturn goes retrograde, I get an “offer” from a former job making it sound like they’re doing me this huge favor by taking me back.

Only, I’ve learned, thanks to Saturn, that it’s no good for me to keep putting myself into the situation, and I’m sticking to “no” as my answer.

I had a GREAT day yesterday. I got the cake in to the show safely. I received gifts from my colleagues. We exchanged greetings.

Costume Imp met me at the theatre. On the spur of the moment, we decided to visit the Angel Tree up at the Met – the tree I keep talking about and putting into my stories! We took the bus up Madison Avenue and got into the Met.

It was packed. And, because they’re “renovating” nearly a third of their galleries, there was no flow. So we were trapped in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for hours, always coming up against dead ends, not being able to GET OUT.

It was very frustrating, and it was STUPID on their part, to shut things down like that during their busiest season. Ever hear of planning, people? The Met should know better. It’s not like they’ve never done this before.

On top of it, they’ve renovated the Hatshepsut exhibit, taken out her sphinx, put it in the Temple of Dendur – without a plaque – and crammed her room so they could use the second room for the jewelry of some PRINCESS. The arrangement felt completely wrong and I felt bad for my pal Hattie.

Not to mention it screws up the way I wrote the chase scene in TRACKING MEDUSA. I’ll have to put an author’s note in the book when it’s published. Because I like the way it used to flow, and the way the scene worked, and I’m not changing it because the museum makes “improvements” that aren’t really improvements.

By accident, we landed in the Asian wing, and the Shoan room and tea gardens are beautiful. Only we couldn’t get out. We finally managed to find the Love and Art in the Italian Renaissance exhibit. With all the beautiful art for that period, why does the representative poster show Cupid giving Venus a golden shower through a laurel wreath?

When we finally escaped the museum (we had to stand in line to GET OUT), we hurried down E. 83rd St. to a place that is now on my favorite reasons to visit the Upper East Side (and there are very few of those): Vosges Haut Chocolate.

Yes, a chocolate shop. Our original intent upon meeting was to catch up over hot chocolate. Well, we caught up over HAUTE hot chocolate, a “Pariseienne” as it was called, which is dark drinking chocolate mixed with steamed milk, served in a flute.

Heaven. Complete and utter heaven.

And our server was adorable, too.

After we took our time recovering from the Met debacle over Chocolat Parisienne, we wandered down Madison Avenue. These boutiques expect people to come in a drop obscene amounts of money on their clothes. Unfortunately, the current designs are appallingly ugly, and there was obviously no thought put into the windows to create an enticing display. You can be creative and create a beautiful window without spending money if you use CREATIVITY. Unfortunately, most of these high-end boutiques lack that. I won’t be sad as they continue to close.

We stopped at the bookstore and got books. I bought Terry Pratchett’s MAKING MONEY and Elizabeth Bear’s HELL AND EARTH, which juxtaposes Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth with Queen Mab. I can’t wait.

Home a little after six, did some work, had computer problems, packed.

They said it would snow all night and be done by noon. It didn’t start until 8:30 this morning. So I’m packing up things now and trying to get out of the storm before noon.

Fingers crossed.

I’ll be offline until the 2nd – hopefully, by the time you hear from me again, I’ll have the link up to the “First Feet” download. Again, my apologies.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Devon