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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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Waxing Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Sunny and cool

I didn’t have internet access over the weekend. It was pretty great to have the laptop with me, and I have to admit that I didn’t mind being disconnected for a few days.

Saturday was great — got out of the house, got to CT just fine, got set up. Got some work done. Dashed out at lunchtime to pick up some sushi and stopped at one of my favorite wine stores. Although I rarely drink white wine anymore, I felt like it, so, along with the bottle of pinot noir, i picked up a bottle of Chilean Savignon Blanc, one of the best wines I’ve ever had. Truly wonderful.

Worked on the Matty book all day. It will need a lot of work in the revision — I’m finding the book as I write it. That’s the rhythm of this particular book. I know what the themes are — it’s the execution of them that needs work!

I love the kitchen at this particular gig — I always have the best time cooking in this kitchen.

Worked on an assignment for Confidential Job #1 in the evening, but mostly, took it easy, did my yoga, etc. It’s nice to have the ROOM for yoga.

Slept well, up early on Sunday. Kind of a dreary day with patches of sun. I dashed outside to take advantage of the sun whenever possible, doing yoga and meditation out on the deck, got the work for which I was there done, and had a nice, relaxing afternoon reading Donna Leon’s FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES (I love her books) and cooking a great pasta meal in the evening.

I finally watched the original NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM on Sunday night — I’d never seen it before. It took longer to get going than I expected, but it was fun. I love the Museum of Natural History, so it was fun to see how it was used in the movie, and it was also great that the stuff they changed to fit the script made sense within the context of the museum, zaniness and all, although the whoe Egyptian area reminded me more of the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art than anything I’ve seen at the Museum of Natural History! And yet, it was set up so I went with it instead of getting annoyed by it.

Monday morning was gorgeous — yoga and meditation outside, some writing done on the Matty book. I wanted to work on the sci-fi book and discovered I didn’t have the notes with me and was at a point where I couldn’t move forward without the notes. So that was a bit frustrating.

I did do a final proof on a manuscript that goes out the door tomorrow,and polished the outline and synopsis for it. I’ll polish the cover letter later today.

Got home by mid-afternoon, made potato salad, unpacked, tried to get the cats to forgive me for leaving. My mom stayed with them, so it wasn’t like they were alone, but they were still mad.

Quiet night, early to bed, up early this morning. I did some work on the Matty book, and also started the new serial. It needs to be around 50K, and I want to get that first draft DONE so I can revise it and get it out the door this summer.

I have a ton of errands and catching up to do from not being online and working out f town these past few days. So I better get to it. And then I want to get back to the page. I’m feeling optimistic about the writing again, after flailing for the past few weeks.

If you haven’t read my guest blog over on The Book Blues, please stop by, leave a comment, and, if you want, you can enter to win a copy of HEX BREAKER. And my Preakness Wrap-up is finally up on FEMMEFAN.

Devon

Serial: 1,656 words out of 50K

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Waning Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Rainy and mild

My head is so stuffed full of information, it’s ready to burst. It was a good day, but a long one.

Train ride in was mediocre, as usual. I couldn’t stand the thought of being underground, so I decided to take the bus up Madison Avenue and then across 79th St. to the west side. The bus ride up Madison was excruciatingly slow, because there was a water main break at 57th St. The ride across the park was fine, except for the bratty, spoiled little rich kids with their nannies on the bus. One, in particular, a little girl of about six, was exceptionally horrid. Tantrums, screaming, whining, hitting other kids, trying to hit adults. She didn’t try it with me – like most bullies, she’s a coward at heart. I glared at her once and she hid behind the nanny. I’m not one for hitting a kid very often, but this one needed a good smack. Actually, maybe if they started by telling her “no” occasionally – and meaning it – it would make a difference. If she’s like this at six, what will she be like as a teenager, or as an adult? It’s a shame, because she’s very pretty. Too bad the inside doesn’t match the outside.

The Museum of Natural History was full of kids. I forgot that this is the time of year for school trips. You can tell the city kids from the suburban kids. The city kids are loud and rambunctious, but, living in the city, they’re very aware of personal space. They invade their friends’ space, but they’re careful not to invade that of strangers. The suburban kids have the same unwarranted sense of entitlement that their parents do, and just don’t care.

There was a really cute little boy of about eight with his dad, who thought EVERYTHING was AMAZING. There was a little girl of about eight or nine making sure her younger brothers and sisters didn’t wander off – there were about five in that group. The youngest could barely walk, but liked all the animals. She’d (Eldest) read a bunch of books before coming to the museum and was telling them stories about everything – it was great. A teacher-in-the-making (and most of it was even right). There was a girl of about eleven or twelve sketching, photographing, taking lots of notes in the Northwest Coastal Indians exhibit. Either she had a paper to write, or she’s an archaeologist-in-the-making. One little kid fell asleep in a corner of the Hall of Gems – it’s dark and only the cases with the gems are lit. There was a group of teenage boys wandering through North American Mammals, singing Pat Benatar lyrics. I told them I was impressed that they knew the lyrics to her songs, and they all blushed.

The Museum has a lot of stuff for kids, and several of the shops are geared specifically towards kids, filled with learning toys and books – really, they have one of the best shops I’ve ever seen. Low on the kitschy souvenirs, high on the education-presented-engagingly.

I wandered through the special floor of the main store dedicated to books. I could have easily dropped nine or ten THOUSAND dollars just in that bookstore. Fabulous stuff.

I visited some of my favorites – the Blue Whale, the African elephants, the owls, the biodiversity exhibit. I spent more time in the Human Evolution exhibit than I planned, because they were explaining archaeological and anthropological methods and evaluations, and I figured that would be good for the Gwen/Justin books. Yes, I eavesdropped, but the (very cute) lecturer didn’t seem to mind.

I spent quite awhile in the biodiversity exhibit, refreshing my memory. It’s a great exhibit, but once you’ve spent time in a real rain forest (I went to one in Australia), nothing else quite compares. You can recreate the look of it, but not the energy flow.

I spent a lot of time in the Halls of Minerals and Gems. It’s one of my favorite places. It’s very soothing to sit amongst enormous chunks of amethyst and crystal. Because of the dramatic lighting and carpeting, when it’s not full of rambunctious kids, it’s a great place to simply sit and be quiet. It’s a very meditative space.

The Hall of Meteorites is always fascinating. And I spent a lot of time in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Honestly, I liked it better when it was the Hayden Planetarium. This has more levels and more open space, but I felt there was more concentrated information in the former, and it wasn’t all focused on making you buy an extra ticket for the Space show or the IMAX show. I took a lot of notes on the information that was there, and the Planetarium shop is terrific. I jotted down many titles, but I bought three books: Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson, about the woman who figured out how to measure distances between stars and galaxies. I’d never heard of her before; have you? I also bought a very basic book on the Solar System, because I haven’t read anything about it since about the fourth grade, and, other than being able to recite the planets in order from the sun and know what the retrogrades mean . . .that’s all I know. There was also a book on the sale table that I scooped up called A Traveler’s Guide to Mars by William K. Hartmann. The more I read about Mars, the more I think it was once fairly similar to Earth and that civilization destroyed the planet much as we are destroying this one. Flipping through the book, it seems that some of my theories are laid out and backed up in the book, but some of the things I think are possible are discounted, so I’m interested to read it and learn. It’s over 400 pages, so it will be quite a read. I also jotted down a bunch of titles that I’m going to try to get elsewhere.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to go up to the dinosaur exhibits. I’d always loved them as a kid (if I hadn’t gone into the arts, I would probably have been an archaeologist). I’d wafted through briefly after it was re-conceived, but hadn’t spent any time there. This time, I did.

Wow.

The curators truly did a spectacular job. One of the things I loved was how graceful the skeletons looked. That sounds weird, since they were these huge, lumbering beasts, or these delicate raptor-type things, but the way the spines curved and the tails stretched and the angle of the heads and front arms – really beautiful. I took a lot of photographs and wrote a lot of notes (so I’ll know what the photographs represent). This will help me in the evolution of world-building, as will the biodiversity exhibit and the Space Center exhibit.

I probably gathered information for about a dozen projects here; it’s information I can use on projects in progress, and information I can continue using in the future. I think I’m going to get some children’s books on the basics of stars and their physiology (when in doubt, get it in children’s book format – they often have terrific information stated engagingly). I still might contact some of the staff at the museum with questions, but I want to see if I can answer them on my own first.

That was the bulk of the day. I wandered down Central Park West and over towards Lincoln Center. I browsed in the big Barnes & Noble there – since when did it become a pickup joint along the lines of San Francisco’s Marina Safeway of the 1980’s? At first I thought I was delusional, but after the sixth guy asked me for my phone number . . .

My friend and I were supposed to meet at a place on Columbus Avenue, but Fordham University had its graduation ceremony and the place was packed. So I grabbed a few bar stools over at Josefina’s on Broadway instead, and that’s where we met. It’s a place for grown-ups and was a much-needed respite. We had an elegant glass of wine and caught up on life, then maneuvered through the renovations at Lincoln Center to the Walter Reade Theatre for the PEN Literary Awards.

What a beautiful evening! Low key but elegant and friendly. Jonathan Ames was the host. I’ve never read anything of his, but after listening to him up there last night, I am going to! If he writes anywhere near as wonderfully as he speaks, he’ll become one of my favorite aauthors. The ceremony was lovely, simple, from the heart, and inspiring. Richard Nelson received a lifetime achievement for his plays – one of my favorite playwrights, by the way. Janet Malcolm, whose work I thoroughly admire, received an award for her biography of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas (if you haven’t read Malcolm’s work on Sylvia Plath – read it. Now.). Cynthia Ozick received the Nabokov award. There were awards for translation and a children’s book-in-progress, and first novels and poetry and all sorts of inspiring stuff. Truly lovely. And there was an empty chair to signify the writers we work so hard to release via the Core Freedoms/Freedom to Write program who are imprisoned throughout the work for speaking their truths.

The reception after was lovely. Whoever does the catering for PEN always does a terrific job. The h’ors d’oeuvres are just the right size, not too messy, and tasty. My favorites were the sesame rounds with guacamole and the farmstead cheese with pear drizzled with lavender honey.

The only unfortunate part of the day was how badly my feet hurt. I was dressed up, yes, and on my feet all day. But I wore one of my most comfortable pairs of boots. Yet, by the time I got home, after 11 PM, I could barely limp. I couldn’t believe it. And I realized – I’m not used to wearing shoes – at all – any more.

I work at home. We have a no-shoes-in-the-house rule. I put on a pair of shoes to go to the store or out to dinner, but that’s maybe a couple of hours. I wear my Timberland sneakers to do shows. But, other than that, I don’t wear shoes. I buy them. They’re on my shoe rack looking cute. But I spent most of my time barefoot.

Shoes hurt. My feet get claustrophobic.

Actually, my feet hurt, my ankles hurt, my shins hurt, my knees hurt, my back hurt, and my neck hurt by the time I got home, and I’m not feeling so perky today (damn alignment)!

Fortunately, I have acupuncture tomorrow.

I have to have an organized writing day. On the train, I figured out the final obstacle for THE MATILDA MURDERS, so I hope I can finish it today. And I got some interesting ideas for the adaptation, and want to do some work on the two stories.

I should probably also pitch for more short-term paying work.

Devon

Devon’s Bookstore:


5 in 10: Create 5 Short Stories in Ten Weeks
by Devon Ellington. This ebooklet takes you from inspiration to writing to revision to marketing. By the end of ten weeks, you will have either 5 short stories or a good chunk of a novella complete. And it’s only 50 cents, USD. Here.

Writing Rituals: Ideas to Support Creativity by Cerridwen Iris Shea. This ebooklet contains several rituals to help you start writing, get you through writer’s block, and help send your work on its way. It’s only 39 cents USD. (Note: Cerridwen Iris Shea is one of the six names under which I publish). Here.


Full Circle: An Ars Concordia Anthology
. Edited by Colin Galbraith. This is a collection of short stories, poems, and other pieces by a writers’ group of which I am a member. My story is “Pauvre Bob”, set at Arlington Race Track in Illinois. You can download it free here: