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. Dec. 3, 2012: In NYC for Costume Imp’s B-day Bash!

Monday, December 3, 2012
Waning Moo
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Can you believe it’s December already?

I’m the featured artist over on Weekly Artist — check it out! Drop a comment, so they know you stopped by.

I am in NY today, for Costume Imp’s birthday. Left yesterday, will be home tomorrow night.

Friday was busy and stressful. Had to do some errands, fretted a lot.

Started doing my coursework for the Introduction to Astronomy. I’m not going for certification, just auditing. I like the class a lot, but the math is beyond me. If I was willing to put in about 30-40 hours at the outset catching up, I could learn it and do it, but I don’t have those hours and the access to a tutor, so I’m just auditing, taking notes, etc. I’m still getting a lot out of it, and I’m not sucking away time from anyone who is going for certification.

This class will be a huge help in the aviation mystery, since, especially at that time (late 1940’s) a lot of night navigation was still done by stars.

Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

After watching some of the lectures, I went out to “look up” and put what we discussed into practice — but since it was getting ready to snow, I didn’t see much!

Will have to remedy that later this week.

Saturday was better, although I’m just so fatigued all the time lately. There was a line at the post office — looks like everyone’s got their cards done and their decorations up already. And it’s only December 1! I always felt so organized in NY, and I feel so behind here!

Finished making Costume Imp’s present. It was lots of fun. Hopefully, he’ll gt a kick out of it.

Sunday morning, the newsletter went out for December, and then, off I went!

I’m looking forward to celebrating Imp’s mega-birthday!

Devon

You can still sign up for the Flash 7 Workshop — write, revise, submit 7 Flash Fiction pieces in 10 Days, Dec. 7-16. Info and registration here.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Sunny and pleasant
Samhain/Halloween

I can’t believe it’s the end of October already! My goodness.

And tomorrow, Nano begins.

I may already give the boot to one of the N3s, who seemed to fit the criteria at the beginning, and suddenly is non-responsive. I sent a last-chance mail today – I’ve got a waiting list for slots, and if this one’s not going to meet the requirements of the group (write every day, don’t whine, and communicate), I’ve got a whole long waiting list of those who will. Next!

Hey, the kind of mentoring this group gets usually goes for $100/hour in this neck of the woods, and, considering how much time I devote to them gratis in November, they’re getting between $700-$1000/week worth of mentoring. So when I ask for a response on something, they can give it!

Yesterday was reasonably productive. I spent a lot of time working on the Helena Francis mystery outline. I think it’s in pretty decent shape. There were some huge holes when I started; I think I’ve come up with some solution. I do think, however, that I’ll end up cutting a good portion of the first draft and rewriting with more exciting scenes. But I need to set it all out chronologically, step-by-step, before I know where to tweak. The first two thirds and the end are pretty strong; it’s the part leading up to the end that needs work, and I hope it will strengthen as I keep working.

I completed the work for Confidential Job #1, and I posted some writing services ads on Craigslist – we’ll see how those work. Probably the silliest thing I could do is post ads going into Nano, but I’d like to pick up some quick turnaround, decently paying assignments (which I doubt I can cull from Craigslist) during Nano. We’ll see, though. Maybe I’ll get a pleasant surprise.

I have to dash into the city for a few hours. Hopefully, it will be a quick turnaround. I’ve got a good bit of writing to get done, and I have to prepare for tonight!

Have a wonderful day, everyone!

Devon

Published in: on October 31, 2008 at 7:48 am  Comments (8)  
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