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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Tues. July 9, 2013: Jazz and Writing

Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Foggy and cooler

If you’re in the area today, come up to the Tabernacle for a free jazz concert. Details here.

And, time is running out for the “Start Your Revision Engines” workshop, running July 12-15. Details here.

Worked on the short story, thought through some revisions, worked with students, got out a mailing for a client, finished an edit for another client. Ran some errands.

Some spam idiot posted a comment berating me for only posting videos on my blog instead of something intelligent for people to read. Um, I have NEVER posted a video on any of my blogs. Talk about a quick kick to the spam file! Like I’d come visit your site when you insult me. Moron.

I need to mow today — the grass is getting a little high and raggedy. It was too hot during the heat wave. Even though it looks like it’s going to rain, I hope I can get some done today.

Brandy, to answer your question, the corset for the Mermaid Ball is a navy blue brocade. Really pretty.

For those of you who’ve taken my “Setting as Character” course, I have a book to recommend. It’s called SENSE OF PLACE: THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN LITERARY LANDSCAPE, by Frederick Turner, and discusses how American writers found and used a sense of place, from Thoreau to Leslie Marmon Silko. Beautiful book.

Speaking of good books, I got a 5-star review for my Topic Workbook SETTING UP YOUR SUBMISSION SYSTEM. I’m delighted that this workbook is getting such a positive response.

Lots to do today and this week, and only a limited amount of time to do it, so I better get going.

I’m having such fun with the long short story — it’s a nice mix of mystery and high fantasy, although it’s longer than I envisioned. But I like these characters and this world.

The tiger lilies have started to bloom! I love tiger lilies — they’re so cheerful!

Devon

Mon. April 30, 2012: Beltane Eve

Monday, April 30, 2012
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Sunny and cool

Billy Root blogs about the importance of leaving a character on the set. Check it out.

And don’t forget the Amazing Antagonists Seminar on May 12. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and, if you’ve ever had doubts about the strength and importance of your antagonists, this class will help you a lot. More information and registration here.

Busy weekend, and I’m still trying to shake off the last of this flu. So far, not much luck.

I did not think I could pull it together for the Arbor Day Celebration, but I did, and I’m glad I did. It was lovely, and I got to meet some of the people with whom I’ll be dealing when I teach at the high school in May.

Worked outside, worked with students in the afternoon. The plumber came, fixed the problem in ten minutes, and was done. Phew!

Saturday morning, I spent about an hour and a half working to weed Mother’s Park with the Committee. It was fun, but I still get tired awfully fast. Had to then dash to an appointment in Harwich, which turned out to be a washout.

Came back and cleaned out the garage (first time in my life I’ve ever been able to say that). Unpacked about 20 boxes, put up shelves, organized things. Lots more room in there now! It looks good. And I can get at everything, which is helpful.

Wrapped up the One Story Many Voices class and caught up with my year-long students and private students. Worked on revisions and proposals.

Dump run on Sunday, getting rid of the recycling. Tried to do bottle return — I swear, they’re quick to charge the bottle deposit, but then try to make it impossible for you to return them and get the money back. Why is that? Because they hope you’ll give up and they can keep it, of course. I had to go to three different places before I found one where the machines were in service. Because, heaven forbid, the place where I BOUGHT them, where they CHARGED me, would have a working redemption center. Oh, they have the machines — but in the year and half I’ve lived here, they’ve been in working order exactly once.

Verizon Wireless are being dickheads, as usual. I’m so sick of these mega companies who think they are above the law. They’re NOT.

I have a lot of work on my plate today, along with yard work that has to get done, and errands and appointments. Setting as Character starts today, and it’s Beltane Eve.

Never a dull moment!

Devon

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Rainy and cold

Busy weekend, but first of all, hop on over to the Savvy Authors’ Blog and read my piece on “Character, not Caricature”.

I hope you sign up for the deconstruction workshop on Stephanie Plum in January, the One Story, Many Voices workshop in January, and then, from mid-April to Mid-May, the Setting as Character Workshop. The latter two have limited enrollment, because of the intensity of assignments. The Plum workshop can fit in as many as want to take it.

The weekend — Saturday was busy. The breakfast at the National Marine Life Center was a lot of fun, I met a lot of great people, and the progress they’ve made in the past real is truly wonderful! They’re doing an amazing job, and once the center is complete and fully functional, it will make a huge positive difference in marine wildlife around here. They’re up for a $250,000 Pepsi Challenge grant, so if you could vote for them as often as possible (you can only vote once a day, but you can vote every day in the calendar month), it would help them get the grant and hook up the next part of the facility.

Came back, did some unpacking in the afternoon. It seems no matter how much I unpack, there’s no change, and it gets discouraging.

Decided, on Friday night, that I didn’t like where my bed was situated, behind the door. I started to feel claustrophobic. However, my head is in the North, (northeast, actually) which is the best way for me to sleep. But I moved it to the opposite site of the room, so my head is northwest now. The cats like it better, the room feels overall better, but I didn’t sleep well on Friday night into Saturday at all.

Read the papers Sunday morning, then planned to spend a couple of hours working on my room, which turned out to be the bulk of the day. Of course, a lot of it was spent rearranging the closets, so you can’t really see much impact on the room itself. However, I couldn’t unpack boxes in my room until I took out and unpacked the boxes in my closet which didn’t belong in the closet, but were stashed in there because I was afraid they’d go astray during the moving process.

Also managed to get a few loads of laundry done.

Got dressed up, went to the neighbor’s open house across the street. The little Westie no longer lives there — had to go to another home because of separation anxiety, poor thing! The Scottie is still there, and very cute. Met a bunch of the neighbors, who are all very nice, and each has their own unique qualities. They seemed relieved when I said we planned to be here for at least two years — I wonder if other renters moved in and out quickly? Anyway, I met the two women who live in the house on the corner, with the absolutely amazing yard, and they are happy to give me advice come summer. They also recommended a vet, and there’s a no-kill shelter close by they work with, and I may get my next cat there instead of the other shelter. We’ll see — it’ll be at least mid-January, to give these two a chance to settle in more, and for me to put away the decorations. New cat + many decorations is just an accident waiting to happen.

There’s a serial arsonist on the loose in the area. He (assuming it’s male) seems to be targeting people he thinks are rich, so we should be okay. This house is really cute, sweet, and loved, but it’s hardly a McMansion or in the throes of a multi-million dollar renovation. Still, it’s disturbing — a house in Sandwich was torched, a house in Barnstable was torched, and, last night, a lovely historic inn in Yarmouth that just went under renovation. I’ll have to be vigilant and set up some extra protections.

There’s an enormous black something sitting on the shed at the far end of the yard across the street. It’s much too big to be a cat (unless it’s like, a panther, and I doubt there’s be a panther sitting on someone’s shed washing its face), so I’m assuming it’s yet another Very Large Dog. It’s too far for me to see, but whatever it is, it’s calm and feels it’s on its home turf.

No one knows who owns Imp-dog. I told them my sense is he sneaks out without his owner’s knowledge. I’m hoping I can get close enough, eventually, to read his tags.

They told me, however, who’s most likely to be tossing the beer cans on the lawn. It seems there are some renters around the corner who think, because they’re renting, it doesn’t matter what they do in the neighborhood. They give renters a bad name.

Bad storm last night, but I slept better anyway, and the basement remains dry, so that’s good. The house definitely passed the “squishy test.”

Weird dreams last night (head in the West), but they might turn into an interesting story.

I want to spend some time on the page before I go back to the Search for an Ethical Insurance Broker so I can get these plates switched out and be in compliance with the law. In addition to just being angry at Allstate for not knowing the regulations in the state and not caring to find out, I have no confidence that, if, heaven forbid, anything happened, they would make good on the policy. Yes, they have in the past, but we had an individual dealing with it, not an outsourced 800 number where the person on the other end has no reason to care. (An Allstate commercial came on last night when we were watching TV and we started yelling at it).

Had a lovely conversation with someone for whom I worked who booked me for a week in February and another week in May. That will be fun. There will be some organization necessary on the cat front here, but we’ll figure it out, and it’s one of my favorite gigs, so I’m happy they still want me.

Also got a call from the family in Maine –we’re going to nip up for the big Christmas Day dinner. We’ve never been able to spend Christmas with them, because of distance and I was usually working on either Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or both, depending upon the show schedule. We do our big celebration on Christmas Eve anyway, and then just stockings on Christmas Day morning. We’ll nip up for the meal and come back the same day.

And the neighbors are all good about keeping an eye on each other’s houses without getting into each other’s business, so we just tell each other our schedules and keep an eye out. A utility truck and a jumpsuit do not credentials make! Not in this neighborhood! 😉

Watched Carrie Fisher’s WISHFUL DRINKING on HBO last night. It’s well done, very well done, in fact, but more bitter than I expected.

Off I go. Maybe I can get some of the kitchen boxes in the garage unpacked today, so that I have everything I need for the party. And I have to finish writing cards and packing gifts. I kind of got stuck mid-N.

Devon