Saturday, March 16, 2013

Location, location, location

Not always but usually, stories begin with place. For me, at least. I like to think of setting as another character in the novel or story, a frame for the picture, a foundation for the house. Because aren’t people influenced by their surroundings, by what day-to-day life brings? Does the chilled wind relentlessly chafe their skin, do wild animals call and laugh beyond the perimeters of human life, or does the landscape stretch out on all sides, brown and barren, seemingly to the horizon?

My childhood was more of that last one. I grew up in the high desert of California. Sagebrush blowing along the side of the road, blinding white sun and the flat, sparse land, all dirt and cactus and rock. We lived in a valley though, so in the distance you could see mountains—gray, shadowy, fortress-like, sometimes even capped with snow; they stood as a tangible representation of what you had to conquer to get out of there. (Of course, some people find the desert quite beautiful and I will allow, nothing rivals it on a warm summer evening, stars covering the black sky, balmy air. It’s just that I always yearned for more green and taller buildings.)

I’m in Arizona with my oldest son this weekend. We drove here. Six hours across mostly desert and it came to me, slowly, that this is the setting of my next novel. I have written of places I’ve lived but never of the first, and the character I have in mind for this story is a girl with an itch to go places, to climb life’s mountains and see what’s on the other side.  People in all sorts of climates have these feelings but for me, the desert calls them to memory most vividly. It’s got a timeless quality, a grandeur, a feel of stagnation and yet, live things if you know where to look.

1 comment:

  1. Some people think that if you go to the desert, away from distractions, surrounded by emptiness, there will be room to become creative. Let me know if that works for you. I have been on the very outskirts of deserts, in Egypt and in BC, Canada. There is enough in the newness, difference and unknown in deserts for me to become overwhelmed with it all and find no room for anything else.


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka