Thursday, May 30, 2013

Like the corners of my mind...

One of the things you get asked a lot, if you’re fortunate enough to get your fiction into readers’ hands, is where your ideas came from. That character, they’ll ask, is she someone you knew? What about the place, is it somewhere you’ve been? That plot twist, did it really happen? We all like to draw connections, I suppose, and the process of doing so probably satisfies some eager little section of our brains. One of the results of having a higher-order mind, maybe.
For writers, it’s not always consciously apparent where we’ve picked up this character trait or that detail. We’d like to think we created it all. But because I’ve been writing for a long time, sometimes I’m able to see a connection to something after many years have passed, a connection that may not have been evident to me in the immediacy of the creative act. Once the writing becomes almost like a memory itself, I can see its relation to another memory, something I actually saw or experienced. Sometimes.

As many of you know, I wrote my novel, The Qualities of Wood, quite some time ago. I was living in Chicago at the time and took regular trips out of the city to visit family. In the book, my character has a certain impression of the Midwestern landscape which, after years, I couldn’t have really said was my experience or not. In fact, in re-reading the book, I question what I’ve written. I describe a house surrounded by farmland but backed by a woodsy expanse of trees and wonder if this is accurate, if this could actually exist. I wonder about the mood—is it something others would feel in that setting?
I’ve been back to Chicago quite a bit but haven’t made the drive north to Wisconsin in many years. Last week, my daughter and I were back in the Midwest, walking the city but then driving through the rolling hills and farmland beyond the city’s borders. And it was a surreal experience. Like my character, Vivian, I had left the concrete spaces for green expanse and I felt as if I was immersed in the novel I’d written so many years ago.

"The drive wasn’t long, the countryside a blur of sameness. Fields of indecisive green, hills falling short of remarkable. Here and there a white or brown-shingled house, some shadowed by barns. The predictable Midwest."



“Sometimes I think I could drive around all day, but there’s not much to look at, just the fields and a cow here and there.  It’s peaceful, though.” 


The small, white house was set back from the road and elevated slightly, like a judge on his bench…White with dark green trim, there were wide strips of paint missing altogether; these sections of bare wood gave the impression of something bursting its seams.



About forty feet from the house, the land sloped downward.  In the distance stood a line of trees, fairly thick against the sliver of orange that remained of the sun.

So maybe these descriptions, this place, were imprinted in some corner of my mind after all. A photograph, a feeling, a breath of someplace different. It makes me wonder what else can be mined from those dusty corners, so often blocked with debris.


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  2. You evoke it well. I visited places near the Alps last year, where I grew up. The moods of these hills, rivers and mountains feature in my book, Cabal of Mirrors.

    It seems to me everything we ever experienced or imagined can be called forth from some corner of our minds, though early experiences have a special vitality.

    Corrected spelling :)


"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