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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Passion For Place In Your Novels

I think I'm all alone in the world.

...When it comes to passion for place in my novels. 

Nobody I talk to seems mysteriously driven by a great love for their homeland, be it their city, state or region, that writing a series of novels set in that state consumes them.  Oh sure, I know there are authors who tend to set their novels in a certain city or state because that's what they are familiar with so that's what they write.  But I don't see a lot of deep and abiding pride for place in the novels I read.  Pride that makes a difference in the work they're creating.

The only person I can even think of whose passion for place shows through is James Scott Bell regarding L.A.  Frankly, that's a large reason why I read his books.  While I may not be all that wild about California personally, I am drawn to authors who have a passion for place.

But I have a deep yearning to bring the pages of Arizona's history alive through fiction. Generally speaking, my interest in Arizona begins around 1849-50 and moves forward from there.  I'd like to see the novels I write become a microcosm of Arizona from 1849 to present.  To me it's a way of examining life and reminding myself and others that the ripples we create in life make a difference--for good or bad.  And Arizona is my vehicle to do that.

I have a large foamboard in my office.  On it I have a 4" X 6" colored index cards, one for each of the several novel concepts I have in mind.  Those are spread out over my foam board so I can gaze at it and day by day, bit by bit, see what links each of those novels together--what impact those characters have on their land, and what lesson was learned in the process.

When I've tried to express my love of place in novels, invariably, someone feels compelled to make a snarky comment along the lines of "Good fiction is about characters, not places."  To which I must bite my tongue and resist the urge to reply with an equally snarky "Seriously? You don't say!"

Perhaps where I differ from most people is the weight I place on how much impact your environment has on the person you become.  Even the physical land you grew up on.

Of course being this passionate about place has a couple big negatives--I am ALWAYS paranoid that I haven't researched enough and I always fear I will never do Arizona and her people justice in my novels--which makes me loathe to share my work.  And just because I love Arizona that much, it doesn't mean I'm naturally skilled at bringing her to life in my work. 

And if you want to write a series of novels that are a tapestry of your state's history, it's also difficult because you have to resist the urge to use actual players from her history, since you can't high-jack people's personal histories or fabricate your own to suit your purposes.

Which makes the whole process a very huge challenge.  I feel sort of like those people who have endlessly pursued clues trying to find Jacob Waltz's Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, or reporters who never give up trying to solve a 40 year old crime.  Its a fire that drives you, pushes you forward, and you just can't seem to stop (almost sounds like a novel in itself. LOL!).

Sometimes I feel like I'm chasing my tail trying to nail down the depths of the stories that I am looking for.  But I guess I'll just keep chasing my tail till I'm too tired to push on any more.  Because I'm having too much fun to stop.

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