Monday, June 17, 2013

Nothing More Than Points on a Map

St. Augustine, Florida and Drogobych, Poland and Portland, Oregon have very little in common. One from the other, they are nothing more than points on a map. I've been to St. Augustine, in that terrible spring of 2005. I have never been to Poland. Portland? Well, I'm here now. Leaving the physical world for a moment, I just recently visited Drogobych and St. Augustine. T.A. Louis took me to Florida, 1969, in his book Things That Hang From Trees. And likewise, Bruno Schulz has taken me to Poland, 1934 (although it is a retrospection of an even earlier time) in The Street of Crocodiles. I know I have discussed both of these books before over the years, and perhaps a discussion of them now may seem redundant at best and sickly repetitive at the worst. So, let's forgo it.

Rather, what about place? How does place and time make it into the mind and ultimately onto the page? These are great questions to ask on a cool June forenoon in Portland, Oregon. I ask them today because I have recently in the last few days revisited three books. Yes, Things That Hang From Trees and The Street of Crocodiles being two you may know. Interestingly enough, I feel like every novel I have ever written, I have wanted to emulate one or both of these books. However, there is a third book, and this book I have read way too many times. I own it at least two times more, and I am procrastinating one of the readings of it right now. My novel, Undertakers of Rain, is very quickly on its way to press. The small changes that happen at this stage are the changes and corrections that really are the last of the polish.

Undertakers of Rain, is set here in Portland, Oregon. It's set in my memory of 1999-2001 Portland, Oregon. Even thought I live here now, I wrote the initial drafts of the novel when I still lived in Denver, Colorado.

Denver may be another story.

When it comes to the novels that I've written, and especially the two that have been published, location is a very major part of the story. I may have considered myself a character driven writer, or a dialogue driven writer, but as I think about it today, a physical location is as important to me and the characters in my story as anything else. I'm quickly realizing how much of the foundation of my stories is in fact a location I know so well. For instance: I have written two novels specifically set here in Portland, Undertakers of Rain and Psychotomemtic Peacocks. I have one novel set in Ansbach, Germany and one novel set in Tucson, Arizona: From Ansbach to Color and Just Then the Moment respectively. There are two novels set in Denver, A Gun to the Head and Dysphoric Notions. Oddly enough, the last manuscript I drafted, The Errors of Fabric, is set in both Portland, and Denver. In short, I have set everything I have ever written in places that I have lived. Denver and Portland being the two places I have lived the longest.

So, what is it? Bruno Schulz lived his entire life in Drogobych never even leaving the place for a long stretch of time. T.A. Louis, a Floridian, vacationed in St. Augustine as a kid. These are places these two writers knew intimately well. Not unlike me with Portland, Denver, Tuscon and Ansbach.

What about Portland, Oregon?

I have so many things to say about this place. Much of how I feel about the place is genuine and genuinely good. The truth is, I really feel like Portland is the perfect place for a social introvert. What? What the hell is a social introvert? Well, I've been thinking about this one for days too. I say social introvert only because you can be an introverted person and still enjoy social situations, like the bar, a hockey game, working in a restaurant. Portland, in my opinion, is good for the social introvert because there are ample places to talk to people without really meeting them. Whole conversations in bars that can go on for hours, or days or even months with no lasting ties. This is not to say that I have not acquired friends here. Nothing is further from the truth. I have made a few connections here that are the closest connections I've ever made. But the point remains that I am often alone even in a crowded situation and I am so delightfully left to my meandering daydreams. I wander the streets alone, and this adds yet other facet to it. I have no emotional attachment to the place because I have no emotional ties to other people here. It's strange. And yet, I use Portland as story settings again and again. So obviously I feel something here.

Place. Space. Time.

Here we are, all climbing around this mother Earth like lice on the spherical head of a host. Here on Earth, we have finite places to be. Yet, as writers, we have the infinite places to write about because the maps inside our skulls are unlimited. We choose a place to write about. This can be the places we lived as children, the places we live now. We pick a space within the places too. The space may be a childhood home as the case with Schulz, or a neighborhood as the case with Louis, or a bar in my case. We then add a time. All writers do this. I loved reading Herman Raucher's memoir, Summer '42. His book worked best with the backdrop of the war and the age of the characters. There is a time of history and a time of a character's life than fit well within the confines of story.

I hope to finish my work on Undertakers of Rain this week. For you, should you like to think about location, try Bruno Schulz and T.A. Louis. They are both great reads, short, perfect.

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