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9.19.2007

Setting

I wrote on Monday that I enjoy writing on these cooler days, when the sky is clogged with grey storm clouds and the steady thrum of the rain creates a pleasant white noise to accompany the keystrokes. It's easier on these days to find myself back in Oregon. It's easier to conjure the evergreens and picture Mt. Hood in the distance on days like these.

For some reason, it's harder to write about Oregon with lizards mating on the windowsill by the computer (yes, it's that time of year around these parts).

So when it comes to setting-and particularly physical description-how much of a factor is your current locale? Meg Gardiner's novels are set in Santa Barbara, California, yet she and her husband make their home in London. Elmore Leonard wrote about Florida convincingly from his home in Michigan.

I pose that question because I'm still a bit reticent about setting my work in Florida. We've been here just over two years, and I still don't feel comfortable enough to capture the character of the place. I'm warming to the idea of it; I think Jacksonville would be a great town in which to set a thriller.

But part of my apprehension, I think, is coming from an environment that is so oppositional. The climate, the topography, the cultural attitudes-all of them were different in Oregon. After twenty years in that state, I've come to feel confident in my ability to bottle the descriptive elements that speak for how we live in the Northwest.

Florida is a unique animal. It seems violently at odds with itself in many ways. It's a natural paradise that is selling its soul to big entertainment (read Hiaasen's Paradise Screwed for an intimate discussion of the transgressions). It champions itself as a haven for economic prosperity (check out the tax structure if you want to incorporate here), but has profoundly fouled the educational system that would provide the workers to facilitate a business boom.

I guess I'm saying that I don't yet have a feel for it yet. It's coming, though.

Stephen King, who keeps a winter home on the gulf side, has set his latest in Florida (Duma Key). I wonder how much of a strain it was for him to get the setting right, after all those years and all of that success in creating a literary Maine that is so well defined.

So what do you think? How does your physical locale impact the creation of setting in your writing?

And if you ever find yourself frustrated with customer service, please avoid this behavior.

2 comments:

djpaterson said...

I don't think you have to live somewhere to be able to convincingly set a story there, just as you wouldn't have to witness a murder to include one in a novel - however I'm sure a certain familiarity is necessary (with location - I really do have to rely on imagination for the murder aspect). As you say, most of Stephen King's novels are set in his home state of Maine (I await 2008 to see if the change of locale makes a tangible difference to Duma Key) and whilst Meg Gardiner chooses to live in dull and damp England, her novels are based in Santa Barbara, where she has spent most of her life.

Daniel W. Powell said...

Good point on the murder comparison. I hope we all have to rely on the old picture machine up there to create those violent scenes, which makes it all the more surreal that O.J.'s book has gone back to press and the order now stands at 200,000 copies.

I've vowed not to read it, and I won't. But there are a lot of people out there that are interested...