What path do you follow to your imagination? My first step is memory. These damp November days are bringing me back to England. Last week the view out of my window in Maine reflected the images inside my head.
Of course the landscape is different. Maine is wild; England (above) is pastoral. The weight of water still hangs heavy on the air. The colors were muted to grays. I looked for brightness and found it in the woods.
Is my son wearing a yellow raincoat or a mac with rain boots or wellies? Are those gold leaves of autumn or fall? Is the dog off leash or off lead?
Bloody dog! Stella ate the boy’s i-pod. Really.
I know when I’m speaking French (poorly!) or English, but somehow the line between American and British blurs. I’ve lived half my life with an Englishman and three years of that in his country. Our children use a mixed vocabulary especially since coming back from our Oxford sabbatical. Quite a few of my friends are similarly split between countries. In my sidebar you’ll find ex-pat bloggers, even though I’m not one anymore.
When writing dialogue or using first person narration, I must be true to character and that includes nationality. NOT CRICKET (A MATCH FOR EVE) is a book that will need readers to flag my transgressions. Even if the aim is to show confusion, I must not confuse the reader.
By the final draft, I’ll have cleared the fog. The first draft introduces me to the characters and follows the branches of the plot. It’s messy, but this is how the structure emerges. The weather seemed to follow my writing. The sun came back on the day I talked to my agent, Jean Naggar. She liked the sound of NOT CRICKET from my description. I won't be showing the manuscript to her until it's polished. I find revision easier than writing the first draft.
Sometimes I don’t sleep as well in this creative stage. I shut my eyes and hear the characters chatting; I dream different scenarios. I leave scribbled note-cards all over the house. There isn’t such a clear line between sleeping and waking or working and resting. Swimming laps or walking the dog is my time to plan that day’s chapter. When I sit down before my computer, I’m ready to write.
Another part of my work is creating a setting. In the first chapter I discovered that my character lives in Portland by the water. With my daughter for company, I set out last month to find inspiration. Now I’m processing it.
Eastern Prom is a park overlooking Casco Bay and backing onto a quiet, residential neighborhood. You might expect grand houses with these views, but many of the buildings are subdivided into apartments. Paint is peeling; vinyl siding is cracking.
What excuse is there for adding a brick entranceway to this old classic? My character lives in a divided house. She’s an artist who craves beauty beyond the confines of home.
My daughter suggested this house. The color is awful, but don’t you love that quirky triangular window in the attic? The haphazard modern additions attach to what must have once been a stable. My search is part real-estate and part archeology. My home will be fictional, but the neighborhood will be real. I need to set the mood, and look what street we’re on:
Portland is a small city but still the biggest in Maine with a population of 64,000. Compare that to Oxford’s 151,000. The Eastern Prom is often hidden in thick fog. I like this parallel to foggy Oxford (below), a low-lying city between two rivers.
My research expedition translated into maybe one page of my novel, but it was worth it. Now that I know where my character lives, I can imagine how it would shape her. I can see how looking across the Atlantic and north towards England, she’d long to sail free.
Blog Watch: My neighbor, author Cynthia Lord had a short but beautiful post on November. Her blog also features her husband's stunning photography. She's under author blogs in my sidebar.