Showing posts with label cities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cities. Show all posts

27 April 2017

Moving, Moving, moving...


by Eve Fisher

Next week, my husband and I are moving from small town South Dakota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota - which to many people is still small town South Dakota.  (Sioux Falls is South Dakota's largest city, with a population of under 200,000.)  We're moving for many reasons:  the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) work we do at the pen; doctors (we're getting older and frailer); amenities (restaurants, shopping, etc.); cultural events (of all kinds!), etc.  And we already have a network of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances in Sioux Falls.  And we found a real gem of a house, a vintage Craftsman, that I call the "Goldilocks house", because it's not too big, not too small, but just right for the two of us.  Amazing!  (Will post pictures later.)

So excited, exhilarated, exhausted.  Also sad and bittersweet.  We've lived in the old town for almost 27 years, so of course we're going to miss a whole lot of stuff.
  • Everywhere we go, we know somebody, if not everybody.  There is always someone to talk to. 
  • Everywhere we go, they know who we are.  They know our order at the Chinese Restaurant. They know us at the two diners.  And at the library, the grocery store, the post office, and just about everywhere else we go.   
  • We don't have to think about where we're going and how we're going to get there:  there are only so many places to go, and only so many ways to get there, so by now we move on autopilot.  
  • We have a state park two miles from town, which I walk in almost every day.  I've seen deer, eagles, foxes, coyotes, pheasants, and wild turkeys, not to mention geese, ducks, pelicans, seagulls, coots, and cormorants.  
  • Friends.  You all know who you are.  
And there are all the differences of small town living.  Some of my favorite stories are:

When we first moved up here, we rented for the first year, and then went house hunting. There weren't that many houses for sale, so I think we saw all of them.  (In the same way, we visited every church in town.)  When we finally did buy - a huge two-story box a block and a half from campus - after the closing, I went down to City Hall to change the utilities over.  The lady at City Hall said, "Oh, we already took care of that.  It's all in your name now."  They're not going to do that in Sioux Falls.  (We lived in that house for 22 years...)

Northern Exposure-Intertitle.jpgThe local radio station used to broadcast out onto Main Street, so that as you walked around downtown, you could hear the news, weather, music, and the ever-important "locals".  One day I was walking to work and heard that I was going to be interviewed later that day...  This kind of thing was one of the reasons that, back then, I used to tell everyone back East that I lived in the South Dakota equivalent of Cicely, Alaska (of Northern Exposure for those of you who weren't fans.)  They all thought that was pretty cool.

Pharmaceutical shock:  The first time I walked into the local drug store and saw that they had needles for sale to anyone who wanted them I about freaked out.  Then I realized they were for diabetics, and it hadn't occurred to anyone that addicts might want them. Another time, I had to have my wisdom teeth surgically removed, and the pain prescription wasn't going to be ready for another hour.  But Allan had to teach all day, so I called a friend and asked if she could pick me up and take me to the drug store, because the pain was pretty bad?  Fifteen minutes later her husband knocked on the door with my prescription, and told me to write him a check later. It was so sweet of him, but what stunned me was that the pharmacist had given pain meds to someone else to deliver to me...  (In case you can't tell, I was used to big city living - LA and Atlanta - where you show up in person with some serious ID.)

When I first moved up here I was 36 years old, with long black hair down to my waist.  After a couple of years of dealing with prairie winds - either I kept my hair tied back, pinned up, or got whipped almost to death by it - I cut it short.  One of my best friends came up for my 40th birthday, and as I gave her the walking tour, in almost every shop someone came up and said, "Oh, Eve, let me look at your new haircut!"  After about the third or fourth time, Lora stopped on the sidewalk and asked, "Are you telling me that people don't have anything better to do in this town than talk about your hair?"  Pretty much, yep.

The truth is, ANY change in a small town will generate days, if not weeks, sometimes months and even YEARS of talk.  My hair got a couple of days.  But people still talk about when the old hotel downtown burned down, and they still give directions according to buildings that are no longer there. (I have always been grateful that I moved up here BEFORE the Franklin School was torn down, because that way when someone says I need to turn right after the old Franklin School, I know where that is.)

Caring: small towns pull together, show up, bring food, and send cards.  I can't tell you the number of fundraisers that are held in a small town, most of which involve food:  pork loin feeds, pancake feeds, soup suppers, etc.  They're held for cancer patients, accident victims, hospital bills, medical bills, funeral bills, you name it.  And people show up, pay a generous free will donation, and eat heartily. And no death is ever ignored.  When my mother died, I got cards from practically everyone in town, even though no one had ever met her.  When we moved Allan's mother up here, she quickly became part of the community (she was the biggest social butterfly you could ever meet).  Sadly, she lived less than a year after the move (pancreatic cancer), but her church, prayer, and exercise groups called and visited, and at her South Dakota memorial service, over 200 people showed up.

The web.  You sit in a small town cafe, or church supper, or anywhere, and you hear stories.  Families are traced backwards and forwards.  Where they came from, where they lived, where they're buried, where the children / grandchildren / great-grandchildren moved to and what they're doing now.  Who married whom?  Where did they work?  Some stories are repeated with great relish:  You remember the folks that used to live in that big house on the corner:  they separated, and she got the house, but he came back every year to check up on the kids, and every year, nine months later, she had another baby.  Never divorced...  Others - of violence and abuse, or heartbreaking sorrow - are spoken of in hushed voices.  It's endlessly fascinating.  Especially since my family isn't in the mix.  Because the downside of a small town is that they never forget, and all the sins of the fathers are remembered unto the fourth and fifth generation.  This is one of the reasons why people move away from small towns. Small towns never forget.  Allow me to repeat that.  Small towns never forget.

I've enjoyed living in a small town; and I know there are times when I will really miss it.  But it's only an hour's drive away from Sioux Falls, and, as I said, Sioux Falls isn't that large a city.  I will continue to see my friends, and they now have another reason to come to Sioux Falls.  Thank God I live in the age of automobiles and interstates, instead of the days of buggies and dirt roads! And I will continue to write stories set in Laskin, South Dakota, with Grant Tripp and Linda Thompson and Matt Stark.  But who knows?  Some new characters, new settings may be coming into the mix.  I'll keep you posted!






26 May 2016

A Question of Identity


by Eve Fisher

Amalfi Coast, © Wikimedia Commons
With any luck, by the time you read this, I'll be on vacation with my husband, taking a Mediterranean Cruise. I love cruises: I find it infinitely relaxing to unpack once, and then do pretty much whatever I want to do for the duration. I love the Mediterranean: the food, the scenery, the history, the artwork. I love vacations: it gives me time to think, the long-houred, idle thinking (sometimes drifting, sometimes racing) that I don't often have time for at home. This is the kind of thinking /dreaming / drifting that came with childhood and is one of the main reasons for nostalgia about childhood. Time. An idea. A thought. A question. And you're off…

And currently, I've been thinking about a lot of things: identity, mortality, friendship, relationships, because of the death of one of our very best friends, Frank Senger. He was only 61. A wonderfully talented actor, who appeared in (among other things) The Professional, Maximum Risk, a number of Law & Orders and Oz. He also wrote and performed poetry and performance art pieces. He was the best man at our wedding, 37 years ago, my husband's best friend, and my best improv partner ever.

Frank Senger
Frank Senger
Allan and I and Frank and his wife, Theresa (a wonderful visual artist), hung out well together: we talked constantly, vacationed, cooked and ate extremely well, hiked, laughed, watched movies and TV shows, went to art exhibits and performance pieces, and anything else that struck our fancy. Frank was a great friend, a great listener, a great person. His death was sudden, tragic, comic, and pure Frank: he was teaching an acting class, doing a death scene, in which he fell down... and did not get up... (A friend of mine heard that and said, "he'll haunt that theater forever - in a nice way", and she's probably right.) He suffered a massive coronary. We still can't believe that he's really gone.

Deaths are hard. Every time you lose someone important to you, you lose not only the person you were, but the person you were with that person. And the person they were with you... For example, whenever we all got together, sooner or later Frank and I would go into improv: Bad Kabuki Theater, Bad Greek Theater, Hillbilly Hamlet, and many, many others. I could be absolutely fearless with Frank, because no matter what I said, he'd catch it, play with it, tie a bow in it, and throw it back. I can't imagine anyone else triggering the Eve who did that fearless improv at PS1 in NYC. We'd gone to see an installation piece that was pure crap, so Frank and I started doing Bad Greek Theater, with Frank orating a mixture of artistic / political / social satire and gobbledegook while I was his Greek chorus, waving my arms while chanting, among other things: "Orestes! You've lost your testes!"

Allan... well, to Allan, Frank was his best friend and his brother. And Theresa... it's unimaginable what she's going through.

Monochrome head-and-left-shoulder photo portrait of 50-year-old Lewis
C.S. Lewis
By Source, Fair use,
https://en.wikipedia.org/
w/index.php?curid=7049156
Friendship is a great mystery, and only deepens the great mystery of identity. None of us will ever be again who we were with Frank, because that special chemistry only existed when we were with him. Not only do we not live in a vacuum, but we (literally, in all conjugations) ARE not in a vacuum. Who we are is dependent, in large part, on who's around us, and changes accordingly. C. S. Lewis explained it on The Four Loves:

"Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then E loses not only A but "A's part in C," while C loses not only A but "A's part in B." In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him "to myself" now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald." (p. 96)

And less of myself as well, because I'm also not large enough to call MY whole person into activity. Contrary to egomania and other common disorders, I want and need other lights than my own to show all my facets as well. I believe that's part of the reason that people, as they grow older and their contemporaries die, retreat into memory. To recapture not only their friends and family, but themselves. Because half of what we talk about with family and friends is the past, the things we did together. We reiterate, play back the past over and over again to make sure that not only we remember, but the next generation learns it as well, so that they can remember, too.

That's why we have things like history, diaries, Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and Icelandic Sagas. If you can't pass down the memories one way, pass them down another. Because when there's no one who remembers but you... well, that gets tough. And strange. I know. My parents have been dead for 16 years, my grandparents for over 30 years. I have no other living relatives. So I have no one to reminisce with about my childhood, not to mention the stories they told me about their lives, and other relatives' lives. Thank God for writing…

Back to friendship: Lewis also wrote, "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." (And God knows, as Emily St. John Mandel said in Station Eleven, "Survival is insufficient.") But I disagree with Lewis: Friendship IS necessary. It DOES have survival value. Art, philosophy, music, friends, lovers, family - everything that touches us, mentally / emotionally / spiritually, goes into making us who we are. To lose any of that is to lose a part of ourselves. To change ourselves. To gain any of it is to enhance ourselves.


“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624.
John Donne is always right on the money.

R.I.P., Frank Senger, and all the people I have loved, now no longer.

Back in a week. Love to all.

31 March 2015

Does Your City Cut It?


by Jim Winter

In the before time, in the long, long ago, I decided I would never write a story set in Los Angeles or New York. (I've since broken that rule with New York City.) No, I was going to be different. I was going to be unique. I was going to set my crime fiction in Cleveland.


OK, so Les Roberts had been doing it for about twelve years at that point. So his series was going to run out of steam soon. Right?

Er... No. He's still writing about Cleveland-based PI Milan Jackovich. But that's one series set on the North Coast. How many does New York have? Cleveland? Boston is lousy with crime fiction. Even Detroit, Cleveland's fellow declining Rust Belt city, has Loren Estleman and Elmore Leonard, and those are just the most notable Motor City authors.

Cleveland proved to be good fodder. My Cleveland is not Les's Cleveland is not Michael Koryta's. Cleveland. And that's pretty cool. Some have asked me why I haven't written in Cincinnati.

Well...

The city never really grabbed me the way Cleveland did. Ditto for Ohio's other big C, Columbus. I'm sure I could go nuts with Cincinnati, particularly with the West Side's well-defined culture that even they make fun of. I've taken stabs at it, but Cincinnati was always a place to live for me, not a place to tell stories. And I know that's not fair. Jonathan Valin spent the eighties writing about Harry Stoner's adventures in the Queen City.

So what is it that draws us to write about certain cities? LA and New York get a large share of stories simply because they are the two largest cities in the US. But what about the smaller cities? Why Cleveland for me and Les and Michael? What makes Stuart MacBride have his cops prowl the streets of Aberdeen, one of Scotland's lesser known cities, instead of, say, London or across the sea in Dublin?

A lot of it has to do with where the author is from. When we travel and pass through a city, we see a collection of tall buildings in the middle of urban sprawl. Every town has a McDonald's and carpet stores and the same gas station chains. I remember when one author came to Cincinnati for a signing, I suggested a place to eat simply because I liked eating there.

"Naw, that's a bit too chainy."

So it was. We hit the neighborhood bar across the parking lot from the bookstore. But these are the things that make cities interesting. Nick Kepler's favorite deli really exists on St. Clair. And while Milan Jackovich's Vuk's doesn't exist, it wasn't that long ago you could find two or three bars in Slavic Village similar to it.

As with fictional cities, it's that lived-in feel that makes even real-life cities come alive for the readers.

Cleveland

22 January 2013

Location, Location, Location


By David Dean

I was at a house-warming party a few days ago when I was confronted by someone who had read my book, "The Thirteenth Child".  He had had a few drinks and wanted to correct me on a bit of geography in a particular scene.  "You can't walk from the railroad tracks to the bay," he assured me.  "No street runs from the tracks all the way to the bay."

First of all, let me go on the record as being both surprised and pleased that this fellow had read my book.  "So this is the guy..." I thought.  I had been hoping to meet him and shake his hand.  But, he wasn't in the mood for handshaking, he wanted an explanation.  How could I be so stupid?

"Well," says I, "it's not this town, it's 'Wessex Township'--I made it up."

Now he gives me a look from under his eyebrows--oh yeah?  "Then how come the main street is called Mechanic Street just like here?"

I took another sip of my drink.  I was kind of enjoying this.  "It isn't," I corrected the Guy Who Had Read My Book, "It's Mercantile."  Hah! 

He kind of deflated a little at that.  "Oh...I guess I read that wrong."  He avoided me the rest of the evening. 

That'll teach him to read my book. 

But it didn't escape me that a fellow citizen had recognized what he thought was home in my book's setting.  In all fairness, the location of the book was very closely modeled on the town I (and he) live in.  In fact, I had a lot of fun recreating my little bit of heaven into a setting for dark and horrible things.  And it saddened me when my editor demanded I thin out the dense forest of words describing it.  Even so, my former fan had seen exactly what I wanted; after all, if he hadn't, I would have failed an important litmus test in creating the location.  The only reason I didn't make it my own town (as I explained to the disappointed man) was that I would have then been tied too tightly to the actual geography, and I didn't want that kind of restriction.  Though I was drawing heavily from reality, I was at the same time creating someplace completely unique.

Location certainly plays a huge role in literature.  Sometimes it's almost another character: a supporting actor without dialogue.  Read Janice Law's "Fires Of London" if you want an example.  Brilliantly done descriptions of London during the Blitz; never labored or lengthy (But this is only one example of brilliance in Janice's novel--there are many, many others.  If you haven't read it, you owe it to yourself to do so.).  Novel-length fiction allows writers a large canvas on which to paint their scenes and settings; short fiction generally requires a few deft strokes to evoke atmosphere and location.  Both disciplines are demanding.

I've always enjoyed certain authors for their ability to evoke time and place, Graham Greene being one of my favorites.  He traveled the world in his lifetime and spent a great deal of time in foreign lands; seldom as a tourist.  His novels certainly reflect this.  Had anyone written a major work on Haiti prior to "The Comedians"?  Who knew of Viet Nam before the "The Quiet American"?  I could go on, but you get the point.

Location is sometimes a destination, sometimes home.  Every character has to either live somewhere, or be someplace else.  Where he or she is located is often a key part of the plot.  Even the journey to arrive at someplace must become a setting in a story.

Even as I write this, a comment by Eve Fisher on a post by R.T. Lawton (also excellent at foreign and exotic locales) mentions Cecelia Holland, reminding me of another author gifted at creating a sense of place.  In her case, however, the places are seldom, if ever, within her lifetime, and therefore experience.  She is one of the best of those writers who pen the bewilderingly labeled "Historical Fictions".  Her novels have recreated settings in medieval Mongolia (thus providing the connection to R.T.'s blog about the Mongolian New Year observance), England on the fateful eve of the Battle of Hastings, and the Iceland of two feuding brothers at the close of the Viking era.  No easy feat these things.  Not only must she convince us of the verisimilitude of the land she has invited us into, but she must also convincingly portray a time, and a people, that she could only know through research.  When I think of the Man Who Read My Book's objection over the placement of a single street in a fictional town, I quail at the prospect of attempting what Cecelia Holland and Janice Law have both accomplished in their various works.  Even Graham Greene always wrote in contemporary terms.

Have any of you reading this ever placed a story in a locale that you have never visited or lived in?  Though I have been fortunate in my life to have traveled a great deal, I will admit to having practiced this in a story or two.  But, I won't say which ones.  So far, I've never been caught at it.  In my defense, I did do a heck of a lot of research prior to attempting them.  But in the overwhelming number of cases, my stories don't stray far from the towns, states, and countries of which I have, at least some, personal knowledge.

Robert Ghirardi, another favorite writer of mine adept at evocative description, said in an interview (and I'm taking the liberty to paraphrase here as I can't locate the article) that modern authors are too bound by what they have personally experienced.  He was referring to the strictures placed upon the imagination in this age of near-instant knowledge through the internet and its children.  Any deviation from what is generally known can be instantly fact-checked, making fiction writers cautious to stray too much from what they either personally know or can confirm.  The only safe way to do that is delve into the realm of fantasy, which it seems, more and more authors are doing.  It is also one of the fastest-growing genres in terms of readership, which might be a result of the dearth of truly "exotic" locales in our steadily shrinking world.

Be that as it may, location, exotic or prosaic, provides the canvas upon which we paint our stories, and our success at doing so is as important to our characters as it is to our readers.  Would we accept Hamlet as a gloomy Jamaican?  Wouldn't Sherlock Holmes have been a very different person as a product of 1880's Mexico?

Finally on the subject of location, I have an upcoming story in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine called, "Murder Town," that is set in the Yucatan.  I'm not going to tell you whether I've been there, or based the setting solely on research--I'll leave that up to you to decide.  Either way, I hope I got it right.