Showing posts with label locations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label locations. Show all posts

19 October 2018

Mystery Map

I made a map. But before I tell you about it, let me explain why I made a map... in one sentence: Writers like to procrastinate. If you're a writer, you know that sentence well. You probably even have it printed on a t-shirt. You probably even took the time out to design and hand-make the t-shirt. I know this well. I have spent many happy hours designing t-shirt ideas: catchy, writerly phrases. Juxtapositions of images and words...


It was the evening. It was raining. I had finished another chapter of the WIP, but rather than start on the third draft of the next one, I remembered something I had learnt during the week in my day job: how to create a Google map and populate it with custom location pins. So, armed with a mug of chocolate tea and a plate of late evening chocolate cookies (chocolate is always the best kind of procrastination), I set about making a map of the world identifying the locations where my published short stories have been set.

I created an icon/pin for each of the three categories I write in, assigned each story a category, and stuck in a pin where each was set; adding notation of when and where it was published.

It was an educational experience. I had this idea in my head that I had set only a few stories in New Zealand, maybe two or three. Wrong. There were in fact six.

I also had this idea that most of my stories were set in the United States. Wrong. Most of my stories are set in Europe, and even if the United Kingdom continues with its insanity and brexits away from continental Europe, the UK, alone, will still have the same number of stories set in it as the US.

Another interesting thing I learnt was that only two of my stories are set in fictional towns. Most of my stories are set in real, named places, typically cities, e.g., Los Angeles, London, Frankfurt. Bad Memory even drills down and mentions a whole cobweb of real street names and locations (it's set in West Auckland, where I grew up).

Some stories have no named setting, but it's reasonably clear and implied where it's set. The Man from the Future is set in the English countryside, near a river and near the coast, and the voice of the narrator (it's first person) is Snotty British. It's never said on the page, but in my head the story was set in Devon.

What's interesting about the two fictional places I made up is that both were for horror stories (with a young narrator). The youthful narrator of Feed the Birds departs Paddington train station bound for Abercrumble House in the Hertley Forest. There is no Hertley Forest in the North West of England. Or anywhere in the UK. The teenage boy in The Tall Ones finds himself swept up in a Lovecraftian nightmare in the small town of Redgrave on the shore of Lake Michigan. Yup. No Redgrave at Lake Michigan (unless you're thinking of Michael Redgrave in the movie Thunder Rock).

Probably my favourite location of all for a story, and in real life, is Metz. It's a small town in the North East of France. I've holidayed there a couple of times. It features two rivers, interesting architecture, a fantastic museum, coffee, 3000+ years of history (a woman in a bookstore there told me the town was the birth place of Gregorian Chant), and there's a dragon in cathedral's basement.

I set Monsieur Alice is Absent (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, 2010) in Metz. This has always been one of my favorite stories (a story dear to my heart, as they say) and now is a good time to mention it's being reprinted in the Terror at the Crossroads anthology that's being edited by Jackie Sherbow and Emily Hockaday at Dell Magazines. It comes out later this month. I can't wait!

My map of stories, of course, is rather sparse. I don't have that many published stories, compared to my fellow Sleuthsayers. I can image a similar map made by any one of them would be a carpet of icons. And by delightful coincidence, the day after I started making a map and writing this blog post, John posted an article about settings: A Whole Town--Imagine That. In which, he asked: As a writer, what works for you? Do you usually create your own town/city names, or do you install your characters in real-life locations? So, John, take this as my answer :)

So, what next? Oh, yeah, back to the next chapter in the third draft of the WIP. :P

Or maybe another t-shirt design.

04 April 2014

Photo Quiz Redux (or: "Honey, where are we now?")

A few times, we've discussed the visual aspects of blogging, and how this differs from the confines of using only words to tell a story.
Some time ago, while helping my daughter get signed-up for classes, I used my cell phone to take photos of Scottsdale Community College, which I posted here, challenging you to determine where I took the photos and why I was there.

So just what are the photos below all about?

Take a look and tell me:  What am I showing you? -- and -- WHY am I here?

This time, you'll find the answer below.

Why does this shot look so grainy???


Aha!  Do you see an answer to the question in Photo 1?
Where was this shot taken, and what was I doing here?














My Favorite!  Why?

What are these photos of?  Below is the explanation:

Photos 1 and 3:  The view from the living room window at our new apartment -- taken through the screen.

For a number of reasons, my wife and I have found renting to be the best answer for our housing needs over the past several years.   However, since leaving the army, we've always lived in a house.

Our last house was a 3 bed, 3 bath main house, with large living room, dining room and kitchen area.  We also had a pool, a large yard, a pool house that was really a studio apartment, and a two room apartment (plus bathroom and kitchenette) add-on where the carport once was.  As many of you know, I used the back half of the two room apartment as my office.  We used the front room for storage.  We also had a large metal storage shed on site.

A few weeks ago, however, the home owner decided that the housing market was finally looking up. She announced her decision to sell the house, and I finally managed to convince my family to try apartment living in the 21st Century.

Photo 2:  Yes it's a dumpster.  But, the city's name is right on there.

Photo 4:  This is a shot of the same area seen in Photo 3, but taken from a reverse angle and much closer.

Photo 5:  This shot shows the small Ramada with gas BBQ, which is visible in Photo 1.  The Ramada is equipped with ceiling fan and lights, as well as electrical outlets.  I'm sitting there, as I write this, smoking a cigar, my computer tethered to the internet through the Wi-Fi in our living room.  So far, I've found this a very pleasant place to write ... and to burn burgers and steaks!

Photos 6,7 & 8:  These shots show what's called "The Quiet Pool."  The apartment complex is located about four miles from Arizona State, but rental prices keep most students from living here.  For those grad students, or out of state students -- or just young singles who have the money to live here -- the complex throws parties at one pool on weekends, while maintaining the other pool in a more family-oriented atmosphere.  Frankly, I prefer this pool because the Jacuzzi is hotter and has more jets than the Jacuzzi at the party pool.

Photo 9:  The dog park, located beside the Quiet Pool.

Photo 10:  A look at some of the apartments in the complex.

Photo 11:  Grill overlooking Volleyball courts.  There are several small BBQ Ramadas here.   Two are located beside the sand volleyball courts. 

Photo 12:  Covered parking is very important here in The Valley, if you don't want your vehicle's paint to get bleached-out in very short order.

Photo 13:  This is the Fitness Center.  It's one of my two favorite shots, because I can get my son in there.

One problem I've had for the past year, is that I hadn't been able to find a gym that would let my 11-year-old son work out with me.  Gym policies usually stipulated no one below 16 or 17 could use the equipment.  Unfortunately, school Phys. Ed. classes are woefully inadequate, here, so my son hasn't been getting the exercise he needs.  That had me pretty worried, until I found this apartment complex, where my son can use the Fitness Center -- open 24/7 -- as long as I'm with him.  Since moving in, he's run miles on the treadmill, and I don't know how far he's gone on the elliptical machines.  Frankly, it's tough to get him off the rope-climbing machine when it's time to go home!

Photo Group 14:  The Party Pool.  As you can see, there is a nice bar setup, with two large gas grills. I have little doubt that this works wonders for creating that party atmosphere -- and even less doubt that I'm glad this pool is located at the opposite end of the complex from our apartment.

Photo 15:  This is my favorite shot.  Luxurious green grass that I need neither plant, feed, water, nor mow.  Now THAT's paradise!!

See you in two weeks,

11 March 2013

Research and Location

Jan Grape
In a weird sense this is extra to Dix's blog on daydreaming. The topic of research has been on my mind for a couple of days and after reading about daydreaming and play acting I realized it more or less fit in the same category.
To learn where you characters are going to be located in your book. How much or how little do you research? For my first book, Austin City Blue, I visited the Austin Public Library's History Center. I read all the wonderful stories and newspaper clips that told of murder and mayhem in Austin in the beginning days of recorded records. I was mainly interested in the records of the police department. I used a little historical paragraph before each chapter. It wasn't a clue but I tried to make it relate to something that was going on in each chapter.

For instance, prior to Chapter Five I wrote:
             In May 1904, the police chief announced compliance with a city-ordinance requiring new uniforms for his force. The ordinance stated: "the dress of the patrolmen shall consist of a navy blue, indigo dyed sack coat with short rolling collar, to fasten at the neck and to reach half-way between the articulation of the hip joint and the knee, with four buttons on the front. The pantaloons have to have a white cord in the seam. The cap to be navy blue cloth with a light metal wreath in front." The chief instead ordered felt hats and requested helmets for foot police, making them look like "real city policemen." The police clerk refused to wear his uniform-- blue trousers, yellow coat, and green cap--saying it made him look like an organ-grinder's monkey.

The chapter briefly mentions wearing the dress blues and/or dressing plain clothes in homicide.

Towards the end of the book, I wanted a neighborhood in a specific area that looked a bit seedy but not totally undone. I got in my car and drove around and found exactly what I wanted. It was a neighborhood filled with double-wide and single-wide trailers but not really considered a trailer park. The manufactured homes in the front part of the neighborhood were well kept and tidy, with nice lawns, gazebos, flower gardens and white picket fences. As I drove back into the neighborhood there were unkept yards, a car upon blocks in a driveway. Peeling paint on the houses, children's toys scattered and looking abandon. It was exactly what I needed and I used it in the book.

For Dark Blue Death, I used information I had learned from some classes I took that were presented by the Austin Police Academy. It was called the Austin Citizen's Police Academy program and mainly used for teaching neighborhood watch programs all about the various police divisions. Fraud, Robbery Homicide, Firearms, Victims Service, SWAT, etc., and was a 10 week, 3 and a half hour class session. Each division sent a department head to talk to us and explain what their units did. It was very informative and I met several officers that I later could contact and pick their brains more.

I also drove around Austin and took photographs of a location or a building I wanted to specifically mention. I went inside buildings to the 3rd or 10th or 14 floor to see exactly what a person might see from the windows of that building. Of course, I didn't use all the information I learned. Sometimes my book location changed and I didn't need a particular view or interior decoration.

A writer doesn't always write about the town they live in or even a place they've ever been inside of and sometimes just have to use their imagination. Once I wrote a short story about President Grant's wife, Julia Dent Grant inside the White House. I did a Google search and found pictures of the WH along with some floor plans. I managed to have the story take place in two or three different rooms and felt I did make it sound like the WH in President Grant and Julia Dent Grant's tenure there.

To me it's always fun to research and locate where I'm writing about. Someone several years ago, and I think it was Mary Higgins Clark, told of buying local newspapers of the town you're writing about even if you lived there four or five years ago. You are more likely to get the essence of the town and the people there. And if you're writing in the past, look up newspapers from that era and you'll discover the prices from the ads, what people wore, what entertainment people attended and a myraid of intriguing things.

Like the old real estate sales slogan: Location, Location, Location. Your book or story will definitely sound more authentic if you Research, Research, Research.