Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for August: (8/3) Dianne Freeman (8/10) Daryl Wood Gerber (8/17) E. B. Davis's Review of Granite Oath, James M. Jackson's new novel (8/24) Rose Kerr (8/31) V. M. Burns.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

where the heart is

I have friends who, even if they spent every winter snowed in, unable to reach their nearest neighbor, remember the house and surrounding land where they grew up as the most beautiful place in the world.

I have at least two friends who remember college and the dorm or apartment where they lived for four years as the best home and time in their lives. They were away from parents for the first time, had more freedom to make mistakes, met a wider variety of people, and learned things (not all academic) they’ve found consistently useful.

Those of us who value home and family first may find it strange but I’ve known people whose favorite location was a hospital, a lab, or a factory and they made every effort to spend as much time as possible in their chosen spot.

Other friends ignore snide remarks against suburbia because these friends experienced the most happiness in their lives in suburbia where they started and raised their families.

I remember with the greatest affection Boston and Cambridge in Massachusetts. My husband and I lived in both in the early years of our marriage. I attended colleges in both cities and the job I’ve enjoyed most in my life was at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. While I worked there, a whispered suggestion for a union was dismissed with a warning and we often worked ten and twelve hours with a break that allowed only enough time to down a cup of coffee.

cheersBoth cities have ugly areas, can be smelly in summer, and hazardous to drive in winter. However, what I recall when I make Boston or Cambridge a setting for a story is the number of generous, open-minded people I met at work, in classes, and as neighbors.

There doesn’t have to be logic or even common sense in a person’s affection and loyalty for a particular area. People remain loyal to an area where work is non-existent and only one or two shops are left on Main Street.

Writers sometimes discuss settings and their reasons for choosing a small town over a rural area or a made-up city. I like an emotional attachment to my settings, a vividly imagined past experience that changes brick, wood, and sidewalks. I’m grateful to people I met in my twenties and thirties. They changed my perception of living and working in a community. I recall their faces and hear their voices often.

How do you pick a setting? Does it fit a plot or a character? Is it a favorite place, or something else?


Warren Bull said...

My settings vary as to time and place based on whatever characters and/or plots pop up in my mind. Of course my mind is sometimes rather like a puppy in a backyard full of squirrels. I do like to return to successful settings. It saves time on research

Jennifer Hillier said...

When I started writing my current book, it was originally set in Toronto, which is my hometown. But I had just moved to Seattle, and for some reason the Toronto setting no longer felt right. So I changed the book's setting to Seattle -- and it worked, mainly because I was just getting to know the city and those first impressions were really vivid, and therefore easy to incorporate into the story.

Pauline Alldred said...

I know what you mean, Jennifer. When my husband and I first moved to Boston, we spent hours walking around the city and people-watching. It was like a rebirth.

Pauline Alldred said...

If you write historical stories, I'd guess you need a library of researched settings, Warren. For me,research usually brings whatever I'm researching to life.

Kaye George said...

You're right. There are places where I feel I belong, and places where I feel I don't. This post is poetry!