Posts Tagged ‘map-making kit’

The Post – Under the Pier: So How DO You “See” a Fictional Town?

March 28, 2008

HOW DO YOU “SEE” A FICTIONAL TOWN?.

I am a visual learner so I need to see it to “know” it.. How do you “see” a fictional story location? For me, I started with the “real world.”

Travel magazines and postcards of Rhode Island, Cape Cod and Narragansett Bay were a help, but not enough. So I spent one Christmas break compiling a 3 foot by 4 foot topographical map of Narragansett Bay. I found it on the web on a geological survey site and proceeded to print it out, quadrant by quadrant. Then I taped them all together until I had the complete topographical map of Narragansett Bay, including all the islands and the surrounding land areas. My husband did question if it might not have been cheaper and easier to just buy the map, but frankly, I don’t think I could have bought the entire map that I ended up with. In any event, this gave me a “visual” of sorts to know what the land around the bay was like. I could tell that while the area is not that far above sea level, there most definitely are hills and ridges, marshes and sand dunes.

The next thing I had to do was make the imaginary town a real place to me. I started by printing photos of diners, stone warehouse buildings, rocky coastlines, Fort Adams, docks and wharves, and even that building at Woods Hole with the sailing ship model jutting out from the stone wall above the doorway.

Once I had an idea of the kinds of items and places my town included, I created a map of the town. Now I could “see” where Max’s house stood in relation to Carbone’s Auto Body shop, the diner, the rich uptown area, Lighthouse Point, her school, and the downtown dock areas. I could see how much area the Naval Research base took up on Lighthouse point, where the pier and research labs were in relation to the haunted carriage house and the Yacht club, and how far of a walk it was back to the town and the diner.

Next I needed to see Max’s house and yard. I grew up in those three-family houses, so I had an idea in my mind of how they would be set up – back staircases, front and back porches, attic rooms with slanting walls, stone wall cellars that spooked you every time you had to go down there. I did a map of Max’s neighborhood, and a blueprint of both hers and Noah’s house, showing all three floors in each. I wanted to “see what she saw” when she looked out her attic window. From the map-making kit I had as a kid, I knew about doing room plans, so I could tell where the kitchen stove was, how many couches were in the living room, and if they had a computer desk. With these, I could now see Max’s house, her backyard, her neighborhood, and how it connected to everything else in town.

Rosa’s Midway Diner is such a big part of the story that it required equal attention. I have been in a number of diners over the years, so I had some mental images. I found a number of good books on diners, and consulted the American Diner Museum website. I even went to the local diner here in town (Cary, North Carolina) and with the permission of the owner, took a couple hundred interior shots of tables, counters, stools, equipment, pass-through windows from the kitchen, plates, etc.

From all of that, I created a blueprint of Rosa’s Midway Diner. I drew up the “diner of my dreams,” the one I would build if I had the money. If this book ever sells big, I swear I’ll build it. It has regular booth seating including the large back semi-circular booth that Rosa uses for her Friday night poker games. It has a large window behind it made of those glass blocks, and all tables have roses in the vases. There’s an extra long counter with stools, another counter in the front of the diner where you can sit, sip your coffee, read the paper and look out on Main Street, and a large take-out area for walk-in business. And of course, there is the new drive-through being installed as part of the take-out area.

The diner itself is a character in the book. As such, I have created a “biography” of the diner – a timeline of how it started, who created it, where it was located over the years, expansions…the whole works. Before I’m done with this, I will do an oil painting of that diner, both outside, and in. To that end, I have a very rough cardboard model of part of the diner interior, that includes the kitchen pass-through, counter and stools, and the drive-through areas

To further give the diner reality and context, I did a map of the diner area and Main Street. I felt it was important to show where the diner was in relation to all the businesses mentioned in the story, as well as to the rest of the town.

Lighthouse Point is another important part of the story and required “visuals” and biographies. I wrote up the story of the ship’s captain who built the lighthouse and surrounding stone warehouses and who died along with his family, in the fire that destroyed his mansion. I also created a map of the area around the haunted carriage house, and blueprints of the abandoned ammo bunkers and anti-aircraft gun emplacements right near the carriage house ruins.

For Uncle Jim’s lab, I chose the stone building at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the former “Candle House.” I even gave Uncle Jim’s lab a similar sailing ship model jutting out from the exterior wall over the doorway. Interior shots of other buildings at Woods Hole served as inspiration for the lab and office interiors of those buildings.

Since paintings have such power for me, I did a 24 by 36 inch oil painting of where the two story worlds meet – the rocky coastline at Lighthouse Point. Every item in the painting is in the story – from the hermit crab, Carpus, who is right up front, to the lighthouse and rocky point, wooden pier, tide pool area, distant fishing trawler, fort on the hill, research labs and …yes, the ghosts.

The University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography is the barely veiled location of the university in the story. I gave Jerry a research lab located in a former World War II ammunition bunker, and had her out doing her environmental research on a university-sponsored ocean-going research vessel, very similar to the R/V Endeavor. I verified the research itineraries, including places visited, work performed, and the durations of cruises, from the various research vessel ship logs online. I also studied the online blueprints for these existing research ships, to see the locations of labs, bunks, galleys, as well as the rules for running such a ship and expedition.

For the museum lobby where Max sneaks up to, to file her contest entry, I did rely on a memory – a very strong one burned in my brain from early childhood. In Torrington, CT, the post office at that time was in a brick building in the center of town. (It is now further out in a refurbished old supermarket building.) The post office lobby, while a very wide open area, was a scary place to me. At one end were the faces of numerous FBI fugitives staring out from black and white printouts pinned to bulletin boards.

It was the other end of the post office lobby though, near all the service windows, that truly freaked me out for a long time. Above the windows, high up on the walls all around that part of the building, were these huge murals. They showed 1800s men and women trudging through mud, beside a Conestoga wagon. There were also other scenes of 1800s life – all scenes actually, from the life of the abolitionist, John Brown. The murals themselves were intimidating enough, but ….silly as it sounds, I thought they were alive. Standing in that post office lobby waiting for my mom, I would stare up at the wall paintings and listen to the loud voices echoing off the walls around me. I thought the figures were speaking. In reality, the echoes were the voices of the postmen behind the wall yelling back and forth to each other. But to a 4 or 5 year old staring up at scary murals, the voices came out of the paintings, out of these solemn, angry looking people struggling behind their oxen in the mud. Hence, the inspiration for the museum lobby murals that Max sees.

By the way, if you are visual too, click here to see the murals from the old Torrington, CT Post Office.

Click here to read more about the history behind Connecticut post office art work done in the 1930s Depression era as part of the New Deal.

The other items I consulted to “see” the location, involved technical things like weather charts, articles on ocean fog, articles and nature guides describing the trees, birds, types of rocks, and area geological history. And I asked questions – of myself, of my sister living up there, of Google: What is the air temperature at night in June? Are there any sea breezes? How fast do storms move in, from which direction and how bad do they get? What do your clothes feel like against your body when you’re walking near the shore – crisp and dry, or soggy and limp? Do you need a jacket to walk around at night in the summer? Do you need a wetsuit to scuba dive in July?

Aside from visuals, I needed “sound” to further “see” the place. I selected CDs based on the emotions they created in me. When you watch TV, the music tells you if something funny, poignant, or ominous is taking place. In the same fashion I needed music or sound so I could see the events as they occurred in the story and feel the emotions of that moment and location. I played those CDs over and over and over, while writing in my garage. I am amazed my husband and my neighbors are still sane.

Some of these CDs include the soundtracks from: The Band of Brothers, Cinderella Man, We Were Young Once, and the Perfect Storm. There are also ocean and bird sound CDs, Gregorian Chants, and last but not least, Rosa’s “Frankie boy,” Frank Sinatra. But be assured, there are NO Dean Martin CDs. Just for the record, I personally have nothing against Dean Martin and I LOVE his song, “That’s Amore,” but you can never account for what your characters will love or hate. Rosa hates Dean. Plain and simple.

Next up – Let’s Get Technical. Stay tuned.

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The Post – Good Friday…Last Book Chapter

March 21, 2008

It is Good Friday. A day for some reason, I have always loved. That, Lent, and Holy Thursday. Easter itself, I hate. It always seemed like such a noisy unnecessary thing after the sanctity of the soul’s connection to God on Thursday and Friday.

I loved growing up in Catholic school and going to Mass every morning. Six days a week while in grammar school, I was in Mass. Six days a week for 8 years, I listened to the stories of Jesus’s life. They were as real to me as my family, truly meaningful, and enjoyed as much as Nancy Drew. The readings that cycled every year, dictated by the seasons of the liturgical calendar were as much a part of my life and soul as the leaves changing color, skies staying steely gray, and the crisp cold that smelled of snow dictated by the changing seasons of New England.

Every year there was a constancy, a rhythm, something you could count on to return to. No matter what else happened in life – those were my touchstones. Raking leaves into piles you could jump into, short days and long nights, cold Halloweens with orange full moons in costumes bought at the discount store, my grandfather bringing pails of sand/salt mix home from the Town Garage, the rhythm of those happenings matched the Advent wreath candles and the church readings as we marched toward Christmas.

The anticipation of Christ’s birth matched the anxiety of waiting for Santa Claus. Midnight Mass in a candle-lit church, boughs of pine branches decorating the walls and door arches, being with all those old Slovak immigrants I knew so well, who built that church, even the way they filled the pews inside – old men on one side in the back, old women on the other side in the back, the younger families (unsegregated) in the rows in front of them – all those images and happenings was as much loved and needed by me, as going home to open presents. In looking back, I think actually, that those moments in the church surrounded by those people, those images, those sights, sounds, and smells, are what I remember more than going home and opening presents.

While the church images are crisp, the presents are kind of a fog. A few stand out: a Jon Gnagy art set, a microscope with dissecting kit, a map-making set, my Dick Tracy machine gun with Marine Corps helmet, canteen, and pistol, and in ironic contrast – soft warm new flannel pajamas, and a plastic carrying case with new pretty underwear each one labeled for a day of the week. Perhaps the ones that stand out in my memory are there because they connected with those parts of who I really am. …as to the days-of-the-week underwear…maybe that’s why I love planners???? 🙂 But the bottom line is that if I were told today that my memory was going and I could only retain certain memories and lose the rest, it is those memories of early weekday mornings in church, and holidays spent there, that I would choose.

So it is that same connection that continues to influence me throughout the rest of the year’s happenings and the rest of the year’s liturgical seasons. While I hate Easter – always HATED having to go buy a new dress and coat, then stand around like a china doll with an itchy crinolin slip, shiny shoes, straw hat and purse, and gloves (gloves – why wear something you always have to keep track of, in a season where it’s no longer cold enough to need them????), unable to run around with the boys in the backyard and have fun – I LOVED Lent, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday.

Lent itself was about focus, commitment, ritual and stories. You focused on something – the coming trauma Jesus would go through. You gave something up – allowance money, candy, gum, whatever, for something bigger than yourself. (Though in our house, you were allowed to indulge on Sundays) You did the ritual of the Stations of the Cross around the Church, every Friday and listened to the gospel readings. For both of those, it was about “story.” Each station was a painted picture on the wall that told a part of the story of the crucifixion. The gospel gave the whole story.

Holy Thursday nights were processions in church, long litanies recited in Latin by visiting priests, the smell of the hyacinths we carried as we marched, the sense of being together again in that place where everyone I knew was going to be, and…the stories. The story of the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, Jesus being taken to the Sanhedrin and to Pilate, Peter denying he knew Jesus. I loved the stories. They were like old friends.

Good Friday was a time to hear the whole long, VERY long gospel, so long that halfway through, the priest would stop reading, turn and kneel silently for a minute or two, then stand and finish the rest. It was a day when my mom would make us turn off the radios and TV and keep things “quiet” so you could honor what that day meant. It was a time when the church was stripped bare to symbolically represent the loss of Jesus, and to contemplate what that meant. It was a day to think about a story’s march through rising problems, crisis, and climax, with the relief and resolution Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday would bring.

So here it is today, Good Friday again. I was standing in the bathroom this morning talking to my husband about what I was going to get done today. I said that originally I was going to go to the gym and swim but that I canned that idea. I wanted this last chapter revision of my book finished today, no matter what. I said that it just felt like it needed to be today. He made a joke about it being like our son’s birth- our son was two weeks late, wouldn’t leave even when I started eating Mexican food, had to be induced, and during the last stages of labor I literally remember telling him to “Get out!”

I said, no it wasn’t about labor, but something about the fact it was Good Friday. And I wasn’t sure why. Just felt for some reason, the “season” of my book, needed to match the liturgical season of the day. I said, “I don’t know why but it just feels like this book NEEDS to be finished today, like today is the right day. So the hell with the gym, I’m just going down in the garage (where I work) and finish this damned thing today. At the end of today, I just want to be able to say that this draft is finished.”

Now, I’ll still have “polishing and cutting work to do in the next draft but that will now be a whole different process, almost fun. This draft, like draft # one, was like giving birth, like creating and writing from scratch. Now, I can “play.” The agony of the creating and writing from scratch phase will “be finished.”

As soon as the word “finished” tumbled out of my mouth, the lines from the Gospel of John flashed in my brain:

“After this, Jesus knowing that all was now finished, said, to fulfill the scripture, ‘I thirst.’ A bowl of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” (John 19:28-30)

So today is Good Friday, a day I have always loved, though I cannot tell you why, other than to say that always on Good Friday, something in my soul has felt complete. So today, I will honor the silent moments of the liturgical season, with the silence of completing my book. If it takes until midnight, I will finish today, so that the two stories shall meet in the single line: “It is finished.”