Monday, June 20, 2011

Places and People

I’m fascinated by the effect that places have on people. Landscape, culture, traditions… are all equally important to fictional characters. This place/character relationship is one of the things I enjoy most about reading southern novels, (maybe because I’m from New England). To Kill a Mockingbird gets top honors, but I also love the novels of Eudora Welty and, more recently The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. The sweet, heavy air, the drooping Spanish moss, the language, and the history… provide a uniquely southern setting that shapes these uniquely southern tales. The atmosphere that Harper Lee creates in To Kill a Mockingbird is so vivid I can easily picture myself sitting in a rocker on Atticus Finch’s front porch on a hot summer day, a tall glass of iced tea by my side, as Scout’s story unspools before me. 

One can sit in a rocker on a porch in New England (where my novel, Her Sister’s Shadow, is set) and read in the summer just as easily, but one is very likely to be wearing fleece and sipping hot tea. The weather here is challenging and unpredictable. Scrub oaks and bittersweet have learned to adapt to coastal New England’s thin, salty soil, harsh winters, and constant breeze. So have its people. But it takes effort to put down roots in rock, and that effort sometimes shows. It’s not that New Englanders are unfriendly, we’re just self-sufficient and expect others to be the same. (It has been said of the residents of certain New England towns, “they will not ask why you’ve come, nor will they ask you back.”) Her Sister’s Shadow is a story of two sisters in late mid-life, estranged for forty years who reunite in their childhood home. Like the scrub oak and bittersweet, these two women, and this story, belong in New England. Were I to move them to Charleston or Atlanta, it would become a very different story. The social mores, the architecture, and the climate would all insist. 

Places are important to people. So tell me, where is your story set? Where are your favorite novels set, and why? Writing is often a solitary endeavor, as is reading, but stories are meant to be shared, so please leave a comment below, if you’re so inclined. (And, if you read Her Sister’s Shadow, please get in touch and let me know what you think.) Thank you!

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