Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Homeward bound

Note: I'm on the road in New Mexico--literally homeward bound--so I won't be able to chat until late Tuesday night.  Catch you then!

Writers often have two types of homes: The first is the place where we live, and the second is our writer's home.  The writer's "home" is the place where we find inspiration, characters, setting--and especially, theme. Often it's based on the place we grew up, or a time that was especially formative for us. Our writer's home is the place we never leave behind in our imaginations.

I was thinking about the writer's home as my mother and I have been on the road this week. We're driving from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, stopping at various relative's houses and historical spots. My mother is the family genealogist, so she insisted we stop in Monroeville, Alabama, where her side of the family has strong roots. I'd never been to Monroeville before, but I was thrilled to discover that this charming southern town is the place where Harper Lee, Truman Capote, and other notable writers grew up. It's easy to see how the town inspired scenes in Lee's wonderful novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. The original court house is still there where Atticus Finch--a character based on her own father, who was a lawyer and newspaper editor--thundered in defense of justice. 

I can't claim Monroeville as my writer's home because I didn't grow up there, but I'm happy that my kinfolk did. It gives me a sense of literary pride by proxy. 

What about you? Do you have a spiritual writer's home, a place that serves as a creative well for your fiction? Do you actively incorporate your "home" into your writing?


  1. While I'm not from Arizona (drat, drat and triple drat! I'd give anything if I could have lived here back when and seen it before it was overdeveloped) it serves as the source of my inspiration.

    There's just something about the desert and mountain landscapes that draws me in over and over again. And I suppose thinking about the sometimes harsh realities of life in the desert seems a natural extension of the harsh realities of life--which leads to more story fodder all the time.

    I grew up in Maryland but have never found it inspirational. It just wasn't for me.

  2. I'm third generation Los Angeles. I love my city, the way you love a crazy (and sometimes self destructive) uncle. There's no better noir setting. I like getting to know parts of it intimately as I put my characters in various locales. The great thing about this place is there's always a new vibe to explore.

  3. BK, I've been driving through the desert for a couple of days now (wow, Texas is a big state), and I'm overwhelmed by the stark beauty of the desert. Years ago my Dad had a house in Fort Davis, Texas, and the locale inspired me to write a screenplay based on a true story that took place there.

    Jim, I've lived in LA since 86, and I love that town. People do think it's crazy, but it's a great place to be a writer.

  4. and my goal is to leave arizona so quickly that the 'welcome to' sign spins for a week! frequently hearing voices while i read, saying, 'go east, old woman'...i would return to northern michigan in a heartbeat. back to the lakes and rivers [that actually have water in them] and green stuff....like trees. actually, ernest hemingway, jim harrison and doug stanton found inspiration to write in that area...and i wish to find inspiration there when i read.

  5. I was born in Fairbanks Alaska but went to school and spent my formative in the endless cornfields of central Ohio spending an occasional summer in Alaska with my father and grandparents. I found Ohio to be utter boredom for me. Likened to a drab version of Tele-Tubby land. I hadn't really thought of it too deeply but in retrospect I realize that characters in all of my books have either lived in or grew up in Ohio or Indiana and strove their entire young life to escape the boredom, which is how they ended up in the Special Forces or CIA that brought them to the high adventure situations found in my books.
    I guess that means Ohio is my own writers home, even though my characters only want to escape there. Regardless of that though, my heart home is Alaska.

  6. My short fiction had long been based in the Pittsburgh area, as that's where I grew up. My attempts at novels were set in Chicago, where I was living when I started the series. My last two efforts are set in a fictional version of the town I grew up in, and it's making a lot of decisions for me. I think this will provide a context to the story that wouldn't be there otherwise, even if i don't make a definite mention of it.

  7. Kathy, I can understand longing to return to a bit of green after long stretches in the desert. Basil, your heart home is often your true writer's home, and Alaska is lucky to have you! Dana, I think you're right about context. When we write from our true sense of home, we have the potential to incorporate context almost effortlessly.

  8. My home is here in Florida even though I grew up in New Jersey. I love the diversity of the ecosystem and the people. All of my mysteries are set in Florida and the places here that I love. Sounds like you're on a great cross-country trip.

  9. I'm a southwest desert girl and would like to be back there permanently, but until then I get back as often as I can. Yes, I write there: in it, about it, & with it.

    I have spent a great deal of time in the Detroit area, Grosse Pointe, and all over the state for fun. Yes, that has made the list more than once.

    I travel cross-country on my motorcycle a lot and have seen, been through, and enjoy many of those places too, often seeing them again in my dreams.

    I've never done anything set in Europe or Portugal, where I lived for a while. And I'm a big sci-fi buff, so I have some space stuff too. What can I say? I like to get around, so my characters do also.

  10. I feel that London is my literary home - pity I am so far away from it!