Location! Location! by Clare London

Oh give me a home…they sing…where the buffalo roam, and Clare can put two cute, misunderstood guys together and let them struggle for many (many) pages with a tortured backstory, clumsy communication and a truck-load of unrelieved sexual tension. 

But on looking over my recent stories, I can’t help but notice my backdrop is not the rolling plains or the wasted tundra, not a sun-baked beach or bustling metropolis.  It’s usually a kitchen.  Or living room.  Definitely a bedroom.  (Dammit, even sometimes a closet).  My writing seems to be very domestic

It suits me, of course.  My priority is the characters and what’s going on in their heads, rather than the scenery around them.  

That’s just my way, of course, not to say it’s the right or wrong one – just the way I write.  One of the nicest compliments I ever received was praise about how I can sit two guys in a room with nothing more than one of them stirring a cup of coffee, and create pure sexual tension.  Though sometimes I’ll get to the end of a short story and realize I never described any of them physically, or their house, or their office, or their local town, or the color of the bathroom curtains… 

You get the picture?  Or….do you? ? 

How much do you like described in your books as a reader? Do you like a strong sense of place, a sweeping vista, a glamorous backdrop? Do you love to find a story set in places you know – or would like to visit?  Does it add to the fiction, or distract from the fun? 

I admit the situation is different for fantasy writing – in that case, it’s important to set the scene as well as the players.  In Gold Warrior/Twisted Brand I needed to ground myself in Aza City alongside my soldier hero Maen, so I spent more time on it. Though I confess, it was all from his point of view, so I spent less time on describing it than an observer-narrator would.  How often do you find it odd that a character starts talking about the town he’s lived in for years and must surely take for granted, or the office cubicle he’s banished to the back of his bored mind during the working day, or the bedroom he barely looks at except to wonder where the hell he left his socks after that passionate encounter last night…? 

I really admire the ability to create a whole panorama.  It’s a genuine art to describe these things without jarring – and so many authors do it beautifully, transporting me to that world, that city, that room to stand alongside their heroes, and to experience all their trials, tribulations and – hopefully – triumphs.  But personally I seem to leave a lot to the reader’s imagination.  Maybe I’m afraid of making a mistake – of getting the balance wrong, of boring my reader, of describing a shop that’s now changed name, a bar that’s been demolished, a town that I haven’t visited and therefore what the hell am I doing, thinking I’m entitled to park my story there?  Yes, Clare, you pretender, get back into your kitchen and take your guys with you! 

I wrote Freeman last year, set in my home town of London.  And yet, at the last moment, I kept it un-named, leaving the image open for the reader’s imagination.  But I plan to write more fiction from my own experience, city-wise, that is.  I’ve just had a contract offered for another mystery tale I wrote, set in a London art gallery, and I’m very excited about that.  Clare’s British Boys are coming! ? (pun unintentional, yet probably very apt…) 

Meanwhile, Amber Quill is issuing a paperback collection this month, Heart and Home, of four of my short stories, which Wave has welcomed very generously on the site already.  And again, I see the settings are domestic and, some may say, quite claustrophobic – two nearby neighbors in A Good Neighbor, an artist’s studio in Muse, a car and a train in Upwardly Mobile, and – oh look! – a kitchen in Home Sweet Home ^_^. 

Michael Breyette Studios

PSST: and watch for Charlie Chuckles at Dreamspinner this June – I don’t think I let the poor souls out of the kitchen the whole time…LOL. 

This is a lighthearted look at the topic today, and I’m perfectly happy with what I write and where I write it.  But feel free to tell me what you think about Place and People – both, either, or?  As always, I strongly suspect the best books bring both humanity and hinterland into play and blend them well. 

It all brings us some wonderful fiction! Sez Clare ^_^.

www.clarelondon.co.uk
http://clarelondon.livejournal.com
clarelondon11@yahoo.co.uk

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

29 comments

  • Well, you know how I feel — that there’s nothing more important than character in fiction, and your explorations of human nature and interaction always strike deep. Keep it up, girl!

    I think a sense of place can be conveyed with small, deft touches, and they can make a building or a room or a patch of sky just as evocative as a metropolis or a mountain range.

    Sorry I was late to the party!

    Reply
    • KZ, a visit from you is always a pleasure, never too late! 🙂 I like your description, too – that writing can delve into the human psyche rather than/as well as observe it from its outside surroundings. Maybe that’s what I like doing!

      And your writing is the perfect example of how a scene or mood can be created with the words used – the ‘deft touches’ – not just description. I just finished the Prayer Waltz and loved it! Yes, I need to feedback properly…LOL.

      Reply
  • I love a story with a good sense of place. That’s why I tend to write places I know. Dan’s apartment, the store, the coffee shop, the gay & lesbian center from “Singing up the moon?” All very real.

    Claire, I have traveled by bus and had the most extraordinary experiences. Imagine, a Mennonite farmer, a one legged man from Nigeria, a Mexicali hairdresser and a lady trucker all sitting together and chatting clear across Kentucky. Only in America.

    My Londons vary, just as my Kansas Citys vary. There is the Holmsian London, with the Dickensian flipside. There is the London of Orwell’s 1984. And there is the London of my own 1984, with Carnaby street, double decker busses, Hambly’s of Regents Street and heavy gold-colored pound coins that delighted me. And there is the London of the 20s, with newfangled motorcars and Edwardian tradition. My Kansas Citys are a similar composite: rough and ready cowtown, my own home town, and a weirdness magnet that draws in serial killers. (I’ve had second-hand encounters with three. My mother worked with one)

    Reply
    • Hi Angelia, what a fabulous bus story! Now there’s a theme for an antho one day…

      My favourite was the day an old man leaped to his feet at his stop, begging the driver to wait a moment and keep the door open because he’d lost his coconuts! Only after the rest of the bus had either laughed or smiled sympathetically did we find he really *had* lost 2 coconuts, they’d rolled under the seat, and in his shopping bag he had 4 more :).

      Of course I’m biased, but London to me can be all those things and many more. The delight is in turning a street corner and being inspired afresh.

      Thanks for dropping in!

      Reply
  • Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam, and I’ll show you a home that’s a mess… I know a Native American teacher who lives in Texas and actually does have a pair of buffalo on the land; they had to get the male calf a girlfriend when he hit puberty because he kept attacking the pickup truck. Talk about testosterone overload!

    Seriously, how much setting to put into a story depends not only on the author, but on the story. For a short, self-contained piece, a house or even a flat can be setting enough. That would be difficult to manage in a longer story, though it occurs to me that most of Ransom was set in just a couple of cabins on a ship–kind of an extreme case.

    It depends on the writer, too; some folks seem able to write background spontaneously, as an organic part of the narrative. I’m still learning that–my own writing tends to generate as dialog, and I often have to go back and paint in the background. The best piece of writing criticism I had, years ago, was from someone who read a first draft and said, “Where are they? These two guys are standing in a gray box talking to each other.” She was right. Which is odd, because IRL setting makes all the difference in the world–I can’t write without trees.

    I love reading stories that show me places I’ve never been, if the author has either real-life experience or is willing to do homework. If the author is willing to create a town that has a reasonable consistency, that’s fine with me–but it’s more interesting when the setting is a real place.

    Or almost-real. Of course, there’s the license of fiction. Nero Wolfe’s New York brownstone never existed, any more than 221B Baker Street did. Scrooge & Marley never paid rent on their offices, and Jack Aubrey never really held command of HMS Surprise. But the settings were so real that people still write to Holmes at his old address. I wonder how successful Conan Doyle would’ve been if he had not had that gift of place–the snug security of Mrs. Hudson’s rooming-house, the clatter of the London cabs, or the mist swirling through the threatening dark out on the moor.

    So–yes, please set more things in London! I only spent a couple of days there, but I got the impression that it’s like Chicago in a way–that depending on the neighbourhood, there is more than ‘one’ London.

    Do you think it’s possible for anyone to do an ‘anonymous British city?’ My guess is that it isn’t; I think one could do Columbus OH or Indianapolis IN (two cities I’ve spent time in) without changing much, but that didn’t seem to me to hold true for the UK.

    Reply
    • Hi Lee! What a charming view you have of London and I’m so glad we didn’t disappoint. Like you suspect, there are *many* Londons :). And I think what enchants people is that they’re so accessible. Being so small compared to N America, we can reach another world just a few miles away – I know, I work in an area just a few streets in one direction from one of the most affluent and middle-class ‘villages’, then the same distance in the other direction takes you into a much more cosmopolitan, lively, aggressive, multi-cultural setting.

      I love the bus rides – I love being in the thick of it. You see all kinds of people and all kinds of real life, albeit domestic drama. Later this year, I’m determined to finish the story of Felix, a nurse who works in one of the London hospitals and thinks he has a relatively modest, under-the-radar life with an occasionally-flaky boyfriend and a brother who needs lots of attention – under the radar, that is, until one night on the bus home, he gets his bum pinched by an amorous suitor, but when he turns around to protest…no one there! 🙂

      Loved your story about the buffalo! 🙂

      Reply
  • Hi, Clare! Great topic. I have a very strong need as a reader for a specific location. I don’t care if it’s glamorous London or someplace relatively mundane like Dayton, Ohio, USA — but I need to have a city name, some idea of the climate (stickily humid, dry desert heat, rainy all the time, yellow pollen settling all over the parked cars in spring, whatever), and some idea of the physical characteristics of the city.

    I mean, does it sprawl like Los Angeles or is it vertical like Hong Kong or Tokyo? I also love a sense of a city’s culture. I mean, you can go to places in Phoenix AZ and San Antonio TX where everything’s in Spanish and it’s like you’re in Mexico. Fascinating!

    I share your awareness of the pitfalls of trying to write about an unknown city and getting the landmarks and streets wrong. I wrote something a while back set in Baton Rouge LA, where I’ve never been, and I felt very nervous, ha, ha! I used Google Maps, Wikipedia, Google images, the Weather Underground (wunderground.com) etc. to try to fill in details. I was astounded by the ability of Google maps to show me a detailed street view sattelite photo.

    Anyway, I need the sensory details of place and the cultural feel of the city for the escapism. The actual street names don’t matter, though I enjoy them, too, when I get them. If I read something set in a generic, vague USA city, I get the irritated feeling that the writer is (1) sloppy and careless, (2) in too big a hurry to get published to do the research, (3) being sort of condescending to both us readers and the m/m genre itself like, “Oh, just give ’em more sex scenes and they won’t care that there’s not a real location.”

    I’m probably a little extreme about this topic, ha, ha! I may also be in the minority here. But some of my favorite books have that specificity of location that I crave: P.A. Brown’s Los Angeles books, A.M. Riley’s Los Angeles books, Jordan Castillo Price’s Chicago books, Nicole Kimberling’s Bellingham WA books, J.M. Snyder’s Richmond VA books, Lynn Lorenz’s New Orleans books, Storm Grant’s Toronto books, Sarah Black’s books set in the USA southwest, and others.

    I’m with Tam, too, on loving an international city. I totally look for everything I can find set in the UK, the European countries, the Middle East, Canada, the Far East. Like a lot of people, I loved the Martin Cruz Smith mysteries set in Moscow. I don’t know how he managed to get them so specific, especially during the 1980s when it wasn’t all that easy to visit.

    Reply
    • Hi Val! I’d only just finished reading your blog this morning where you said how much you liked a definite place-holder for your fiction and I thought *ouch* LOL.

      I don’t think your preference is extreme at all, and you describe very well what you like in settings and why you like it. We both know how Pat’s books are perfect for that blend of people and place, I also like examples such as the Janet Evanovich series in New Jersey and (mentioned above! I’m such a fan!) the Inspector Morse books in Oxford, England.

      I’ll also agree that sometimes the lack of background is ‘laziness’ though not always deliberate. And sometimes I like to use that effect deliberately, to block out distraction or to add confusion and disorientation.

      I think the most interesting thing in your comment for me is the recognition of what impact place has on your senses – it’s often said that really good writing should engage all the senses, not just sight. And as you say, it can portray the cultural context far better and enrich the reading experience.

      Thanks for dropping in 🙂

      Reply
      • Hi, Clare, you’re welcome! I suspect I may be just like your husband:

        ” I live with a husband who can tell you in a movie that the railway station they’re using isn’t accurate – and probably the train is travelling in the wrong direction through the surrounding countryside!” 🙂

        Reply

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