Windy City Inspiration

So I am in Chicago this week, away from what is now home (Seattle), but back in what, for many years, wasRick Green Orange home to me: the city of big shoulders, the Windy City. I lived here for more than sixteen years and this city, more than any other, is home to me—and more than that, it’s inspiration.

That’s what I’m thinking about this morning: how places inspire us, both in writing and in life. Chicago for me is an inspiration I simply cannot get away from. Its mean streets, its gorgeous boulevards and skyline, its hard-working, but complicated people. For me, it’s always been easy to return to Chicago in my mind, which is maybe why I use it so often as a backdrop in my writing.

Rick - Chicago skylineChicago is a major character in so many of my works. It’s in my serial killer thriller, IM; it’s the place my troubled character in my haunted house story A Demon Inside flees, it’s where my beloved gay couple meet their fate when a hate crime changes their lives forever in Bashed; it’s where my young stripper dances in Tricks and my star-crossed escort lovers meet in Rent; it’s where my chubby-chaser romance, Chaser, takes place. It’s even the backdrop for my upcoming sequel to Chaser,

John Hancock Building

John Hancock Building

Raining Men.

The city is in my blood. It’s easy to disappear within its grid-like streets, which end at its eastern side at the ever-changing moods and colors of Lake Michigan. I don’t even have to think about where things are happening when I write—because I simply return there in my imagination.

Being here now, sitting here this morning in my friend’s apartment in the far-north neighborhood of Rogers Park, with the lake a couple of blocks over, I am wondering if there’s a special place that inspires other writers, or if there’s a special place that

Historic Home on Astor

Historic Home on Astor

connects with readers on a deeper level.

What’s that place for you? As a writer, is there a place you can go effortlessly in your imagination? As a reader, do you appreciate real places when you read a story, or do you prefer a more fantastic universe in which the stories you read are set? I hope you’ll give me some insight in the comments below.

For me, though, Chicago will always be a kind of home. I am in Seattle now and have a great love for that gorgeous city, with its mountains and water (and my beloved family), but I wonder if I will ever loose myself from the bonds of Chicago, if it’s a place where,

Lake view

Lake view

even if I never live here again, I will continue to return to in my imagination.

Seattle is slowly creeping into my work. Raining Men is set in both Chicago and Seattle and I am getting almost as comfortable writing stories set there as here, but Chicago has an almost magical hold.

I haven’t been here for five years, yet this week, walking Chicago streets and visiting old haunts, it’s almost as if I’ve never left.

Tell me about your special place.

All photos (c) 2013 by Rick R. Reed

Rick R.Reed’s contact information

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Author

I am never sleepless in Seattle, because there’s always another book to read or another book to write.

25 comments

  • Went to RT a day early last year so I actually got to see some downtown Chicago. I LOVED it! Went to Millenium Park, took pictures of the skyline reflected in the Bean, bought my son & hubby some Chicago Black Hawk stuff (the coolest logo in the NHL). I had the famous deep dish pizza & a fab dinner at a restaurant that looked like it used to be a mob hangout. It was like being at home in Toronto without the panhandlers. Maybe my hosts only showed me the pretty side. Ironically hubby was born in Chitown and came to Canada when he was 11 months old. I teased him about seeing more of Chicago than he ever has lol! I’d go back in a heartbeat!

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  • For me it’s Minneapolis, my adopted home of 26 years, I grew up in Montreal and love it still, but the changes are many – someday I’d love to spend time back there and then do a book. But I have fun writing about a city that’s not on the top of most people’s “romance novel setting” locations. I work to keep things feeling real in my stories, and this is kind of the city-next-door. There are some lovely places, folks here have a great mix of backgrounds and attitudes, and the weather is capable of serving as an additional character, should I need one. BTW, I just shovelled another 4 inches of snow off my driveway.

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      • I’d love to do a book set in Montreal – the combination of old city and new, francophone and anglophone cultures, but it would take living there again, I think. I know one author who’s planning to make a brief move to a new city for the benefit of his books, but while I admire that, I’m too settled to do it. (And too lazy to brush up on my French well enough to write it fluently again, which you’d have to do in a book set in Montreal, at least here and there.) Maybe someday. Or maybe you’ll visit your son for a while, and then write it yourself, and I can just read it. 😀

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  • I keep finding myself setting stories where I live, just to the south of Snowdownia in Wales. I’ve been doing it since we first looked round the house we now live in, before we even knew if we could afford to move & live here. The trouble is, the village’s population is only about 250 people – and, for reasons I hope most people would understand in this day and age, I’m not willing to get too specific on place-names and suchlike – so I’ve had to go nosing around neighbouring villages and digging out maps to find similarly rural areas in other parts of the country to re-locate tales elsewhere…

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  • As will probably not come as a surprise to anyone who has read my books, New York is it for me. I’ve been here eleven years through lots of ups and downs. It’s not always an easy place to live, but it gets under your skin if you’re here long enough. It has everything and there’s no place on earth quite like it. I love the speed of the city and the architecture and the fact that I can get Thai food delivered after 9pm and the people and even the subway although I complain about it as loudly as anyone. I love how life can be mundane and small and normal most days, but also that the view from one of the East River bridges can still take my breath away. I could keep talking, but I’d probably descend into irrational babbling—a lot of what I love about New York is hard to quantify.

    It is easy to set stories where I live, but I feel like I’ve got a lot of good material to work with, too. 🙂 Setting is such an important foundation for a story, and I personally love reading books where the setting lives and breathes like a real place.

    I’m sad I couldn’t make it to the DSP gathering in Chicago. I hope everyone has a wonderful time!

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    • Thanks, Kate! NYC is another of my favorite places and I can see where it would get under your skin (in more ways than one!). I love this comment you made: “I personally love reading books where the setting lives and breathes like a real place.”

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  • I was just about to put up a blog post about why I always set my stories in Chicago’s northernmost suburb: Wisconsin. 🙂

    What it comes down to, I think, is that most authors are hardwired to write about what they know. This doesn’t minimize the roles of imagination and research; it simply means the places and people that’ve shaped us are essential components of our individual voices.

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    • I agree, KZ. I think that “writing what you know” gets misunderstood–it can just mean writing a backdrop that’s second-nature to you and, as such, will come across as real and authentic.

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  • I pulled out of Big Bend National Park in a little Ford Ranger pickup truck, me and the kid off on an adventure, and I hit the small towns where you can still buy Marty Robbins CDs at the Trading Post. Terlingua was the sort of place you looked around and thought, I think Butch and Sundance might be around here somewhere! All the southwest is like that to me- it smells so clean, and life is so hard, you’re always on the edge of disaster, and the blue sky over the desert seems to go on into eternity.

    Then we rolled on up to the Four Corners and went to work on the Navajo Reservation, and it still looks like 1860 up there. No industry, no electrical wires, and you can drive for four hours before you pass another truck. People give each other this little two fingers salute as they pass, and probably Marty Robbins is going to be coming out the open window of the truck.

    I was watching Justified last night, and Boyd Crowder, one of my favorite characters, said, “You may be a criminal, but I, Sir, am an outlaw.” This land is full of cowboys and outlaws and scoundrels, my sort of place.

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  • I love this! Chicago is also my special place. I lived in the ‘burbs for most of my life and although I lived in the Atlanta area and now live near Philly Chicago will always be the home of my heart. I do love that when you mention Chicago to people they inevitably say how much they love the city; it’s a nearly universal response in my experience. I frequently read books simply because they are set there so now I am off to check out your books because I can’t resist!

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  • I think anyone familiar with me knows my city is Los Angeles. I love the slightly off-kilter citizens, the people who come to L.A. because they don’t fit anywhere else. I see a city with so many stories no one could ever write them all. 😎

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    • You do LA so well; I can tell that, for you, it’s like Chicago for me. Your books have a great sense of place and it’s easy to see how you can (I bet) travel back to LA almost effortlessly when you right about it. It’s like hard wiring, eh?

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  • My special places are Palm Springs, CA, Washington, DC, Seattle and Portland … having spent a lot of time there recently, I also have a fascination with Atlanta that has yet to come to fruition.

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  • Thanks for posting this, Wave (and to everyone who has, or will, read it) about my sentimental “home town.” Today, I head back downtown to meet up with fellow Dreamspinner authors and staff for three more days until I am whisked back to Seattle.

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    • Hi Rick

      I, too love Chicago but only in the summer.:)

      My special place to visit is Australia where I spent a month a few years ago and I’m longing to return.

      Reply

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