From where I’m sitting to write this, I can see—simultaneously—the crossroads of three busy streets, a El train stopping for passengers overhead, and an air conditioning unit canted awkwardly from the window of a sixth-story apartment window. I’m waiting for a friend to come meet me for dinner at a restaurant at a very Chicago corner of Chicago.
I also heard “Small Town” by John Mellencamp this morning and teared up at exactly the same place I always do. That’s probably where they’ll bury me.
I’m from a small town, probably smaller than the one Mellencamp is from, but now I live in a big town (still hate enough to say ‘Look who’s in the big town’). There are times when I wish I still made my home closer to where I was born. That’s where all my family lives, for one thing. And, oh, the house we could buy with the mortgage we pay here.
More than that, though, I wonder if I could write better there.
Maybe not. I write in cafes and such white-noise adjacent areas a lot, and I’d certainly have to adjust to—the lack of cafes.
If I hadn’t moved to Chicago, would I have gotten my MFA? Would I have written the books I did during and just after that experience? Would I have been able to join a community of mystery writers as easily as I have?
Who knows what role location has on our ambition or our progress as writers, but I know one thing—I’d never have written The Black Hour without living in Chicago.
My next project is my Indiana book. My small town project. The story, if I do it right, has a lot to do with who I am, being from where I’m from, and who I might have been if a few things had gone differently. I want to do it well. I want to do it right.
Location location location. Where we live gets deep into our marrow. That’s why location, a sense of place, is so important in the stories we write. Real people don’t live their lives in a vacuum, and neither do characters. They’re a product of where they’re from and which songs make them long for home just as much as I am, maybe even as much as Johnny Cougar.
I just finished Tana French’s new book, Broken Harbor, (#58!) which has a lot to do with how location imprints on us, makes us who we are. If you like atmospheric, thoughtful police procedurals with heart, definitely check it out. Anybody reading anything good?