“Tripping” in the Shed

stephan-cassara-1440479-unsplash

My time in the shed this morning, while the rain lightly taps on the roof, is being spent going on a journey, many journeys, to places, several places, I have never been.

In a few weeks, my memoir The Consequence of Stars is officially released. I’ve been working on book launch details, making travel plans, working with my editor on distributing some ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy). This is the work many writers don’t necessarily enjoy. I don’t dislike worrying about hiring a bartender for the Chicago launch party at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois or trying to find a reasonably priced place to stay in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood when I head there in late May for a reading and an appearance at the Book Expo. But it’s not writing. Not what I’d rather be doing. I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not. But writing would be better.

But is this true even if I’m faking it?

Through it all, I am making time to write. And this morning in the shed, I continue the work on a new novel. I’m about 3/4 of the way through the first draft. A large part of the story is based around a reluctant road trip and much of this fictional journey is heading to real places I have never been.

This is the “faking it” part.

I don’t work from outlines or plot plans when I write. I let the story come to me and then edit the bejesus out of it when it is time. This means this fictional road trip is taking me to places I know and want to be in the story, but I’m also heading to places unknown, places I know nothing or very little about. The question is this: How do I write about those places in a true and authentic way if I have never been? How do I  weave these places seamlessly through the story? Can that be done? In a novel, in fiction, is it imperative to have been everywhere we write about? Am I faking it?

In my two earlier novels, every town and stretch of land in those chapters I had, at one time or another, experienced in person. Been there; done that. Traveled those roads. Been in that coffee shop, that bar, along that road, that track, and that path. The fiction came directly out of the real experience. But this novel, well, that’s not exactly the case.

Am I cheating? Must I have been everywhere I write about?

This morning, I wonder if I’m being true to myself, true to the reader. I’m hoping to diffuse this worry by doing loads of research on the places where the story takes me. I’ve studied and read and watched videos and eyed hundreds of images. I’ve talked to those who have been there. It’s slowing the writing, but it is, I hope, making up for the fact that I have not traveled to more than half the places in the story.

Still, I feel guilty this morning. Should I?

Imagination is a wonderful thing. But reality and authenticity is equally as important. That’s my take. So, I study and I go on mini mind trips to new places every day and I pretend I am there with my characters, with the windows rolled down, driving along a stretch of America I have never known, yet, a stretch I am desperately trying to imagine.

 

Photo by stephan cassara on Unsplash

5 thoughts on ““Tripping” in the Shed

  1. If you’re taking a trip artistically, I don’t think it should be one labeled “guilt.”

    The interaction between the writer and the reader is a compact, but I think slavish adherence to authenticity in every last detail is a needless worry. The artistic agreement doesn’t require it, unless there’s a promise of photographic precision.

    I am always amused when I come across accounts of film directors or set designers making a period picture who insist on the minutiae in a scene being replicated with absolute accuracy. In my opinion, much of that is lost on the viewer. On the other hand, I’m not arguing that basic fidelity to accuracy is unnecessary, only that a reasonable balance be struck.

    So, in a piece I’m revising now, I discuss several locales I’ve never visited; but I’m aiming for a general flavor of, say, a neighborhood rather than whether a shop is on the left-hand or the right-hand side of the street.

    What I don’t think is overlooked by the reader — and this is the key — is the deeper authenticity of the characters. Do they resonate in a way that harmonizes with the story line and setting.

    I believe if the answer is “yes,” then the willing suspension of disbelief can take care of most of the rest.

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    • Insightful, Nick . And yes, I agree. But my journalist background is always gnawing.

      On another matter: Many years ago, in undergraduate days. I dabbled in some theater. I was in the stage play of Stalag-17 and the director wanted all of us smoking, as solders did. I was a smoker then, although only a few a day. The director was insistent the smokes were filterless. Of course, that was the norm during WWII, and of course we had to smoke those Lucky Strikes as if we meant it. So, each night of the performance, I inhaled with authority and coughed all the way home.
      The authenticity nearly killed me.

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  2. Wasn’t there a character in ‘Zorba The Greek’ who was renting out a room to travelers and ‘travelled the world’ through their stories? Good research is all you need, they say, yet I understand your hesitation. I like to travel and read in advance about my destinations. I picture placed and anticipate experiences. In reality they are never exactly what the travel guide says. Because it’s me who is there, I see it through my unique lens. Is it at all possible to visit one of the places you write about after you finish the book and before publishing?

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    • Thanks for the response, I’ve traveled many of the places I’ve written about in other books. The cross-country train trip in my novel, A WELL-RESPECTED MAN, i actually took to be sure I got it right. But in my WIP I’m finding the writing taking me to places I never knew it would go. Some travel but lots of research!

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