Six Hours, Eight Minutes & 2,858 Miles—The Length of Time To Tell The Truth

When I began my novel, one of the first questions I answered to myself was where my story would take place. Ultimately Washington State seemed the best choice for the setting of my novel. To those I shared my story’s premise I’ve defended my choice, always feeling confident in the real locations of Seattle, Bremerton and Bainbridge Island Washington.

Picture of my online researching

This was, of course, until I was reduced to a bumbling tourist when the receptionist at the Bremerton police station asked ‘Why here, why my city?” For the first time in my travels and writing adventures I was stumped on how to answer this seemly simple question. Now, I’ve answered this many times over, but somehow needing to answer her, a native to the very place i was writing about, colored the matter differently.

Obviously, It was a valid question. What could possibly be the motivator for a 30 something-year-old Puerto Rican woman from New York City, who had never been anywhere near the Northwest travel 3,000 miles to this wet vastly green and other worldly place? Why not create a fictional world, perhaps resembling a “somewhere” but primarily imagined?

The short answer: I wanted a small town or city that could be in a sense isolated from the world, both in distance to Seattle but also within it’s natural landscape. I wanted a working class community that had areas with socioeconomic issues. Each of these things needed to be overshadowed by a large city within its direct view (Seattle).

It was through preliminary research and general knowledge of Seattle that lead for me to believe Washington State could be the perfect setting for my story.

With the help of Google Maps, online photos and movies showing me the topography of the western Olympic Mountains and the eastern Cascade Range I saw how the area seemed like an eden sandwiched between their peaks. This capsule of land masses contain deep blue bodies of water, lush parks and forests, rich farming and food communities. Each of these things seemed to be intertwined within a rich Native American and Navel Military history. All the amenities of the region perfectly served the narrative in my story.

Naturalism in Literature & Pathetic Fallacy

Why is the location, whether imagined or chosen even important? I believe the physical location or world within a story can play a role in the daily functions and actions of the characters. If you delve a little deeper it can be used as the external force that shapes your character behavior, pushing the story forward. Your setting can be another cue to your character’s personality, their conflicts or the current state/future that will be foretold. For example: If you create the world within your story as a barren place, devoid of resources, it can be reflective of the internal and emotional support your character may be lacking.

The “Real” Reason Why I Chose Washington State: Each of the locations and settings are naturalistic representations of my characters. They mirror each of their hopes, desires and regrets.

  • Seattle “ The Big Cityis the dark harshness of life, poverty, violence and filth. Each of these things is reminiscent of his past and family, all the things he is running from. Of course this is where the challenge is met, where family and love comes from the very place he despises.
  • Bremerton represents the hard working civil servant he is. It is the distance he has found and creates for his son, away from the pain and hurt of his family.
  • The mountain ranges are the ruggedness and harshness he carries within himself along with the beauty he exudes during his happiest moments.
  • Bainbridge Island is the false tranquility he desires, the loneliness he feels and isolation he has already created.

For these reasons Washington State is the right place for my characters to live. So, after a year and a half into my story, I made the decision to go to the place I had been daydreaming and writing about.

I was terrified. I was afraid that when I arrived it wouldn’t be what I had imagined or wrote it to be. But mostly I was afraid I had made a mistake in using the real instead of a imagined world.

6 Hours, 8 Minutes and 2,858 Miles Later….

When I stepped off of the plane and walked out of the terminal the first thing I did both out of necessity and curiosity, was take a deep breath in. It was more than what I believe my imagination could have come up with or at least accurately depict.

Seattle was hip but still had a flare of grunge throughout the seams. Bremerton was filled with hard-working craftsmen and engineers, each working on military submarines and monstrous air-craft carriers. Bainbridge Island was engulfed by rich green forests surrounded by pebbled beaches, truly paradise.

I was beyond excited to be there. Even the jet lag and three hour time difference didn’t stop me from staying up late each night preparing for the next day of visiting, talking, picturing, smelling and touching.

With every day that passed I began to feel my novel coming life. I began to believe if written effectively, readers could relate to and connect with these characters as well as the places. It’s not to say that a world completely created by a writer cannot convey the same buy-in from your readers, but for me it was what I had wanted for this story and needed to help improve the writing of my third main character…setting.

Walking on the actual beach of Fay State Park in Bainbridge Island I could easily visualize their first date and physically plot out a picnic with his son and wife. Yes, I’ve walk on beaches before, many in fact, from the salty sweet cold waters of Portland Maine to the still tropic ocean of Isla Mujers in Mexico. I could and have taken those examples in my writing, however being there, rolling the scenes around in my mind, gave me conceptual and logistical clarity I needed.

Many writers choose to invent just the town (and the people in it) and leave the country and state and its political system intact. This can be an easy way of going about it, it avoids continuity issues. You are the creator of that world, therefore it is. However, if you use a real location you’d better get the details right and that can only come through careful research.

So, did I have to actually go to Washington and walk the path my characters are walking to write a good story? No, I didn’t. But by basing my story on a place that isn’t fully imagined, it is providing me with the motivation and tactile information needed to help me bring to life the relationships, the love and the loss, each transpiring within the characters I’m creating.

From Google Searches To Actually Living It!

.

It was the difference between knowing there are active volcanoes near Seattle, to seeing them so close you want to know what the escape routes are if they went off.

It’s knowing the state is comprised of dense forest, snow capped mountains, lakes and an ocean but not realizing it meant the air was so crisp and clean it felt like new sheets of white paper never written on.

The road I chose for them to meet on. From a Google Map to seeing it, walking on it and driving through it was absolutely amazing!!

It was not wanting to go inside even though the early spring wind smacked me in the face as I stood in the very front of the ferry, eyes wide open anticipating how the new land I was approaching will look and be like.

It was hearing first hand the fish mongers boasting their fresh catch of the day.

Doughnut Making Ladies!

It was smelling ruby red fruits and sweet veggies waiting to be picked

Playing tourist!

I will never forget looking at those mountains..

[CLICK ON PICTURE] Nor will I ever forget seeing that volcano (My iphone 3Gs photo: Look carefully in the distance, towards the left you will see a white peaked mountain. ) Mt. Rainier is only 54 miles from Seattle… OBJECTS ARE NEARER THAN WHAT IT SEEMS!!!

A 9mm Stored In My Underwear Drawer

FOR THE LOVE OF RESEARCH…

OK, to better learn about my characters for my novel- being that my main character is a former Marine & now Police Officer, I’ve done the following:

Interviewed (2) Marine and know another

Visited a recruitment office

Read a crap load of materials on them

Studied countless Marine videos ( Discovery Channel stuff, personal blogs & journals)

Watched Marine themed movies including ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and I HATE war movies !!!

Facebooked I “Liked” the United States Marine Corp on Facebook including their Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego (Where my fictional character will be trained at)

Shooting I’m even going to go rifle and pistol shooting in the upcoming months

Spoken with Family Even though he isn’t a Marine I sat down with my father and spoke to him about his experience in the Army and why he joined. When I asked him why the Army and not the Marines he said “I didn’t  join the military to go fight and kill someone!” CRACKED ME UP!! But it says a lot about the roll and perception of the Marines in our armed forces.

I’m about as liberal as they come. I used to be afraid of guns and I didn’t know or think about the difference between each of the armed forces. Outside of knowing why my own family, friends and community members join the military (ie. A way out of bad neighborhoods, career/school opportunities or a need for strong support and guidance) I never really understood why anyone would put themselves in harms way for our own government that has demonstrated time and time again how they ALWAYS need to be reminded to give back when our soldiers return from war and are in need.

With that in mind, my ongoing process of learning and listening to the experiences of others I’ve come to respect and admire the strength, courage and stamina found in each of these Marine men and women, truly amazing. For that I am grateful to everyone I have spoken to and what I have learned.

However, in the process of researching I think I’ve come to learn way too much about hair cut regulations, rankings, The Crucible, and even BCGs…… that would be ‘Birth Control Glasses’ (military issued glasses).  And now my friend (The Marine I interviewed) was so excited that I was writing a story about a Marine he went out and bought me a T-shirt, coffee mug and my favorite, a Marine fatigued mouse pad!

Now if I can only get all my NYC Police family members and friends to get me stuff. I will be well on my way to become a card carrying NRA member with a 9mm stored in my underwear drawer and shotgun in my imaginary pick-up!! 😛

Killing Off My Main Character…..

I guess this is a spoiler alert.  However, by the time I edit this crazy draft, find & get an agent, then  with some luck have it published you would have forgotten any of this. Why? Because I’m very sure it will be many years from now that any of this will happen  LOL!!!

During a recent NaNoWriMo write-in I met a fellow writer who asked me why was I going to kill my main character. In so many words she asked  if I was killing him because he was a ‘bad’ person.

I smiled inside because it couldn’t be further from the truth.  He is a ‘good’ person, a man deserving love and a happy life, but in this case not an ending one would expect or want in a story for their main character.  Sometimes things are too broken to be fixed.

Life and the choices we make as individuals often leads us down a path to the inevitable, in this case death.  My character’s hurt has corrupted their ability make the change needed to do more than survive—to truly live. Allowing the pain to be the only thing that defines them. It may sound harsh, perhaps it is, but it is the one truth I know in the story’s outcome I created.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life meeting all types of people from all walks- off the beaten path so to say.  As a psych major, I choose a field of study that would help give me the tools needed to empower individuals enough to help them make the choices that would improve their own lives. This lead to a 12 year chosen career path as a counselor to teens, parents, alcoholics, heroin addicts, and HIV/AIDS patients. In that time, even as I looked at my own life, I began to understand there comes a point in a person’s life where the window for change becomes narrower and narrower.

Once a person passes that “Fork in the Road” and neglected to make the proverbial correct turn,

  • not taking that Leap of Faith and trusting even when others had shown them otherwise,
  • not embracing the love they found in a place they weren’t expecting,
  • not leaving the job that has caused them more misery than the security it provided,
  • not leaving that relationship,
  • saying No instead of Yes,
  • saying Yes instead of always No.

If we didn’t step into the unknown rather than settle for the familiar, it can become too late, as in the instance of my character’s story arc.

We are creatures of habit and within that there is a layer of fear of the unfamiliar and unknown.  I believe this fear leaves us in the soppy mess that we often find ourselves in. A dirty, unhappy but very comfortable place. Why?  Because this is what we know, what we are familiar with—it therefore becomes the only truth we believe in, because anything else, anything better, is not possible or to be lived by others.

By no means am I trying to simplify our lives and say that we are filled with a multitude of  choices by which we always turn a blind eye to.  What I do believe is that there is always a moment in our lives, however small or large that we do have an opportunity to choose; a decision that can either let the door crack open just enough to let the breeze in or simply see and experience something different.

I am not an blind optimist but I am always hopeful. Innately, I have always been a person that listened and cared when others don’t. I’ve often been let down or consumed with the pain of others—of individuals when they themselves don’t seem to be aware of or want to think about what they actually might be facing. Even with this, I remain ever hopeful.

Within the story I’ve created, it is my hope through witnessing my protagonist’s death the ones closest to him will value life and learn the lessons that needed to be learned. I see the main character of my story as the visionary—the poet and the one that needs to die.

I think it was said best by Michael Cunningham in his book The Hours

“Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more. It’s contrast”  – Virgina Wolf

Novel Research: Women’s Police Locker Room

RESEARCH: I couldn’t wait to share it.. Its a mini clip of me in a women’s Police Precinct locker room.  (Although I took this video last winter- I just edited it for posting) Note: its a tiny piece. I had to edit it down for obvious reasons (women were changing into their uniforms! Ha!)

MY OBSERVATIONS:

  • Dirty
  • Unmaintained by cleaning staff (lack there of)
  • Peeling paint
  • Mold
  • A foul smell I couldn’t tell and didn’t want to know where it was coming from.
  • (1) Shower and (1) toilet for over 40 women (That work 8-12 hour shifts….or more at a time)
  • A report that there were bed bugs (Thus why most of the women kept their uniforms in plastic bags)
  • Bullet proof vests that looked way too small and too uncomfortable for most of the women there.
  • Their Lockers: Pictures of their children.. husbands..wives..boyfriends and girlfriends taped up.
  • A feeling of comradery despite the circumstance they worked in….Absolutely yes.

My story takes place in the state of Washington

My story takes place in the state of Washington.  More specifically Bremerton and Bainbridge Island.  I wanted and needed a place that could be detached from the world, both with its physical isolation but also carry a sense of beauty.

Each of these things needed to be overshadowed by a big city in its direct view (Seattle).

Having never visited Washington I needed to familiarize myself with the area. I Googled and printed information on the local high school, where the police station was located and visited numerous realtor web sites and identified my main character’s apartment and layout.

After downloading numerous maps of streets and neighborhoods I said to myself….

1) I need to get my butt over there soon and

2) I need more information.

With that, I made up in my mind that this coming year I will fly out to WA for a few days and two, I decided to pick up the phone and call the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce.

I explained who I was and what I was doing (writing a novel that takes place in your neighborhood) and how I needed some information. The friendly voice on the other line replied “Sure! That sounds exciting, I think I can help”.  With that she sent mountains of maps, demographic information, newsletters and special events calendars.  I was so excited to open my mail each day until it arrived.  A little shy and nervous to call…but I’m very glad I did.

Thank you Bremerton Chambers of Commerce!!

Mapping out the Road they meet on…

Marine Rites

I’m supposed to be doing freelance now so I can go out to the movies later….So of course what am I doing???? Looking up Marine rite of passages and hair cut regulations for my main character.