Time molds vivid memories from one’s past into the building blocks of one’s writing…
Today’s Building Block is a reflection on how formal education can affect your writing.
In 1990, I took a graduate course in urban development at the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg, VA), taught by Geology Professor Donald Rallis; who is now leaving that post after 22 years, to teach in Cambodia. I walked away from his presentations with a greater understanding of not just how urban areas grow, mature, and assimilate changes in the human equation, I discovered that what we define as ‘urban’ is based more on our personal familiarization than a standard definition. This new understanding has had a positive effect on my writing.
For example, in my novel Simplicity Lane I purposely named the central, fictional Southern US ‘town’ the Village of Tamplation. Not to confuse readers who ‘know’ that villages are in New England, and not below the Mason Dixon Line, but to use this ‘apparent’ contradiction to influence the reader to subconsciously think about what they are reading (life is full of contradictions, so pay attention). Ask yourself ‘how large is a village’?
Another contradiction that I have employed is the use of ‘avenue’ for streets in small urban settings. This influences most readers to mentally associate ‘avenue’ with a large city (i.e., 5th Avenue in New York City); again causing a mental contradiction (unless you live in suburban Florida and know that streets and avenues have specific orientation; for example, avenues run east/west, while streets run north/south).
During one lecture, Professor Rallis spoke about how the Gay community in Washington, D.C. can maintain a low profile by locating their nightspots in industrial areas. He showed a picture of a nightspot located between warehouses; an area that is devoid of routine traffic after 6 pm. My reaction was, ‘I drive past that spot almost daily on the way to/from work, and I never realized the nightspot was there!’ My writing has utilized this perception contradiction by my consciously locating a business or residence in an area where the reader ‘knows’ they would not find one. For example, we find the Village of Tamplation small town police officers experiencing what many readers will envision as an inner city apartment complex scene:
A neighbor’s dog started barking, then a second, then a third; soon the dogs were joined by a woman yelling from an upper apartment “will you keep it down!”
A 31 December article about Professor Rallis’ international contributions to understanding geography and his work at UMW, ‘He inspired me to have adventures’, can be found at News.Fredericksburg.com.
I wish Professor Rallis the best for his ‘retirement’ from UMW and his continued enlightenment of urban life. His blog: Regional GeogBlog
Think about your ‘building blocks’; we can not write without them.