Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hitting the Town

2 May 2010 - sitting in a hotel room in Reno, Nevada. I’ve come here to do research for the novel. There are places I need to go because I’ve looked them up on the web but don’t’ have first-hand knowledge of them and places I want to see again to refresh my memory of them. To some extent, a trip like this feels unnecessary at this stage of working on the novel. After all, there are many writers who write about places they’ve never seen and the work is fine, great, accurate. For me, though, there’s something about coming into Reno and being able to look at everything with the eyes of my 14 year-old narrator. This is something that I find easier to do in person rather than relying on my imagination.

For example, walking into the El Dorado today, I realized how perfect this place is for Denny. This is the casino where Denny worked and the entrance is all mirrors and gold and tiny lights cascading from the ceiling. A place of fantasy. But it’s also a place where you can lose yourself. Casinos are set up to be disorienting - the lighting doesn’t give you any information about the time of day, there are no straight sight lines, the flashing lights, the cacophony of sound. The entrance to this particular casino also works well with one of the themes in the novel about the historical marketplaces and palaces and their modern-day equivalents that have been “fauxed” to appear luxurious.

There’s also the false history that’s created by the casinos as part of their fantasy experience. The Silver Legacy, for instance, created an entire false history of a fifth silver baron on the Comstock Lode (there were four of them) and the décor is built around the mining history of the state complete with a replica of a mining rig in the middle of the casino. I’d forgotten about that aspect of Reno. The myth-making, the false history, the borrowing of legendary lands - El Dorado, Atlantis, etc. But being here has reminded me of really using the location of my story to underscore its themes. I mean, the location of the novel is important to the story in terms of a place where Matt can go out to the desert, but using Reno’s history and present day, really using it, creates another layer of meaning for the novel.

3 May
You can never tell where information you can use is going to turn up. Tonight at dinner is a perfect example of this. The timing of this research trip coincides with a trip by a dear friend of mine who used to live near me but now lives across the country, and we had dinner tonight with a mutual friend who still lives here. In the course of our dinner conversation, my friend starts talking about a dynamic that existed in his family that is EXACTLY the relationship I’ve got between Matt and his mother. But it’s very difficult to show because most of the dynamic exists in Matt’s mother keeping her distance from him. So I questioned my friend about his experience and how he came to understand what was going on in his family (and was very upfront about it, I would never NOT tell someone I was asking questions for research). It helped me figure through some of what I’m doing with Matt.

Today was largely about driving around and visiting places in Reno like the mall (a pretty significant scene takes place there and I wanted to make sure I got it correct - picked up a good idea that adds another dimension to the scene while I was there), the hospital and the cemetery. All good stuff. Tomorrow, I head for the petroglyphs to see if I can milk some more out of that location to use in the novel. And then on Wednesday, I’m heading to Carson City to find out more about Nevada history.

Again, I know I could have just continued to use what I had in my head, but coming here and seeing the places and thinking about them in this way, seeing them through Matt’s eyes, helps me more fully visualize the world of the novel. And I think it’s important because if I can’t picture it or see it the way Matt would, I can’t write about it in a way that feels real to the reader.

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