I grow very attached to places. Read my blog and you'll know I have an enduring affection for a certain historic house on Cape Ann, for London, and even that part of the world that seemed so small seven years ago but pulls me back this summer. Clearly, I like the history of places. The ghosts. Or if you are a disbeliever in such things, we can just call them shadows of what was once in that intersection of latitude and longitude centuries before.
Maybe then, it’s no surprise I take a lot of inspiration from the places with which I am so familiar and fond. It’s excellent fuel for the imagination and less controversial than using people as fodder for a story.
Of course, I grew up near a setting ideal for an overactive imagination heavily influenced by the romanticisms of Anne Shirley. The house and lake (yes, lake as in 70 acres of water) privately owned by my next door neighbors were perfect inspiration for many a story as I tried to entertain myself betwixt algebra and chemistry assignments. By the time I was in high school and enlisted with the daily task of walking the dog after school, the neighbors were in Florida six months out of the year. So walking around their yard and fields was a favor to them as well as opportunity for me. The lake soothed my ruffled teenage angst. Whether it looked like glass reflecting the sky or a choppy bounce of glittery waves… it was always a place to go and think.
But the surrounding property held its own charms. On the hill overlooking the beach area and behind a single row of pines was an overgrown tennis court. The bittersweet had invaded much of the perimeter and was creeping towards the rusty holes where a net once was installed. The cracked surface echoed of summers gone by. On the other side of the lake, way on the corner of the fields left to grow hay for neighboring farms, there was the remnant of a barn. By remnant, I mean a hole in the ground walled with stone. There was another foundation a quarter mile down the road that was a house, complete with steps descending into earth overgrown with saplings. I found part of a wash basin and several pieces of terra cotta pots. A little ways off was a rusted wagon… and another neighbor found the skull of a horse there.
I learned during some lengthy afternoon in the town library that there was a fire there a hundred years before my time. A suspicious blaze linked to different views on the church or church politics or something like that. But… that foundation stays with me, as does the tennis court and the lake.
I often coveted the farmhouse that still stood in the center of it all. Large and historic, framed by two lofty oaks in the front yard and adorned with plenty of gardens Mrs. Carroll pruned in her months of residence.
The house sold about ten years ago. It looks mostly the same. But the younger family that occupies is there all the time… and a little less neighborly. Then again I’m not there at all these days. And yet… this property sits in my memory ready to be transfigured into the setting of my current fiction. They say, after all, to write what you know. But when it comes to place, I write what I love to know.