Catnapped and Doggone
Is there any setting that I really want to write about but haven’t? I can’t believe I’m about to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld (please do not tell my mother) but there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns and setting is the unique opportunity to explore both. Let’s start with the know unknowns and the settings I would like to write about.
Have you ever been to Savannah, Georgia? Land of heavy, scented Magnolias and narrow streets with antebellum manors, mostly restored, peering out from behind willows draped in Spanish moss. When we were kids, we went on a car trip every year and my mother would give the first one of us to spot the heavy strands of Spanish moss a dollar. Not a lot of money but enough to keep our competitive juices flowing without allowing them to turn into fisticuffs in the back back of our Chevrolet station wagon. Savannah was like no place I’d ever experienced. Women in hats sat on porches sipping lemonade and fanning themselves. The entire world slowed down with the molasses drawl of the locals and the blanketing weight of the humid air. Insects buzzed but instead of bringing out the assassin in me, it sounded like a local choir. You just knew, or I did even at the tender age of nine, that this place had stories. Hundreds of them. Some passed down from generation to generation with a rebel yell, others an isolated refraction of a polarized society just outside its city limits. Sherman marched through Savannah but while Atlanta burned to the ground and remained scorched aflame in our collective history, Savannah remained awash in genteel ritual and afternoon juleps. John Berendt did it justice in“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” but my gut tells me that Savannah has many more secrets to share. I’m not just talking murder and mayhem, either. I can feel the generational saga, the local character bedtime story and the ghost in the attic tome complete with unexplained drafts and middle of the night laughter.
Now, Savannah is my known unknown. I’ve been there a couple of times. I can imagine myself taking a small cottage for a couple of months and writing while I watch real Savannites meld into unforgettable characters. I can feel the moist touch of the still air on my face and taste the grits which would feed my body as my new stories feed my soul. It’s a setting both tangible and as yet unknown, secret and alluring.
I haven’t travelled as much as I might have liked but if I’m seeking out the totally new setting, I’m at the Hague in the Netherlands. I’ve been to Holland as the locals still refer to it numerous times. I’ve seen the airport, the hotel and our local office, all during the winter without so much as a tulip or a wooden shoe. Not that any work I set in the Hague could be set to the Little Dutch Girl rhyme. For me, the Hague is strictly international geopolitical thriller. It’s the seat of power for the War Crimes Tribunals with their heart-wrenching tales and beasts bigger and scarier than anything Stephen King could invent. The Hague has high finance, diplomatic back channels, global crises and the thinkers, movers, money-men and mercenaries drawn to the high wire. I don’t think I’m at much risk of falling into the net when I guess that it is spy central. Talk about upping the risk element in a book. And while I may think of it as mostly thriller territory with occasional amazing human interest stories in the mix, I know that this setting is the crossroads between fiction and non-fiction. The actual intersection of reality and imagination. What a spot to stop and write a book.
The Hague is my unknown unknown both because I’ve never been there and because so much is alien about it. Different language, culture, world view. It is my challenge setting. For me, it’s like the new planet populated by new species envisioned by George Lucas or Frank Herbert’s post-apocalyptic time jump in Dune. I may not know what’s there. I may not even know “there” is there but what a place to ponder.
No one asked me, but I might also want to add I’ve got a healthy list of settings in which I’d like to write. Most of them are warm and sunny, with fruity drinks, endless ideas and good friends to share them with but I can’t really write about them. James Hilton already did it in Lost Horizons. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t visit.
Thanks for reading.