Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Close to home


If you could set a book you haven’t written yet anywhere in the world, at any time in history, among societies other than your own, where would you choose and why?

by Dietrich

I come up with an idea for a story, then I dream up the characters. After that comes place and time, and that boils down to what suits that particular story. 

There are times in history that are of interest to me, and I’d likely lean that way. I’ve set a couple of stories on the Great Plains during the dustbowl era back in the 1930s. The isolation and hard times suited Call Down the Thunder and a new one I’ve got coming from ECW Press later this year. 

House of Blazes was set during the earthquake and fire that ravaged San Francisco after the turn of the last century. And the force of nature added both an unexpected pace and character-feel to the story. 

There was Zero Avenue, about an up-and-coming female guitar player. She has the chops, along with an edge, and to match the attitude I set it during the heyday of Vancouver’s early punk scene in the late 70s. 

Poughkeepsie Shuffle was set between New York state and Toronto in the mid-80s, a time when I called the latter city home.

When choosing a setting, I ask myself if I can I work the dialogue for that particular time and place. I rely heavily on dialogue, using patois and local parlance, and if I came up with a story where my characters had to say something like “Dash my wig, that’s a fly-ass stagecoach,” I might feel headed for trouble. Having been around a while, I’ve heard plenty of slang expressions come and go, so if I’m setting a story at a time when folks were burning rubber, flipping their wigs, busting a gut or talking to the hand, then I’m good to go. Outside of my own experiences, I do as much research as needed. The aim is always to be accurate, but I have to keep the modern-day reader in mind too, so sometimes a bit of word-bending is involved, a mix of the old and new.

There’s that old bit of advice, “Write what you know.” What that means to me is if I’m writing about something that I haven’t experienced firsthand, then I dig up facts until all the senses are in line and I feel like I’ve been there. It also means a lot of on-line research, and triple-checking facts. And it means traveling, flipping through reference books, making calls and reaching out. After all that, I’ll be compiling and sifting, then whittling it all down, dropping in enough of what I researched so the reader hardly notices the facts and just slips into the story like they’re living it.

Back to the question, I do have a couple of ideas for a western in the back of my mind. I haven’t tried that genre yet, and I’ve always been fascinated by those times. I’m also playing with a story set during a time when I was growing up, when Cronkite was bringing the Vietnam War into our living rooms in glorious black and white. And I’ve got another idea for one about a struggling blues musician. At this point, the ideas keep coming and I’m getting them written down, and for me, that’s the greatest place of all to be. 


Brenda Chapman said...

Interesting insight into your process, Dietrich. Looks like you have lots of great story ideas to keep you busy!

Susan C Shea said...

And the ideas keep coming! Good post. Dietrich.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Brenda and Susan.

James W. Ziskin said...

I enjoyed this very much, Dietrich. Thoughtful and very helpful.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, James.