For example: My sister-in-law called yesterday and asked what I was going to blog about. Blog? I didn’t even realize today was Tuesday. It’s a problem I’m having more and more often.
Second: I had carefully written on my calendar that I was going to lunch with my good friends, the Jones at 11:00 on Friday. I was writing, finishing up a proposal for my agent and lost track of time when a call came from the complex office that my friends were here. I realize it doesn’t help to make a note if one doesn’t look at the calendar. Being a writer, I hadn’t even showered yet. I tossed on clothes, drew on eyebrows, and combed my hair which looked only slightly better than Edward Scissorhand’s. The Jones were lovely about it and we had a delicious lunch and good time.
Part of the problem is that I’m retired and the only days I have to remember are Sunday for church and any day with a doctor’s appointment. Not that I haven’t forgotten them as well. The other part is that I do not have a calendar in my head. I’ve really never known what day it was. I still have delivery of the newspaper because I want to support in-print papers but also because I can check it for the date. Oh, and I do read some of it. In mental hospitals, one way staff finds out if a patient is oriented in time is to ask them the date. I’d fail that every time, would probably never be released.
Before I retired, I had the framework of, well, work. It’s lovely to look ahead of days to write and hours to read and time to spend with friends–if I don’t forget.
Guess you’d call me chronologically challenged. Anyone else out there have the same problem? Please tell me. I’ll feel so much better.
In writing mysteries, the setting usually enhances the characters and the plot. Agatha Christie’s English village represents an entire genre of walkabout crime whereby manor houses, inns, and churchyards are often sited and cited on hand-drawn maps. It would be hard to imagine Inspector Morse or Inspector Lewis without Oxford University as the backdrop. And the bleak rural Scandanavian settings provide Wallander with mood, characterization, and rationale. The ferocious anger and hostility and crumbling building facades within ghetto environments serves as the undercurrent to numerous police/detective series. And Clive Cussler’s NUMA series relies almost totally on understanding of the surface and sub-surface ocean dynamics and modern ship propulsion technology.
In literature, perhaps no one expresses the importance of setting more than William Faulkner, whose Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, became not only the for his most powerful novels and characters, but also became a place even more concrete and enduring in the mind’s eye than the reality of Oxford, Mississippi, itself. It was the place of giant live oaks and dark swampy forests and expansive yards in front of mammoth columns holding up porches than went on forever. And the entire setting seemed to be decaying measurably within the pages of the novel. Not so long afterwards, Tennessee Williams chose a similar setting for his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
For romance writers, it seems to me that setting is equally if not more important in developing characters that interact or bounce off one another. My beloved Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s many Regency romances depend largely on their expansive descriptions of homes, parks, shops, and costumes of London, Bath, and several villages. Behavior of the characters draws out of these settings naturally and easily.
Recently my sister-in-law, Jane Myers Perrine, established the Texas village of Butternut Creek as the setting for her romantic trilogy – The Welcome Committee…, the Matchmakers….and the Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek. In each case, the houses, the church, the schoolyard, and the public buildings provide a cozy place for her characters to meander slowly into place as they drop their troubling backgrounds and engage with each other in the present safe environment.
While it is true that cruise ships or desert islands may provide a contained setting for a romance plots, one could wonder about how much character development may occur. It is rather like a one-joke movie where the comedy seems more and more contrived. On the other hand, my all time favorite romances include the wild and expansive settings of Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile that include double and triple entendres. And find me a woman of any age that didn’t love Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in the cityscapes of New York and Seattle – Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. That valentine heart on the Empire State Building was the ultimate manipulative event in moviedom, but oh was it ever effective. It reminded me of the ice skating scene at the end of Serendipity, where you knew the impossible was going to happen right then.
And speaking of John Cusack and Julia Roberts, which, of course we weren’t, the very constrained setting of the resort in the desert, actually enhanced both the plot and characters in America’s Sweethearts. It was a throw-back to the old Agatha Christie village, a walkabout romance.
I’m an Easterner. Having lived East of the Mississippi my entire life, I am used to many broad rivers laced with hundreds of creeks, lanes that wind along old Indian trails, mountains that prefer ice precipices rather than broad snowfields, broad-leafed oaks and maples and elms that turn vibrant colors in the fall painting a scene against the deep green firs behind them, seacoasts pulling a north wind nipping in the air even in August, lakes where the frigid cold layer hits the bottom of your feet in July, and houses that date back to 1680 and are so firmly built they will last another two hundred years. The riverbanks in the East are thick with lush vegetation and small wildlife, the fields swarm with game, and the lakes jump with fish unless some industry dumps its wastes into the streams.
However, I have traveled extensively in the West and I am always awestruck by the hugeness of the Western sky. I loved the majestic Rockies at Boulder, the sea otters and kelp at Monterey, the enchanted harbor and hills of San Francisco, the vastness of the Nevada desert, the great cactus gardens of Tucson, bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush of the Texas hill country, the amazing smell of freshness of Mount Shasta.
But of all the contrasts, it was at Bryce Canyon, in southern Utah, that taught me the most about East and West. Tucked high above the rock face of the canyon wall was a tiny tuft of grass serving as a bird’s nest. All around me was dryness and rock. A guide stated that water from the infrequent rainfalls seeped down through the rock taking hundreds of years to reach that little outpost of avian life form.
Up in Wyoming they told us it took five acres to support the water and feed needs for one cow.
With that statistic, I envisioned the broad Ohio River with its placid waters over twenty feet deep passing cornfields and hay fields and barns and houses and horses and cows, coons and possums, bear and deer and flooding over into nearby fields in the spring freshet.
And now I’m worried. The last three winters in Kentucky were extremely warm. Spring in both 2011 and 2012 were unseasonably hot, and the early summer has posted temperatures over 100 degrees for two weeks, I have become very nervous that our water-filled East was becoming like the West. Of course we think we have hundreds of years before we become a desert. Right now it is just steamy. We need snowfall like those wonderful two-foot snows in Connecticut, we need those old March rains in Cincinnati when it was raining when you left for school in the morning, raining when you came home and pouring down rain on the roof all night. We need summer lightning storms that save the corn and soybeans from damaging heat. We need the deep, deep soft snows of Vermont and Maine that start in late November and go through to April. We need to replenish the earth around our enormous cities.
What are your thoughts? Where do you live? Do you prefer living in the East, West or in the middle? Do you worry about the heat and drought of this summer?
Diane is my sister-in-law and a respected historian. She’s an expert on the undergound railroad in and around Kentucky and country stores in Kentucky. She recently appeared as a historian on the Syfy Channel’s Haunted Collection.
Thursday, Diane Perrine Coon, my brilliant and talented (and I really mean this!) sister-in-law, will be blogging on the weather–a timely topic. She has appeared as a guest historian on Haunted Collectors on television.
Please stop by!
Guest blogging today is my sister-in-law, Diane Perrine Coon. She’s an expert on the underground railroad in Kentucky and surrounding states, a speaker, a respected historian, and the daughter of one on my favorite people. Thanks for dropping in, Diane. Take it away.
It was one of those fortuitous events that many believe are God incidents, I was living in Pennsylvania and taking an early retirement from a large corporation at the same time my Dad died leaving Mom with an oversized house and yard exactly 857 miles away. So I left my daughter and grandkids up East and came back to Kentucky, to small town Kentucky. That move meant I spent the next 12 years getting to know Mom all over again in a new and fresh way. And it also meant I got bored and went back to graduate school, this time in American History.
In her last year as Mom at age 95 was dying of congestive heart failure, I was amazed at how many of her friends, some she had known for 50 years, others for 30 years, and some just 10 years or so visited her frequently. Sometimes there were shouts of great merriment. Other times it was a time of reflection, of that gentle gossip among old friends, or of Mom reading one of her favorite poems by Billy Collins. Then it dawned on me that Mom had taught Bible for over 65 years and these were her students. This was their way of thanking her for bringing a very real Jesus into their lives.
As hospice was called in, her oldest Kentucky friend, Joyce Rose now with just one kidney after her own surgery and in her late 80s, visited bringing homemade soups because Mom could not get solid food down anymore. When we moved to Kentucky in 1950 to a tiny hamlet called Pewee Valley, Joyce lived just down Maple Avenue from our house on the corner of Maple and Elm Street. She had five children and often found herself at the doctor’s office (my Dad) and visited Mom’s kitchen. Then Mom, a nurse, gave allergy shots to one of Joyce’s children and never charged for it. A deep and lasting friendship grew between them.
On one of her last visits, I asked Joyce to help me remember the people that lived on Maple Avenue, Pewee Valley, during the 1950s. It was such a momentous time in our lives. It was our first real house with a big yard and fabulous big trees. There were only 650 people in Pewee Valley when we moved there, so it was a very small town. My Dad was setting up medical practice after years in internship, residency and four years in WW II. My brother and I were adjusting to our fifth (and third) school. Of course that first Sunday, Mom trotted us all off to our new church in the next village. Within hours everyone on Maple Avenue knew who we were, and within days, we had met all the kids that lived up and down the street. And within months our side yard had baseball games going, rabbits being raised in the other side yard, and Duchess, my horse, was munching everything in sight in the back field.
A couple of months after Mom died, Joyce phoned and asked if she could come over. She brought with her a piece of cardboard. She had drawn a couple of lines to represent Maple Avenue and there along the edges were the names of all the families that lived there in the 1950s. I almost burst into tears. Instead I hugged her tightly. I could imagine how many memories had flooded into her mind and soul and she drew the map. This was such a great act of love toward my Mom from her oldest Kentucky friend. And that is the heart of Maple Avenue.
My sister-in-law Diane Perrine Coon, whom I introduced last week, will be blogging Tuesday about Pewee Valley and memories of her childhood. Pewee, as the natives call it, is a lovely town with huge trees and beautiful, historical houses.
Thursday, another blog about being frugal, about my husband this time.
So this week seems a lot like, family week but that’s okay. I married into a marvelous bunch.
By the way, Pewee Valley is named for the pewee bird seen to the left.
For the newspaper announcement of our engagement, I wrote, “George Bierce Perrine III is from Pewee Valley, Kentucky, and graduated from Transylvania College in Lexington, KY.” My mother took one look at that sentence and asked, “Can’t we say he’s from Louisville?” But all of that is true. George is vaguely related to the caustic writer Ambrose Bierce. Transylvania is a small Christian Church school. The name means across the wood and is in no way related to Dracula.
During the years George grew up, Pewee Valley was a charming and tiny town east of Louisville. It’s still a charming town but Louisville now surrounds it. His family lived in a lovely antebellum house on Maple Avenue, a street, as you would guess, with huge maple trees shading the yards. Pewee Valley is best known for being the home of Annie F. Johnston who wrote the Little Colonel books in the early 1900′s.
When I became a Perrine, I inherited a marvelous sister-in-law. Diane is brilliant. She graduated from Cornell and was a business executive for many years. Now, she’s a well-known scholar and researcher, an expert in the underground railroad in Kentucky and surrounding states. She’s also a popular speaker who gives programs about Kentucky country stores and other topics all around the state.
Diane had agreed to blog today on Pewee Valley, her memories of the town and her mother. Unfortunately, I got sick and didn’t have time to set it up. Diane Perrine Coon (google her–you’ll be impressed) will blog here next Tuesday. I’m so pleased she’s agreed.