Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I've never been to Detroit

Everybody says "write what you know." I've talked about it before. What you "know" is a subjective thing, though. I know a lot of stuff that I don't write about. A lot of places I haven't used as setting.  A lot of stuff, I research enough to fake it. Such games we play as writers.

For instance, I've never been to Detroit. It's apparently where The Last Song takes place. I didn't really commit until chapter 7 or so, and then retconned (So yeah, I've been using the term "retcon" for years, knowing what it meant [essentially] but not what it was a portmanteau of. Retroactive Continuity. You're welcome). But you know? I've recently developed a Google Maps addiction, specifically the street view. I'd used it a couple of times before when writing Learn to Howl, as there's so much road trip portion to it I needed (or felt I needed) to see intersections, highways, certain county roads. But then there was an article about how Google Street View had visited the exclusion zone cause by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's having had a meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami (you remember that, right? It's been two years, if you can believe it. I thought it was more like one, when I tried to consider. I certainly knew it happened; I remember reading about the nuclear plant in the news specifically and thinking that it seemed like a slightly higher disclosure Chernobyl. It received a 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, and only Chernobyl had previously reached such a dubious height). The particular town linked is Namie.

But anyway, after spending an inordinate amount of time tooling around Japan in Street View, I realized that much of the known world was in Street View. Moscow! Paris! Key West! What a fabulous author tool! Now I could take road trips right from my couch! It can be like Wikipedia Freefall, only on a much larger scale. Thank God for tabbed browsing and ordering food online.

So, I've never been to Detroit, but I can somewhat accurately write there. But that isn't even what I mean by "write what you know". In The Last Song, I've been exploring grief, which I now know, and friendship, which I know. I've also detailed things like looking for stuff on a beach and the sorts of things one might find there. Opening a music playing jewelry box, and what you find in there. Opening mail. The amount of shoes people inexplicably amass. The private world that a relationship becomes. Academically, people don't really discuss these things (well, I guess "finding stuff on the beach" they might). But we all know these things. The way streetlights look through a rainy windshield. The way a recently vacated pillow might smell of that occupant's shampoo. Being distracted by eyebrows. Hearing a particular song on the radio. Does minutiae like this make a novel more real, even if it turns out to be urban fantasy? Maybe. I guess I'll find out once it's done, and other people read it.


  1. Those little things make or break a book. Good post.

    1. Thanks!

      I always find myself surprised and delighted when I find details like that in books and stories, so I've been making a conscious effort to think on them and have them seep into my writing.