Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Gaining Perspective Through Setting

Recently, I spent a couple days in good old LA, which is my dad's tongue-in-cheek name for Lower Altavista, Virginia. He grew up in Altavista, a small little town about twenty minutes south of Lynchburg on highway 29. My grandmother still lives in the house my dad grew up in. They moved in the year Kennedy was shot.

I spent a lot of my childhood there discovering the same places my dad had frequented as a child. Often, when I write, those memories come back to me. I think finding something true to write about helps yield your work an authenticity that can be otherwise hard to find. I began a new Work In Progress (WIP) this summer, and the setting of the story is based on Altavista. I needed a small town, one that almost seems lost in time. You drive into town and step into a world where the world moves a little more slowly, where folks wave when you drive by, and everyone knows your last name.

My grandmother, Dodie, was a wonderful resource, acting as my official tour guide and Altavista's historian. I learned about Altavista's beginnings and how it has grown into the town it is today.

I hit a roadblock in my writing earlier, so I decided to take the trip to inspire myself with the setting. I was able to sit out on my grandmother's back porch and listen to the train whistle through town, a sound I will forever associate with Altavista. Without music or internet or anything to distract me, I watched the fireflies come out at dusk. I heard the soft crunching of something moving through the woods which begin at the end of the back yard and trail down into a ravine where the old football practice field is slowly being overgrown by vegetation. Sometimes as a writer, I feel you have to take the time to immerse yourself in your setting. You have to live it, breathe it, feel it.

A Watchful Summer (my working title) is going to be a personal novel, hopefully one where I can capture that feeling of magic and curiosity that so pervaded my childhood. In a way, this novel is for me to come full circle. When I was thirteen, I discovered a manual Royal typewriter in my grandmother's closet. We dusted it off, had the ink bands replaced, and I took it home with me where I was able for the first time to truly shut the door and write on my own time (this was before laptops - I didn't get a personal computer until I moved to college.) In fact, it's that typewriter that I found in Altavista that inspired the name of this blog.

Here's a couple of pictures to get you in the mood: 

The Avoca House (technically the back)

The front of the Avoca House  

Lovely Victorian staircase

Bedford Avenue 


Woods near the house  

Staunton River 

Railroad tracks 

Cemetery where my grandfather is buried.