The Importance of Place

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Today I start the process of rewriting my first novel.

I’m slightly intimidated by the process, but my enthusiasm remains in check. I’ve got 50,000 words of a Young Adult novel sitting here on my desk, courtesy of NaNoWriMo, and I intend to do something with it.

I read the whole manuscript from cover-to-cover in one sitting over the winter break. To my great relief, I was not cringing at every other sentence, nor did I feel the whole endeavor was pointless and that it was time to throw in the towel. If anything, it invigorated me. I’m intrigued by these characters, and want to do them justice.

My novel takes place in a fictional northwest Indiana town that is closely modeled to my hometown of Crown Point. I spent 10 days in CP over the holidays, and felt closer than ever to the lives of these people I have created, and even more connected to the world in which they live.

I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with my hometown. Doesn’t everybody, I suppose? Family is the center of life there, and I was lucky to have a warm and insulating throng of my own. But as I got older, the town felt stifling and I longed to know more, see more, of the greater world. I left when I was 18, and have only been back periodically for visits.

Having that space ,that time away, gives me to the opportunity to feel like a visitor whenever I am there. The town was incorporated in 1834, and you can see and feel the history all around you, yet things continue to change, as they do. I love to explore when I am there, especially the town square. Crown Point has a grand old courthouse in the center of town, flanked on four sides by various and sundry shops, including a movie theater. When I was kid my mom and I would shop at Lipay’s clothing store, and I took dance lessons at Miss Shirley’s which was directly above it on the second floor, next to a health food shop. Ben Franklin, aka the “dime store”, anchored the southwest corner of the square, and every week my mom would go to Huber’s menswear down the street to pay on her cards.

Lake County Courthouse, Crown Point, Indiana - photo by Amy Clites
Lake County Courthouse, Crown Point, Indiana – photo by Amy Clites

Today the square is a collection of home furnishings shops, restaurants, and bars. My favorite are the antique stores (there have to be at least a half dozen). On this most recent trip home, I ducked into one with my mom on a lazy Sunday to poke around.

I really feel like I step back in time when I go in these stores in Crown Point. There’s a sense of living history there, and it overflows the shelves. The building’s themselves are alive with history, each having been built for a specific purpose, which has long been discarded as unneeded in today’s world (goodbye apothecary shop, hello Copper Butterfly).

In my novel, I want the town itself, and the buildings therein, to feel like characters. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time imagining and sketching out the details of the Victorian farmhouse in which my protagonist lives. That house in my imagination feels alive to me.

So imagine my surprise, when poking through the antique store, I happened across a stand of reproduction postcards. Most scenes were of the town square and the courthouse, and I lingered over them, taking in the details and the differences of days gone by. As I turned the stand on which the cards stood, I saw that among the postcards was one of a house. Something about it seemed familiar and I picked it up to get a closer look. My jaw dropped when I instantly realized it was the house where my best friend grew up, and where I spent quite literally hundreds of days and nights. A flood of memories of that house washed in, and while I could barely contain my gleeful enthusiasm, the shop clerk I was sharing with could not have been more apathetic. Ah, youth!

 

The house where my best friend grew up, and where I spent most of my childhood days
The house where my best friend grew up, and where I spent most of my childhood days

Anyway, just today’s musings on how place has such a powerful influence over our lives, and shapes and colors the story of our days. I’m jumping into one of those places today, and look forward to sharing it with you in the coming months.

4 thoughts on “The Importance of Place”

  1. Hi Amy, I followed a link to this post from your post today’Projects, Projects and More Projects’, as I was interested in what the novel you are working on was about, and found the idea of visiting your old hometown and taking photos, wandering around and noticing how it has changed, fascinating. I’m about to start a story (not sure if short or novel length yet) set partly in the 1980’s when I was growing up, and have been thinking about where to set it, and I love the idea of collecting postcards of places both from the past and now. Thanks for the inspiration! *runs from house to nearest postcard purveyor*

    1. That’s wonderful! I love that we never know when, where or how inspiration will strike, and I’m glad you found a seed of creative inspiration in my post that will no doubt bloom into something beautiful. I’m a huge fan of postcards, and when I went on a 6 month children’s theatre tour ten years ago, I sent myself a postcard from every place that we visited, which has now turned into tradition every time I travel. I have a shoebox stuffed with the things!

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