Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My People

The writer must always leave room for the characters to grow and change. If you move your characters from plot point to plot point, like painting by the numbers, they often remain stick figures. They will never take on a life of their own. The most exciting thing is when you find a character doing something surprising or unplanned. Like a character saying to me: ‘Hey, Richard, you may think I work for you, but I don’t. I’m my own person.’”
—Richard North Patterson

My characters are with me quite often. They kind of float around the top of my head. Like angels, in a sense, only I know for certain they're there. I don't know how else to explain it. They did not come from me, they came at me. I'm thoroughly convinced of this. Psychics say they hear voices, or the dead, etc. I do too. Sometimes I swear they must be from another dimension. I honestly don't know how else to explain it. I've posted a link to a clip of author Jodi Picoult talking to Ellen DeGeneres. In the interview, Picoult calls writing "successful schizophrenia." I was beyond pleased when I realized that I understood what she meant. That's exactly what it is.

The protagonist in my novel simply arrived one day. He just showed up uninvited. OK, maybe I crafted him into something he wasn't when he first came my way, but for real, he sprung up. Boink. like a weed (a good weed of course, he's a great guy). A few days later, another character knocked on the door to my latent, subliminal, intrinsic writer's brain. Then another, then another after that. At that point I started thinking, and soon, even more just bubbled up to the surface with names, backgrounds, etc. They told me who they were. They told me what they wanted. Half through the novel, one more came by. One I didn't plan for. He was the most surprising. It's funny too, because he enters the novel the same way he entered my mind: Out of the great, wide, expansive blue.

Sound easy? No. Not so much. It's like I am channeling them, so in essence, things often come out distorted. They don't always open up so easily in the beginning. I have to keep plugging along, letting them guide me. Some days, of course, they don't guide me. They get all huffy, and puffy, and refuse to speak. They get sucked back into that realm they originally came from and sometimes they don't come back for days. When they do, they steer me in a whole different direction, and soon I spinning in circles, ready to kill off each and every one of them. "You want your story written, huh?" I'll say, "Then cooperate, dammit." And eventually they do. Because they're my people. And I love them.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Revision Check

“… Falsely straining yourself to put something into a book where it doesn’t really belong, it’s not doing anybody any favors. And the reader can tell.”
—Margaret Atwood

I may be an intrinsic writer, but I'm not an intrinsic revisionist. The act of writing doesn't frighten me. If everything I ever wrote came out perfectly the first time, I'd have endless material, stacks of paper up to the sky. Revision, though, terrifies me. It's what holds me back. I'm not sure what exactly bothers me so much about cleaning up text--maybe the irrational despair of having to do 'the whole thing over again.' I think it's this notion of running out of time. Writing can be a blissfully painstaking process (yes, I'm aware of the oxymoron I've just provided, but any intrinsic writer knows what I'm talking about). The idea of starting from scratch, the idea of something "not working" in my writing sends me into lunatic mode. I start thinking of the months, years, even it'll take to complete, and that, who knows, by that time, maybe no one will read anymore...

Senseless thinking? Yes. Absolutely. But this is what keeps me up at night. This is what depresses me as I listlessly cruise through my daily activities. I've started my thesis seminar. It's me, the professor (my adviser) and two classmates. Last Thursday, for the first time ever, I got a response to the opening pages of my novel. I expected criticism. I knew it wasn't perfect. I've been in many writing workshop situations before, so I knew the drill. What I didn't expect was to feel so...discouraged...at the end of the night. They said my structuring was off, and that I needed to shed some light on the time period I was writing in. Excellent points. Very true, I know that now, I knew that then. But I spiraled into a sort frenzied depression for two days. I refused to look at the novel. On Friday afternoon, instead of writing, I took personality quizzes online. I felt, well, completely doomed.

Then on Friday night I had a dream. My fiance and I were on some kind of vacation with his siblings. We were in this cabin on top of a huge mountain, covered in snow. We played this game with each other, or we challenged each other...I don't know, but these were the circumstances of the dream...to climb first down the mountain, and then back up. I walked all the way down the mountain in the freezing cold. I doubted I could make it back up and wind up in the same place. I feared veering off into a totally new direction and never finding my way back. But I ascended anyhow, and when I made it to the top, I saw my fiance's brother smoking a cigar (weird, I know) and I knew I'd reached the right place.

Yesterday morning I sat down and rewrote/restructured the opening pages to my novel. And it looks...well, better. In fact, in some ways, I have a whole new feeling about it. My professor had stressed the importance of the opening pages. She said now that I'd gone through and written the entire story, I know the focus of the novel, the purpose of the novel. The opening pages have to express that. Are they perfect yet? Probably not. But I'll find my way back up the mountain.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


“[The writer] has to be the kind of man who turns the world upside down and says, lookit, it looks different, doesn’t it?”
—Morris West

I like to look for signs. In fact, I ask for signs. As an intrinsic writer, I believe the world overlaps with itself. I believe that cues are sent to me constantly, as if to remind me of my purpose. Writers do this sort of thing--make sense of hints, harbingers, and omens--because often, our work and our stories are filled with these kinds of notions. Good stories foreshadow, symbolize, represent, etc. Well, I think in life, it's the same thing. As a writer, I'm just programmed to notice it.

One afternoon I drove to the mall and parked next to a minivan that was sporting a bumper sticker with the title of my novel splashed across it. It isn't a common phrase, really. And I'd never seen it on a bumper sticker. Haven't since either. Another time, my brother was watching a recap of a football game on television, and in a screen shot of the facts and stats of two players, I noticed that they shared the names of two of my male characters.

Last week, when meeting with my thesis adviser, she asked me if my novel is written in the first person. I said that yes, it is. Then later on while driving home, I wound up behind a car with a vanity license plate that said (I kid you not) "1 POV." Very strange. I followed this car almost all the way to my house. I'd never seen it before that night. I haven't seen it since.

One of the best essays I wrote as an undergrad was titled "Empathy and Intuition Among the Characters of Mrs. Dalloway." I picked out scenes in the novel where the characters seemed to have unspoken communication. Where they read the minds of one another, and seemed to understand what each was going through. My husband-to-be and I often text each other throughout the day, just to say hi. Last week at precisely 12:30 p.m. I thought to myself: haven't checked my phone in a while. I bet he sent me a message. Sure enough, a text came through at almost the exact same time. I found out last Sunday that an old neighbor had passed away. This morning I woke up thinking about the last time I had spoken to her. She had told me that she liked to practice Reiki healing. An hour or so later, while visiting a the blog of a fellow blogger, I saw that she too, mentioned using Reiki on sick animals.

There are many more where this came from. In writing, our characters pick up on these kind of cues both as a means of plot structure, and significance for the overall story. But I'm convinced, that if one pays attention, this kind of stuff happens in real life...all the time.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Particulars

“As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second chance at biting into our experience and examining it. … This is our life and it’s not going to last forever. There isn’t time to talk about someday writing that short story or poem or novel. Slow down now, touch what is around you, and out of care and compassion for each moment and detail, put pen to paper and begin to write.”
—Natalie Goldberg

As an intrinsic writer, in my daily life I pay attention to the 'particulars,' or the details surrounding me. This began as a concentrated effort, probably some time during my undergraduate years when I first became immersed in literature. I read a ton as a kid, of course, any intrinsic will tell that he or she did. But back then I read countless R.L. Stine books, and The Babysitter's Club series, plus other child classics like the Polk Street School tales, and Ramona, etc. Back then I read for the stories, the images that showed up in my mind, the characters that toyed with my imagination.

As I got older, I discovered that literature could have a rippling effect. Freshman year in high school I read A Separate Peace, by John Knowles (still one of my all time favorite books--I don't care what the feminists say about it having no female characters. I used to love teaching it, too.) and for the first time discovered that fiction went beyond my favorite childhood narratives. I saw the complexity, the raw emotion, the parallels to real life.

These days, as a writer myself, I'm convinced that the complicated mesh and intricate web that makes up the anatomy of a story is all in the particulars. Any good novel, short story, screenplay, or even poem should be difficult to summarize. Even my own novel, when someone asks me what it is about, there is no way to explain it in a linear fashion. I can describe the plot, but I'll always have to stop, backtrack, lay down the foundation of who is who, and what is what. Eventually the person gets tired of listening. You have to read it, I'll say. Two years ago, I wrote a short story in a fiction writing class as part of my graduate program. The story was about a man who was having an affair with his mother-in-law. Of course it's not that simple, see? There's a background story, there's various threads that weave together to make the whole. A classmate told me that I had "built [the story] like a house." In any good writing, there has to be a recipe. Main ingredients, lesser ingredients, and those ingredients that make it just right.

Then there is filler. I search for filler everyday. The one stark red cardinal among a cluster of sparrows amidst a snowy backdrop. The visible veins in my cat's ear when she sits next to a lamp. In spring, when the cherry blossoms along the main avenue shed their petals in the wind, lining up collectively along the curb lines. The leftover stench of onions hiding the pore of my forefinger after a night of chopping and mincing. A story is both big and small. Life is both big and small. The details are there for everyone. It's up to the intrinsic types to point them out.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sensory details

“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed quickly, to trap them before they escape.”
—Ray Bradbury

Bradbury's right on with this one. We intrinsic writers need to tickle our senses. I'm learning that in order to grow and flourish as a writer, I need to surround myself with "things." All things. At any given moment, I am reading a new book, listening to new songs, delving into a new magazine, cooking a new recipe...it's imperative. Ideas, if we let them, run rampant in the sensory details.

It's important to mix it up, too. If I read nothing but literary fiction (my personal taste) I will dry out. If I depend solely on FM radio to provide me with music, I'm frankly, screwed. That's what itunes is for, that's what Rolling Stone is for, that's what Pandora is for. Even Sirius radio. See? Exploration. Different sources, different sounds. And while I'm a writer who reads lots of writing magazines, I'm not ashamed of my subscription to O (Oprah). Know why? Ideas are in there. Lots of them. Handfuls of fun and chunky ideas.

I'm currently reading a novel that would likely be dubbed as "Chick Lit." Not my personal style, but I got to put Jane Eyre down once in a while. I'll sneeze from all the dust. I've read trashy romances, rock 'n roll biographies, astrology books out the wazoo, and atlases...yes, atlases. I love atlases. I had a child's atlas as a kid. It's the number one reason my geographical/cultural knowledge is broader than most. As for music, I've taken a liking to sixties soul. Sam and Dave, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Coasters, Three Dog Night (actually, they are mostly considered 'rock' but I feel there is some soul-influence in there). But again, I'm scouting.

I find reality television empty and unbearable, but some new TV dramas--Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter--are fabulous for stimulation. They've got all the right ingredients: complex characterization, crafted plot lines, superb dialogue, thematic undercurrents. I think television series are more closely related to the novel. TV shows expand and develop over time, they run deeper. Film are like short stories. Clean, one shot. Not as much time for evolution.

Ideas come from garnering information, as much as possible. But if you're intrinsic, you know that already.

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's very important that you do

"You need that pride in yourself, as well as a sense, when you are sitting on Page 297 of a book, that the book is going to be read, that somebody is going to care. You can’t ever be sure about that, but you need the sense that it’s important, that it’s not typing; it’s writing.”
—Roger Kahn

Over a year ago, around the time I began composing my novel, I dreamed of seeing a paperback with the book's title etched across the front cover lying amidst a plain, white background. I felt so excited in the dream, so accomplished. It seemed real, somehow. Feasible. Not without a ton of work, of course. But I awoke feeling relieved. Maybe it does matter that I do this, is what I thought.

Last semester, in my final pre-thesis graduate course, my professor, in response to reading my proposal said she was highly impressed that I'd written an entire first draft of a novel. "It must take a lot of confidence," she said, "to know that you can do that," (I apologize if I've misquoted). I had never looked at it that way. Certainly there were some days when 'confident' was the last thing I felt in terms of writing the story. But on deeper reflection, I found that the three D's--desire, discipline, dedication--despite sounding like something off a motivational poster, is in fact, the recipe for confidence in writing, in any endeavor, really.

There aren't a lot of guarantees in being an intrinsic writer. I have to remind myself everyday that this is something I have to do, whether it amounts to anything or not. Underneath the frustration, the labor, and the self-torture lies a kind of quintessential joy that emanates through my fingers, onto the keyboard, and finally the page. It is important. Know that. Believe it.

And I encourage all of you intrinsic types to keep writing. Because it does matter that you do.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I am what I am

You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, ‘This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can—buy me or not—but this is who I am as a writer.”
—David Morrell

This is an incredibly important point to consider. Often, we intrinsic writers feel that we have to sound a certain way, or write a certain way to be considered something of significance. I read many short stories, novels, and memoirs and admittedly, sometimes in the throes of reading the words of the others, I've questioned not my ability, not my talent, but my voice.

I truly believe that in my writing, the only element that ever truly came naturally--or, intrinsically--was voice. I've had to work ceaselessly on characters, setting, plot, description, diction, word choice, etc. but voice, that was always there. It was always distinctive.

I remember once, back when I was teaching high school, during a creative writing unit in my honors English class, I typed up a paragraph to demonstrate to the students the multidimensional qualities a character can and should have. I distributed the paragraph, saying nothing about who the author was; I simply wanted them to analyze the text. I had them read the sample silently, and then asked a volunteer to read aloud. As we discussed the piece, a student raised her hand and asked, "did you write this?" I was stunned, taken aback. How did she know? I asked her just that. "Oh I don't know," she said, "it just sounded like you." It was then I became aware of my 'voice' in writing. I pondered this notion; do I have a unique flow?

Think of authors or characters who have discernible narrations--Holden Caufield of course, Jack Kerouac, who once said: "Oftentimes an originator of new language forms is called ‘pretentious’ by jealous talents. But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” A personal favorite of mine--Wally Lamb--also harbors that refined quality that makes readers say, "Oh...this is soooo (fill in the blank). It's like music. When you hear Elvis sing, you immediately know it's him. Likewise, The Beatles, Queen, Led Zep, you get the idea.

I want to honor that voice that is my writing. Because, like Popeye said, "I yam what I yam." In life, and in writing.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I defend my right to write

“The real writer learns nothing from life. He is more like an oyster or a sponge.”
—Gore Vidal

I want to talk about this one for a bit. What makes a real writer? Extensive travel? Interesting parents, background, etc.? Exemplary intelligence? Does it take having something 'special?' Luck, perhaps? All of the above?

If so, well, I'm in trouble. Often when I meet or read/hear about other writers, there seems to be a cloud of "interesting-ness" (I'm aware that I just forged a word) surrounding them. Their fathers were award winning professors who drank a lot, their mothers were mentally unstable poets, they've been married and divorced ten times, they lived in Sri Lanka for two years, and Venice for three. Now they live in either a bustling, ambitious, intellectual city (i.e. New York) or in some lovely country home--lakefront, oceanfront, etc.

I have no clue where I'm getting this from. Of course it's not even true. But somewhere in my mind, I believe it is, especially in comparison to my own life, which I'm readily willing to admit is frankly, ordinary. Happy, safe, wonderful, but ordinary.

Yet, I'm still a writer inside, an intrinsic writer that is. Is there a difference between a 'real' writer and an 'intrinsic' one? Can one decide to become a writer at a point in life after an array of odd and uncanny experiences? Is that possible? Or does the urge always have to be there? What if it's all one's got? No therapist's dream of a childhood, no complexities of love or of the heart, no real travel except for 5 nights in Las Vegas for a friend's wedding (OK, I've been to more places), and no living abroad. Just the natural inclination to write, write, write?

Well then, I suppose that's all there is. I defend my right to write.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Satisfying those old yearnings...

“I don’t believe one reads to escape reality. A person reads to confirm a reality he knows is there, but which he has not experienced.”
—Lawrence Durrell

This week I read an article from Writer's Digest entitled "6 Simple Ways to Reboot Your Writing Routine" written by Brian A. Klems. Klems wrote this, "...I believe that your writing should be inspired by something much deeper than getting rich or getting famous or getting even with your ex. It should cohere with your own personal vision or belief system."

So I asked my intrinsic writing self, why do you write? This question is borderline cliche, I know. Ask any writer out there if he or she has been forced to consider this quandary. But, I contemplated the notion anyhow--I always do--and discovered some new ideas. Is it to purely to be published? No, it's always been deeper than that. Is it to connect to people through words? Is it to use as a venue to pass along messages? Yes, definitely. Is that all? No. Not even close.

See, everyone's life is in some way, limited. There's not enough time to experience everything. Even if I obtain everything I've ever wanted, there will be other things I'll never do, see, have, feel. When I write, I satisfy these yearnings. If I find myself preoccupied with engrossing memories, I can relive them through writing--fiction or nonfiction. If I'm coveting an existence I'll never live, I can do it vicariously through writing.

I have to be able to have that. Regardless of where I end up with this endeavor of mine, I MUST have the capability to fill voids through this system. Without it I'm doomed. OK, not doomed. Just average. It means that much. It fills in the empty spaces. The thing is, there's nothing I can do about it, really. It's intrinsic.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Have you 'scene' it?

“If I’m at a dull party I’ll invent some kind of game for myself and then pick someone to play it with so that I am, in effect, writing a scene. I’m supplying my half of the dialogue and hoping the other half comes up to standards. If it doesn’t, I try to direct it that way.”
—Evan Hunter

I think as an intrinsic writer, I'm often looking for scenes. Let me explain: I often examine my surroundings looking for a story to tell. Generally though, a given situation will only supply a scene. A story is more involved; for example, stories involve finely-tuned characters with flaws and backgrounds, and well-structured plot that weaves, riffs, and undulates until all the loose ends are connected, until all the kinks are unwoven.

Scenes, on the other hand, can happen anytime, anyplace. So can 'concepts,' or 'themes,' if you will. I attended a wake tonight. The deceased was the elderly mother of a cousin. I scanned over the old black and white family photographs glued to the poster board, and reveled a little in her 'golden era' shots and poses. Bobbed hair, church hat, porcelain visage, simultaneously carefree and classy. From here a 'concept' developed: ten to fifteen years from now, these types of snapshots won't be occupying the empty spaces of funeral homes. The youthful pictures will depict long hair, sideburns, and bell bottoms. Abracadabra. A theme is born.

This is how I think these days. This notion--however fleeting--could find itself in the pages of my novel one day. I didn't always know it, or at least I couldn't always put into words, but I've always, without a doubt, for most of my life, been creating scenes. Is that what makes me an intrinsic writer?

I became aware of it in my early twenties. Oddly, at bars. Who'd of thought? While most kids my age were focusing on getting drunk and hooking up, I'd plant myself at a bar stool and observe. I'd look around for a scene to create. For a lifelike moment to imitate in my stories. I'd give strangers identities, and I'd do gut checks...how are you feeling, Katie? Here you are alive in this moment. What do you got? What can you carry forth? I labeled myself a 'philosophical partier.'

I guess in order to write, one must look to write. It's a sacrifice in a way. To live on the outer most circle. But to us intrinsic types, it's not just worth it, it's second nature.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


As an intrinsic writer, my ability to conjure images is plentiful. Since I was a kid, while reading books I'd envision places that I've never seen before. Sure, sometimes a character's mentioning of "Grandma's house," would place me in my own grandmother's home. More often though, I'd see a whole place. New houses, new schools, new neighborhoods, new towns, new cities, etc. Sometimes I'll revisit these places that live in my mind's eye; in other words, two totally separate novels by two totally separate authors will wind up in the same setting.

As I gradually transform from reader to a reader/writer, this notion grows stronger. Unless I have particular setting in mind (i.e. my most recent short story) my mental backdrops are glimpses of the unknown. Where are these places? Do they exist? Do I dare attempt to be new-agey, and suggest that they are abodes from a previous life?

One could argue that it's based on a writer's description, but that can't be 100% percent correct. Now that I write like a fiend, I understand that regardless of how important sketching may be, there is still a story to tell. All good stories balance the touchstones--characterization, plot, themes, etc.--there is only so much room for description. The writers plant an idea, that's all. The rest comes from the clandestine capacity for fantasy of the intrinsic reader.

These places...or people or things...creep into my mind throughout the day. It always gives me a warming feeling. If my current environment feels threatening in the least, I can escape. I've always been naturally drawn to books, but it wasn't until I started writing that I've understood why. Words and books exert the mind. A novel has far fewer limitations than do film or television.

But we know this. The ability to create our own settings only helps to prove it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Just Do It

I just finished a first draft of a short story. I love the after-feeling of writing--imagine the way the body feels after exercise; that's how my brain feels after writing. These days I believe heavily in forcing myself to write. It used to be if I was having an off-day, I'd cut myself some slack, wait for the creative ebb to re-take its course.

Not anymore. Now I force myself to sit down four times a week and write at least 1,000 words. Then I'm off the hook--unless I want to write more, which I sometimes do. I've found that often, once I start writing the so-called inspiration finds its way.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have off-days, and yes, there have been times when I've broken my own promises to write. I keep at it though. That's the ONLY way it gets done. I learned this a long time ago, but only understand the validity of it now, in recent times. That is precisely how I managed to write a draft of a 108,000 word novel (yeah, probably needs some cutting). People have asked me how I managed to do that with a full-time job. The only answer is, I just did. A few hours here, a few hours there. I made it work. And I kept at it. I typed and typed until it was all done. Now I just have to clean it up...which to me is excruciating. That's the hard part. The revision. The writing is fun.

Jack London said, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." I used to think that ideas for stories would just pop up when I least expected them. If that were the case I'd have no stories. It doesn't work that way. Sometimes, us intrinsic types have to physically come up with an idea. It only needs to be a notion. Creativity will take over eventually. But a true intrinsic will need to seek out the fuel from it's source.

This story I just completed? I decided to come up with a new idea for a story. So, one day while I monitored the students in my class using computers for an assignment, I thought up the story. The characters, the setting, the plot, everything. When I went to write it, it spilled forth. I reached for inspiration, and it arrived.

I only stress this because I've learned how crucial it is. If you will write, then you must. Write, that is.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Familiar Faces

Here's an 'intrinsic trait' to consider: I search for my characters. Everywhere.
I heard about this notion in books, movies, television series, etc.--a character has never met his/her mother, father, sister, brother, and so forth, maybe he or she was adopted, or maybe the parent (relative, whatever the case may be) left when the character was a mere child. But at some point he or she will say something along the lines of I search for [them] everywhere. Every street, every crowd. I scan the faces, hoping I'll recognize [him, her, them].

Albeit, the language is usually more romantic-sounding than what I just provided, but I imagine all you reading this will get the idea. I don't have any mystery relatives out there; fortunately, I know where I came from. I do, however, have mystery characters. And I look for them. I'll stare down strangers and wonder are they my people? Are they who I am creating? Sometimes a new person will enter my life, and I'll think Oh wow! That's Character A or character G (I'm saving the identity of my characters until I feel ready; in many respects I owe that to them). Then I'll look closer though, and I'll think, No, actually. Not exactly. Nope, not character D. But close!

Last weekend in Cape May, I saw a couple leave the hotel we stayed in. Just a couple enjoying New Year's, but at the sight of them my body physically reacted. Two of my characters. Together. The guy looked like my guy. The girl looked like my girl. It was very bizarre, and I course took it as a sign--I always do. Yet again, on closer inspection I saw that it was just the external framework that triggered my response. And I felt...let down. Deflated. I still haven't found them. They truly are that unique. I'll keep looking though. I'm dying to meet them.

Monday, January 2, 2012

On Location

I haven't posted in a few days. I went down to Cape May, NJ--one of my most cherished places--with my husband-to-be, my sister, her boyfriend, and a friend for New Year's Eve. I was excited to head down the GSP to be in my favorite place regardless, but what made this trip even more uncanny for me was the fact that a short story I'm currently writing actually takes place in Cape May. So, in a sense I was doing research...on location. So excited to say that.

It wasn't real research. I wasn't scouring libraries and town halls for archives, or arranging interviews with the historical society down there, it was more about sniffing out the environment. The story is not a commentary on CM's history; it's just a story that happens to be set there.

It worked, I felt the pulse of my story penetrating through my mind while I was visiting. We went to the bar where the main action occurs, and I tried to memorize as many details as I could. I mocked myself a little, thinking: a real intrinsic type would have brought a notebook to record every subtle element that presents itself.

Here's what I recall:
-Low ceilings
-Wall-length, front windows that open up during summer, letting the sea-salty air from the ocean across Beach Avenue waft through into the dining area
-J-shaped black top bar
-Chalkboard-style surfboards displaying dinner specials written in blue, pink, and green chalk
-Gingerbread trimming on outside
-Two story building, neighboring a second bar--looks like apartments above venues.
-Pool table, stage for band, small dance floor
-Semi-dank mini hallway leading to semi-dank restrooms
-Overall dim atmosphere, mostly neon lighting
-Bungalow-y themed, makes one recall Bob Marley

Not bad for having written nothing down. Of course I've been to the place numerous times, but my desire to memorize both macro and micro details suggests a further emergence of my 'intrinsic abilities.'

Understanding place or setting in a given story is particularly crucial in fiction. A good way to determine whether setting has been effectively established is to consider how different the story would be set someplace else. Would it be the same tale? Could it be the same tale?

My novel is set on the "Jersey side" of the George Washington Bridge. No particular town, just based on those that make-up that general area. A few weeks back I visited a friend in Fairview, NJ (right next to Cliffside Park, NJ) and I felt like I was in the setting of my novel. The sardine-style housing, the view of NYC, the busy traffic, and overall sense of edginess that embodies the vicinity...I felt thoroughly relieved that I had somehow, nailed it. Sure, I'm from northern Jersey myself, but not quite the setting of my book. It gave me confidence that such a place exists, and that my readers will be able to feel the place that holds all the drama, energy, conflict, and functioning of the story.

Note in point: Let your setting breathe. When one thinks of memories, childhood, etc. he/she always conjures a place first. I get random, aimless visions of places in my mind constantly. I've never seen them before, but I know them. Many of my stories start that way.

Setting can be a great place to start. Just saying...