The Trees in My Mind

It’s a funny feeling, being split between two worlds, but it also seems to be at the core of this writing thing.

The other day I was musing about how living here, in southwestern Wyoming, my physical world is high plains desert: sage brush, antelope, and very few lakes, rivers, and trees. Researching the setting for the first part of my novel, though, I’m transported to northeastern Ontario, a place of mixed forests where bodies of water abound.

Last year while writing For the Love of Flying here, I got to mentally hop from verdant river valleys to the Quebec sub-arctic to Newfoundland and Labrador. But when I stepped out my front door, I felt a weird double-focus where geographies collided.

From what I read of other authors, it seems like we hardly ever write about the place we currently inhabit. One piece I came across recently was by an author who moved to the States 20-odd years ago from the U.K. While her reality has been New York, she consistently makes her characters and settings British, even though it means constantly looking into new trends, slang, etc.

Yesterday while researching my novel, I came across two other such cases: Joseph Boyden, winner of the 2008 Giller for Through Black Spruce. A self-described split personality, Boyden now lives in New Orleans but writes about the James Bay region of Canada where he lived for several years and retains ties.

Giles Blunt grew up in North Bay, Ontario and moved to Manhattan to pursue his dream of being a screenwriter. But then a funny thing happened: he started writing detective novels set in northeastern Ontario. Beginning with Forty Words for Sorrow, Blunt has now penned a series of John Cardinal books with one appropriately called Black Fly Season.

Now Blunt has moved back to North Bay to be up close and personal with the black flies, moose, and winter storms. But I don’t think you need to live it daily to write it. Sometimes when you’re writing in the desert, all you need are the trees in your mind.

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