Route 95 from Baltimore to Boston is a blur of asphalt, trucks, and toll booths. Forest and rolling farmland dominate the Maryland landscape. From the New Jersey turnpike, New York City looms over swamp and industrial dross, skyscrapers veiled in mist.With its soaring silver cables, the GW bridge takes us into the City full of promise, but the Bronx itself is a sunken roadway, filled with potholes and graffiti-inscribed brick buildings. McDonalds arches glow yellow in the lower end of Connecticut, then give way to the granite that marks the rocky earth of Massachusetts. Through all, the faint smell of sea filters past dieseled exhaust.
The journey is an exhausting one. A good trip will take 6 hours or so, no stops; a bad one nine hours or more. All made worse by the need to urinate, to quench a thirst or stop a headache, the whine of adolescents in the backseat. The boredom.
Traveling north, excitement mounts as we pass the green signs denoting location. The Larchmont, NY exit makes me nostalgic for a place I have never literally visited, the birthplace of Benjamin, the protagonist of BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT. From a distance, the outline of a crane atop a growing building anchoring southernmost Manhattan reminds me of the horrors September 11, 2001, and of how Ben's father perishes there in PURE.
We gas up at the Vince Lombardo rest stop at the top of the NJ Pike, and it is here that Nikko and Josh stop in the Greyhound as they flee Maryland for Boston in THE MINISTER'S WIFE. Signs for Cape Cod remind me that Ben first told Phoebe he loved her on the ferry to the Vineyard, that they made love in the sand, and it was a memory that got him through his descent into madness.
Of course, I have my own memories of many of these places. My characters are so real to me, the places they visit theirs and mine, that the memories all intermingle and sometimes, I forget where my imagination begins and ends. But for all my novels, New England is a place of origin or ending; returning there always invigorates my writing, and the lives of my creations.
What place evokes your muse? What lands do you take and twist their reality to make home for your characters? What is your place?