Thursday, December 22, 2005

Location, Location, Location

In a Plots with Guns interview I did after The Immortal Game came out, I was asked about the role the setting of San Francisco played in the book. Here’s the original question and my response:

PWG: One thing that certainly comes through in the novel is your love of San Francisco. Do you think the city is a "character" in the novel?

MC: I've been in writing groups where the question of whether a locale or a city can be a character in a book has provoked some very heated exchanges. I understand the perspective of those who say a city can't be a character: cities don't have motives, make choices, engage in interior monologues--all the obvious things that define a character.

That said, one of the reasons that I admire the work of Chandler and Hammett so much is the way that they portrayed LA and San Francisco. When you read Chandler, in particular, you really feel like you understand what it was like to live in Southern California in the 30's and 40's. He's left behind a record of the city that photographs from the period, or even films, simply don't convey.

In writing The Immortal Game, I set out to provide as realistic a picture of life in contemporary San Francisco as I could. In fact, readers of early drafts of the book often red-lined sections where they felt I had gotten carried away with descriptions of the city and the people in it. I took some of these suggestions, but if I erred, I always erred on the side of retaining details about San Francisco rather than omitting them.

I guess the end result is that San Francisco, if not a character, is a well painted backdrop or setting in which the characters of the book interact. I suppose a comparison with stage plays wouldn't be too far off. Some plays are done with little or no props and very Spartan sets; others are done with sets that mimic real life as much as possible. It's the choice of the director—or the writer in my case—to select the approach that serves the story the best.
I wanted to continue my realistic portrayal of San Francisco in Candy from Strangers. For me, that meant selecting real places in the city or the surrounding area to set all the scenes. And, it meant visiting them with a note pad and a camera to capture representative details of the place and the people who inhabit it.

These notes and pictures were an immense aid in “channeling” the place during the writing process. In fact, one of the first things I did when I started Candy was to go back to Riordan’s neighborhood and walk from his apartment on Post and Hyde to his office on Market Street, taking notes and pictures as I went. This helped me get back into his "world" and provided some fresh perspectives on places I’d already written about in the earlier books.

Here are a few of the photos from my walk:

In the next few postings, I’m going to describe (and provide photos of) more of the locations I used in the book.

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