Saturday, January 14, 2006

Notes from a Location

In my last post, I mentioned that San Francisco’s Haight district figures prominently in Candy from Strangers because of the large number of tattoo parlors in the neighborhood, and I shared some of the pictures I took of the parlors as part of my research.

I also take notes when I “walk a scene” before writing about it and I thought it might be interesting to look at the notes from my tour of the Haight.

The notes I take tend to be terse catalogs of the things, people and activities I see on the street as I walk around, and are intended more to jog my memory about what I’ve observed than they are to be complete descriptions that I can copy into the novel.

They also tend to be written on whatever paper is at hand because I don’t like to clutter up my “official” writers notebook (which I will discuss in future post) with lots of detailed notes about locations—and I don’t always plan very well when it comes to securing writing material before I go!

As it happens, the notes I took about the Haight are written on the back and front of a Mollie Stone’s grocery receipt dated 5/20/04, as shown below:

And here’s the bulleted list of things I scribbled down on the receipt as I went around:

  • Tibetan jewelry store
  • Falafel restaurant
  • Head shop
  • Vintage clothing store
  • Camouflage pants made into cut-off shorts
  • The Red Victorian (a movie theater)
  • Natural foods store
  • Skull painted red with mouth open holding business cards (in the reception area for a tattoo parlor)
  • Cases of studs (in another parlor)
  • Import store
  • Military surplus store
  • Mendel's Art Supplies (open since 1968)
  • Music store with guitar and bass in the window
  • Skateboarder going down the sidewalk oblivious of others
  • Club Deluxe (an interesting bar)
  • Giant pair of legs with fishnet stockings in front of boutique (see photo below)
  • Discount fabrics
  • Low partitions; articulated lamps at each station (inside a tattoo parlor)
  • Metallic buzzing of tattoo gun
  • Workers removing a giant skull and cross bones from the front of a store (Anubis)
  • Sign with a pirate tattooing a naked lady (see photo from this post)
  • Magazines for sale in parlor
  • Sandwich sign with pierced heart on one side and skull with candle on top on the other
  • Haight Ashbury free medical clinic
  • Shrines to Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin in staked tree planters covered with plastic
So how much of this local color actually made it into the novel in a recognizable form? A lot of the description of tattoo parlor interiors did, including the rather unique business card holder I found in one of them (the skull mentioned above). I also gave a general description of the sort of businesses one sees along the street, and I ended up dressing an important character from the scene (the owner of one tattoo parlor) in the shorts made from cut-off camouflage pants I saw on one of the local denizens.

The other thing the notes helped me do was hold the general atmosphere of the Haight in my mind as I wrote the scene, which is also very important, even if I didn’t shoehorn all the literal details I captured into the text.


At 5:10 PM, Blogger R.J. Baker said...

I think its interesting how a city or area can, in many ways, become a subtle character in a book or short story. At least good writers seem to make it so.


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