Yesterday I should have been writing, but some friends of ours are in town. I feel moderately guilty about this, but I could feel worse, except that as part of hanging out we ended up strolling through the part of Saint Paul that I've decided is my YA heroine's neighborhood, Cathedral Hill.
The memory is a funny thing. Earlier that very day, I wrote a little scene where Ana is walking down Grand Avenue. My mental image of the place was slightly different than the real thing.
I was talking to a fellow vampire author, Fred Schepartz, (Vampire Cabbie) via email about writing about place (he was going to be on a panel at WisCON about writers who feature Madison, and he'd volunteered to read my stuff, since I was mentioned by name in the panel description.) One of the things I thought about afterward is how much the Madison of the Garnet Lacey series doesn't exist, not really -- much of it is impressions (some certainly false, or at least not 100% accurate) and the rest based on things that I remember but I know don't exist any more (businesses that have folded, moved, etc.) Yet, Fred had mentioned how much he thought I'd "nailed it."
I think that part of the reason my imagined Madison works is because, as a tourist, I fell in love with the spirit of the place. It's figuring out how to capture the feelings associated with a certain town that can be difficult. I'm really noticing that writing about Saint Paul that I'm actually finding it much MORE elusive to write about a place I know so well. It's sort of like when you're in an interview for a job and someone asks you to name five things that describe yourself. You're not sure what to say (outside of the things you think will get you the job), but if someone asked you to describe your best friend, it's a lot easier.
The outsider/tourist, I think, sometimes has a better, more accurate, less self-conscious view of place. I worry a lot less about getting things wrong about Madison, because, well, I'm clear in my acknowledgments that I can't be held responsible for the accuracy, because I'm making some of it up. But as a native to a place, I feel a lot more beholden to show the city mostly the way it is... as a kind of ambassador or something.
I don't know my point, but I think it's an interesting issue.