I come from a long line of artists and musicians; many of them drunks and neer-do-wells, as my grandmother frequently cautioned us. Nevertheless, music and art was always in our lives. WWII came along, and the artists in the family got that responsibility bone which post WWII America was so famous for. My father was a frustrated rockabilly musician whose artistic talent was in the area of caricatures, and who made his living as a draftsman, drawing plumbing and electrical systems for the State of Washington. My siblings and I all played music – it was a driving force in our family.
The picture featured in today’s post was painted by my Uncle Dean, who was a jet engine mechanic for Boeing and for Lockheed. It was one of his more ethereal views, reminiscent of the rural lake I grew up on. My late uncle, two of my late aunts and now my sister Sherrie were born with the gift of being able to create beauty with paint and canvas.
In the 1960’s and my childhood, beauty was everywhere, and everyone in our family stopped to enjoy it as often as was possible. I think the beauty of the morning was why my father enjoyed getting up before dawn and going bass fishing. The ability to appreciate the beauty of nature is crucial if you are going to write about it. It ruins a tale when an author who has never been in the forest begins to describe one. The wooded area of a park is a pale imitation of the real forest. The sounds of the real forest are sometimes surprising – the thumping of a ruffled grouse as he perches on a log; or the prehistoric honking of the great blue heron. They were noises which I knew and recognised as child, since they were frequently heard in the woods outside our door, and by the shore of the lake which our front windows opened on.
When I am writing about an environment, everything I ever knew about such a place emerges in my mind – I hear the sounds and smell the scents associated with those memories. The trick is to convey those sounds, scents and emotions in the descriptions of your fictional environment, without being overly descriptive. Hints and allegations are the ticket; the reader’s mind will supply the rest.
It’s important to know what you are destroying if you are writing about a post apocalyptic tribe trying to survive in what is left of a forest, or if they are to survive on the streets of the city. Write about the environment you understand, and if you really must write about a place you’ve never been, make several field trips, to soak up the noises and smells of the real place. Then, when you are telling your tale, you’ll have a real understanding of where your character’s are and your voice as an author will be authentic.
As a child, I would look at the lake when it was calm and the mists were rising; colored pink and gold by the rising sun and wonder what really lay below the surface. Did the otter-boys really turn into young men who wanted to steal a girl’s heart away? Were there dryads in the forest like the fairy tales said?
As they say, we write best about what we know, and I was raised on the shore of Black Lake, a lake which is the headwaters of the Black River; a low river flowing through a swamp stretching 25 miles to empty into the Chehalis River, and from there to the Pacific Ocean in Grays Harbor. Our house was the last house on the eastern shore of the lake before the swamp began. When I am writing in my foriegn worlds of fantasy, the roots of my fantasies lie in my childhood, with the stories told before the fire, the music and the beauty of the world outside the door.