The Place is the Thing by Nevada McPherson
Let’s welcome back monthly columnist Nevada McPherson as she shares with us “The Place is the Thing.” Enjoy!
I’ve written a few times about what inspires me and asked what inspires you in your writing. One thing I keep coming back to are places that inspire my stories and characters.
When I lived in New Orleans I never got tired of walking or riding around town admiring the beauty of the houses, parks and trees. Since New Orleans is an American city like no other, there was always something new to discover, even in one of America’s oldest cities.
The mansions along St. Charles Avenue and throughout the Garden District, the gingerbread-trimmed cottages, and the Creole cottages and Pontalba Apartments of the French Quarter all inspired me to write stories and create characters that would live in these places.
When Zack from my screenplay and graphic novel Uptowners loses the old Uptown home place and had to move to a small apartment further downtown on the Avenue, I could imagine him walking by the old house near Audubon Park, or gazing at it wistfully as he rode the streetcar down St. Charles. When Zack’s cousin Ashley and debutante Mary-Elizabeth go to visit Milo’s art-filled little apartment in the Bywater neighborhood I could feel their sense of adventure in discovering new corners of their old town.
Sometimes just looking at a house or walking through a neighborhood inspires a story and characters.
Walk through the neighborhood observing enough times and a complete, full-length narrative takes shape.
When I spent several summers out at Stanford during the dot-com-boom-bust-boom 1990’s, I was inspired to write my Silicon Valley-set screenplay, Arcadia.
I didn’t see all that many people around when I’d walk through the quiet neighborhood and around the golden hills behind the university, but, just like I’d often do in New Orleans, I’d see places that caught my interest and imagine what stories might be happening there, behind those doors, walls, hedges, rose bushes.
One evening, as I walked past a lovely mid-century modern style house in Palo Alto, I saw a person sitting at a table out in the back yard, under an umbrella, a drink in a martini glass before him on the table.
At the time I didn’t know how that image would make its way into one of my stories but I knew that it would one day. As it turned out it precedes a climactic scene in Arcadia—a moment before everything changes and the truth is revealed: the calm before the storm.
Now that I’m living back in my home state of Georgia, I find myself in the old Georgia capitol.
Milledgeville is becoming quite the growing, forward-looking college town, but it’s steeped in Old South history.
Antebellum homes and structures abound in the town and the surrounding area. Most of these were spared during Sherman’s March to the Sea during the Civil War.
As I walk around these neighborhoods I find myself wondering what these places witnessed: what people passed through these parlors, what conversations took place?
I’ve written about my own little “postage stamp of native soil” (as William Faulkner used to call his own Yoknapatawpha county) of contemporary south Georgia, in my screenplay Home Fires and my comic series Fretville, so now I find myself looking back in time, creating characters, dialogue and situations for a new Civil War-era stage play.
Spring is here and the time is right to go out and be inspired by your surroundings.
Whether it’s your same old ‘hood or a new area you’ve always wanted to explore, get out and go for a walk, bike ride or drive.
Be open to new possibilities, whatever shape they take.
Sometimes it’s just a glimpse of a garden gate or an abandoned swing set that might spark your imagination; others it might be a little store on the corner that looks like it’s been there for decades.
Whether you pursue it as a project or use it as an exercise, imagine what characters live there, might have lived there, hang out there, or simply walked through this area, last month, last year, or decades ago.
Perhaps a story is there, waiting to be told—all it needs is for you to look so that it can reveal itself to you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nevada McPherson lives with her husband Bill and rescue Chihuahua, Mitzi in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she is an associate professor of Humanities at Georgia Military College. Nevada received a BA in English/ Creative Writing and an MFA in Screenwriting from Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge. She has written over a dozen feature-length screenplays, plays, short stories and the graphic novels, Uptowners and Piano Lessons. Queensgate, sequel to Uptowners, is her third graphic novel. For more information, visit www.nevada-mcpherson.com.