Do you use photos to help you with your writing? I took photo classes in high school, mainly because the teacher was so cool and it was an hour I could spend in a darkroom listening to The Doors and Led Zeppelin (yes, I am a throwback through-and-through). Now that DSLRs are so ubiquitous, everyone can be a good photographer with little effort, I like taking pictures here and there but would not call myself a photographer in the way I know in my bones I am a writer.
I write about very real places–virtually everything I write is either set on the Outer Cape or Nantucket. I have a map of Provincetown in my head from my 20+ years living there, and the last 7 of visiting as much as I can. But sometimes I still have to look things up in Google maps, or on Building Provincetown, one of my favorite resources.
If I’m lucky, looking at these pictures can help me feel exactly what it was like to be standing where I was when I took the photo.
I realize, too, that so much of my writing is influenced by the natural world. My pieces for A Cape Cod Notebook, of course, are all about snippets of life here in strange sandy places.
My most recent manuscript, about people living in the Long Point settlement in the 1850s and in Provincetown in 2018, considers the natural world quite a bit. In the 1850s, the Long Point settlement was abandoned because it stopped being lucrative to live so close to the fishing grounds, then exhausted. There’s a line where a character wishes there was some sort of market for sand–as sand is the only natural resource there is on Long Point. In the present day, the novel opens with a storm and a giant summer home sliding into the sea. The bluff edge it had been sitting on had eroded. Now there is a very real market for sand, a dwindling resource in some places, and out here on Nantucket it’s trucked in to protect the bluff.
My characters walk long distances over the sand, as they are lifesavers–people who rescue shipwrecked sailors. There is a physicality to walking through the sand that cannot be gained from looking at a picture of a sandy trail. I walk in the sand a lot, and try to use these muscle memories to influence my writing.