Starting With Place

I have realized every story I write begins not with a character or a plot, but always with place. (Which could be the problem with my meandering plots, but that's another post altogether.) I once read a quote (which of course I could never find again) that Daphne Du Maurier once said about how she was never as emotionally attached to people so much as she was to places. My daughter and husband excepted, I read that and immediately thought, "Ooooh, Daphne! Me, too!" I have visceral, emotional connections to certain towns and counties which yes, I'm sure everyone does for one reason or another - but it really shows up in my writing, which will always be of the actual current world we're all familiar with and never fantasy, I have absolutely no head for that. And truly, no person could ever make me yearn the way Sausalito does. The way Mendocino, California and Dingle, Ireland and Ashland, Oregon and Arcata, California do. Then there's my MFA classes in playwriting during which I spent three years trying desperately to never, ever write a living room play because apparently Chekhov covered that pretty well already. So I wrote plays set in Antarctica and in graveyards, and now I'm turning them into books. I think the best method for me, when I am starting a story from scratch, is that I'll find myself in a familiar or fascinating new place and then ask "Who the hell would live here? And what would they do - and why?" Lately I love Vendela Vida's books. They always take place somewhere not here - 'Here' meaning middle class white America - and never in a living room. Not that great things can't happen in a living room, but maybe my imagination doesn't have the balls Chekov's does to make what's going on in the character's lives interesting enough to surmount the sofa and soar beyond the coffee table. So maybe place is my crutch. But at least it helps my characters do and say things they wouldn't have occasion to if they were just hanging out at home.