A Sense of Place (Spiritwalker Monday 9)

I need to know where I stand.

That’s true in many different ways, along numerous axes, of which landscape is one.

Many years ago when I was writing the earliest attempts at Cold Magic, with its blended Afro-Celtic setting, I asked myself why not set the story in West Africa, perhaps at a seaport on the coast in this alternate universe? There were a number of reasons I decided against doing it this way, but the deciding factor was that I had (at that time) never set foot in West Africa and I have this thing–I wish I had a better word than thing–that I have to have a physical sense of the land in order to write it.

Given that much of the Jaran books are set in a steppe/plains setting with many nods to and borrowings from the history of the Mongols and other steppe peoples, you may wonder how I could then write Jaran?

That’s easy: The landscape is Wyoming, where I spent a summer during high school (at an astronomy camp, of all things).

Obviously it is not that the landscape IS Wyoming but rather than the plains/plateau landscape of the American west is the one I could draw from for the Jaran novels’ setting. In the same way, there is a little bit of London in Adurnam (Spiritwalker), and a bit of Puerto Rico in Expedition. The landscape of the Crossroads trilogy is a melange of the California Mediterranean climate, the Tierra Caliente of Guerrero (Mexico), Japan, and even Hawaii (although it is not an island setting), plus bits and pieces of the Oregon where I grew up, which is a far more varied landscape than many people realize who only think of its famous coast and the central Portland to Eugene river valley.

On Twitter, writer Susan Elizabeth Curnow (in response to me begging for a good topic for this week’s Spiritwalker Monday) asked me how the weathers and flowers of Hawaii influence my writing, which made me think about landscape and how much I feel the need to be grounded in place. Living in Hawaii (where I wrote all three volumes of the Crossroads trilogy) definitely influenced the novel in that there is very little cold weather, and the people who live in the Hundred call “cold” what others would call “warm.”

There is another way Place influences me. Before we moved to Hawaii, we lived in State College, Pennsylvania, aka Happy Valley, a place I never felt comfortable and certainly never loved (as, for instance, I loved the rural Willamette Valley of Oregon where I grew up) or felt any form of deep connection.

Hawaii has that sense of deep connection for me. If I walk out the door I am always happy to see the Waianai Mountains, and the clouds pouring over the Ko’olau Mountains, and the gulch, and the green, and the ever present vastness of the ocean that surrounds this old eroding extinct volcano.

So for me I thrive on a sense of place both in terms of needing to feel a physical sense of understanding the landscapes I’m writing about and to feel a physical sense of feeling well being about the landscape I live in.

I say this not to suggest that everyone else must feel this way, only that I do.

How much does a sense of place — in either of these ways or in some other way — figure into your writing? Or your reading?