Bill Roorbach’s craft book Writing Life Stories recommends mapping a once-familiar neighborhood in order to spark memories. That works very well. On Friday, over breakfast, a writer friend and I talked about a memoir project she has going and thinking about the streets where she and her brother played cranked up her imagination and focused her point of view.
I am using a similar technique in writing my current novel (working title Providence). I stumbled on–serendipity at work–a map of the College Hill area of Providence RI on Face Book yesterday. This map will help me put imaginary toads in real gardens. (I think poet Marianne Moore had it the other way around, the gardens imagined and the toads real, but I’m me, not Moore.) And guess what, the athletic field I need is real. The park I want for my characters need not be invented. It’s there, Blackstone Park. Will my Providence be 100% factual? No, but it will be solid enough to ground my story.
I look forward to a trip east this month, in part because I will explore and photograph College Hill. I need not reinvent Providence as it is now or as it was when I was a student there, but I have to invent its future, and given my treasure map, the inventing will be plausible and reassuring.