Sometimes, a place gets into your bones so deep that everything about you seems to emanate from…there. You begin to notice the subconscious way in which you compare almost every restaurant to the ones ‘there’, how you’ve managed to work “back in [___]” into at least one conversation today (just like yesterday), and that you still carry that tacky coffee cup you bought at a truck stop on your way out of town.
We all have a place that we create from – not just an emotional or intellectual place, but that of a geographical nature. And, when those bones ache for that place, it shows. When I think too long about some desolate stretch of Texas highway, or those coal mines in Kentucky, or even that bar downtown , it reflects in everything I craft. Most of the time, I don’t have to think about it at all – these places are so ingrained that to create anything is to remember them in some way.
The thing about creating from a geographical context is that it’s far more complex than just a physical backdrop – it’s the consideration of cultural geography as well. I find that the writers and artists, the songs and films, that I am drawn to are ones that feature a deep understanding of place and its relationship to people. From Annie Proulx’s Wyoming Stories to Faulkner’s entire work, from the photographs of Alejandro Cartagena and Shelby Lee Adams to the music of Ryan Bingham – they all speak to this larger influence.
I wrote this today with Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone on my mind. While Woodrell’s attention to setting really made this book for me, it was the sparing use of language that reflected his awareness of the characters relationship to the desperately bleak Ozark setting. Woodrell is not simply from the Ozarks that feature heavily in his work – he is of there. He knows the language, the land, and the people intimately enough that he is able to assemble the dynamics of a ‘country noir’ into a novel that feels like home – maybe not mine or yours, but someone’s.