Three authors I’ve followed were very good at distancing themselves from their locales—physically. James A. Michener, Pearl S. Buck, and Pat Conroy. Jimmy Michener and Pearl S. Buck, “my hometown writers made good” were neighbors, so I already knew the map. But they wrote their books about our community or about their former community (China) from elsewhere. Giving distance enhances perspective.
Michener lived in Texas when he wrote Poland. He wrote most of The Tales of the South Pacific, for which he won the 1948 Pulitzer, from New York City. When he penned his second novel, Fires of Spring, the scandalous exposé set our 5000 citizens of Doylestown, Pennsylvania into fiery criticism. They called it a pot boiler and whispered around corners trying to identify the people in it; another good reason to distance oneself. He wrote that from New York and Bucks County, PA. Forty years later Fires was rereleased as The Novel while he live out of state.
Buck wrote from China while there, and about China when she came back to the States. I used her voice (hesitant and respectful) from The Good Earth to write my short story, “The Egg Man”, a real happening in Beijing. I wrote it after I was home and trimmed excess details to keep the focus on the hapless Chinaman lying under his broken product with a months-worth of egg money sliding into a ditch.Pat Conroy, a Carolina boy, was in Europe when he authored Beach Music, expressing his love for his home state and his flawed family.
As a writer, what’s fascinating about the distancing process is that it was thrust upon me. Our family has moved 17 times from the Northeast to the Southwest to the Midwest and eventually to the real South, and Florida. From my office in Daytona Beach, distance kept the perspective and discipline in Mortal Coil while I waxed poetic about Georgia’s Kennesaw Mountain.
Main character, Ellen, recently from Ohio, observes this historic Civil War Mountain lost to the Yankees.
The view of what she had come to think of as her mountain rose majestic, silhouetted against a cerulean sky. This spring morning, Kennesaw Mountain blossomed to life with lacy pink and white dogwoods peeking through greening winter branches and long-leaf pines—a festive prelude to the pre-summer season. Despite what was going on inside Kingsley Nursing Home, the outside façade of the one-story building rested like the center of interest in a dry brush painting that changed daily.
Each glance restored her, remembering how she had fallen in love with the South. For all its contradictions, Southerners’ resilience and warmth charmed her. Only here in the foothills of history did people commemorate their losses as well as their victories. She would have to learn that skill.
Thanks to distance, that description was mercifully short.
Julie is a regular blogger on- http://thewritersvineyard.com/
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