Writer’s Retreat – Day 1

For this week anyway, I’m a full-time writer.

I say this as somebody who did not exactly spend his day writing, but that’s a technicality.

A couple of days this week are “location scouting” days. What this means in a nutshell is I am visiting real places around Columbus, looking for details to use in my revisions of Surreality. In some cases I am planning out whole scenes in a specific space, while in others I’m trying to get a “sense” of my environment. I want to write a Columbus-y story.

A lot of mysteries, especially those in the noir genre which this book at least borrows from, take place in San Francisco, or some other noted cities along the coast. Often a good mystery writer has a sense of place as well as character in their books. Maybe it’s New Jersey, or a small southern town, or Cambridge England, but the culture of the place is almost as important as the story being told. The best authors are the ones who can speak authentically of their own experiences, bring as much of the truth of their lives onto the page, while still spinning a good tale.

I’ve lived in Columbus for 23 years now, though I admit there’s a lot about this city I’m still learning. The little red-haired girl and I are going downtown on Wednesday to check out some places (provided she kicks the bug she’s got). Today was OSU campus.

I started my morning early, getting up at about 7am, and driving into the South Campus Gateway garage by 7:30am. I want to keep some semblance of normal work hours, though I do plan to allow myself some fun as well. For those of you not well versed on OSU locations, the South Campus Gateway is a project that started in my last years in college, and still seems to be evolving over time. The goal was to bring some higher end stores and restaurants into an area near campus to attract some money from Hilliard and Upper Arlington. But in reality, no one wants to make the schlep, and the places are too pricey for most students, so it’s been a balancing act. The Gateway was actually the subject of it’s own mystery a number of years back, with a student disappearing from the Ugly Tuna Saloona, and not seen for months (to be honest if there was a solution to that it was after my time on Campus, so if anyone knows feel free to post it in the comments).

The first order of the day though was coffee. The Starbucks on campus is always the one I imagine my characters visiting, though in reality they live more in the Short North area so one of my objectives later this week will be to find their real coffee shop. The coffee shop on campus looks like an add-on to a building, narrow but deep, with chairs and tables facing out into a dead-end lot with a few benches and old trees. I like the idea of a narrow coffee shop for some reason, more isolated I guess.

Armed with venti Gold Coast Blend, and a donut (or so) from the famed Buckeye Donuts (buttermilk’s as good as I remember). I made the trek to my first destination, the “Gates of Hell” located near the Tim Horton’s on Arcadia (for those of you Google mapping along at home that’s 1.7 mi). This was one of a couple of possibilities for a kidnap victim to be held, though I’ve rejected it in part because it gets a lot of traffic from skate board fanatics. I only kinda wish I had realized this before my walk, but I did see a few cool churches along the way that might be useful in the future. For any legal authorities out there, I did not actually climb down to the gate. It was wet and I didn’t have the shoes for it (the drain is in a ravine covered by a lot of foliage so if it wasn’t so popular it might not have been a bad spot).

The funny part about High Street (or 23 as I know it up in my neck of the woods), is the mix of new and old buildings. There are signs that look like they date from the 1950s next to brand new bars and eateries. The sidewalk is still kind of a mess though and the walk from South Campus to Arcadia is almost entirely uphill.

On the downhill trip, I veered west toward the Computer Science and Mathematics areas of the campus, passing by the truly appalling sculpture in front of Arps hall, then swinging down to Cockins hall, the math tower and Dreese labs to scout out potential bulletin boards for fractal book posters. Depending on the schedule I may swing by on Thursday and do a quick run up and down the buildings, and take the opportunity to get at least one of my OSU fractal textbooks signed.

The main event though was South Campus, the Library and The Union. I had not been in the library since the remodel, truthfully I was only ever in the old one when they were having a book sale. I made the mistake of climbing all 11 flights on the stairs which like to killed me off, but was worth it for the views of the oval and West Campus, and the leather chairs where I caught a breather.

Ultimately the library wasn’t a very good place for a shooter, too few stair wells would pen in a chase too easily. There might be some action in the stacks, but they’re pretty narrow, and I gotta feel like somebody’s gonna get tripped up pretty easily. Got to give my criminal a fighting chance after all. Top level might not be a bad place for a sniper though and no one passed me on that interior stairwell… maybe another book.

At first I was thinking a couple of my characters would be living in South Campus dorms, but this presents some problems, not the least of them being that most juniors and seniors live off campus, and my access as a non-student to dorms is kind of limited. I lived in West Campus, and honors students are just not the criminal types 🙂 I’m thinking some Google street view canvassing is in order.

My main scene takes place in the union, a meet gone bad, where the police try to pen in a person of interest for information. The new union is a fabulous place, with a lot of nooks and crannies, and three main levels, plus a small basement. I spent a lot of my time going up and down levels and trying various vantage points to see how much of the floor I could see and where I could best stay hidden. I also needed to block my character’s movements, both my police officers and the man they’re pursuing.

The hardest part probably was picking a starting point, then playing out all subsequent actions. I took a number of pictures (so if you happened to be in the union today around noon and saw some flashes don’t worry I wasn’t taking your picture). My quick shooting skills are kinda blurry anyway and are only meant to serve as a guide to writing. The critical piece of the action happened purely by accident, and directly as a result of my being there on this particular day. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think I have an idea on how to make my policemen’s work all the harder.

The rest of my time was spent playing a little catch up with the director of the OSU Men’s Glee Club, and of course partaking of some Flying Pizza. Those of you who think Adriaticos is better don’t know what you’re talking about. I also got a chance to do a quick run by Used Kids Records, and I found the latest Over The Rhine album for dirt cheap.

All in all, not a bad day, even if my shins and feet are killing me. I think tomorrow might be a quiet out-lining day, or maybe even some short story work. I’ll keep you posted.

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