Tag Archives: James Lee Burke

Location, Location, Location. It’s not just about Real Estate

We’ve covered plot driven books, and character driven novels. But what, exactly, is a setting driven novel? It almost sounds wrong when you say it out loud, as if the words don’t make much sense put together. Setting driven novel. All novels have a setting don’t they? They don’t occur in a vacuum, but in a place. Or more than one. But a setting driven novel?

I’ll probably take some heat for this along the line, but I can think of several novels with their setting as the main imeptus of the story. Sure, there are characters in it, and a plot or two along the pages, but the book was set – or placed – in this particular area to tell the story from that location and that location alone.

James Michener, for one author, was a prolific writer who used the settings of his novels as major roadworks. Hawaii, Chesapeake, Alaska, Iberia, are just a few of the titles of his novels. Yes, these books were sweeping family sagas that told generational tales, but where they occurred was a huge factor in how the story was told.

James Lee Burke, Pat Conroy and Annie Proulx are authors who use their settings to weave out their story lines. You can’t really image the Prince of Tides taking place in any other setting than the South, can you? Or The Shipping News taking place anywhere else but the Newfoundland coast?

All these authors know the value of having the proper setting to tell their tales.

Now, the argument I can feel forming is this one: Yes, these are books with setting as a major factor in them, but they are really not about the South, or Hawaii, or any of those places. They are stories about the people in the books.

Well…yes. But… imagine if Tom Wingo in the Prince of Tides had come to New York to see his sister from, say, Seattle. Would he have been the same person? Would his background – his deep southern background, in which he was stepped in traditions and culture indicative of that place – have proven to be such a driving force in the book with regards to his actions, non-actions, and how he handled his sister’s most recent suicide attempt?

This is a topic that requires a lot of thinking on the writer’s part. I can imagine that all of the characters in these novels were shaped and formed BECAUSE of and DESPITE where they are from. I could easily write a story about apple pickers in the Northeast. But would The Cider House Rules have been such an effective book if it had taken place in California? ( I don’t even know if they can grow apples in California, but you get my drift!)

Where you place your novel, where you set the characters into place, is a huge part of the story you want to tell.

Choose wisely and well.


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“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.James Lee Burke

To write about this topic is stomach-upsetting for me. I am the penultimate expert on the subject of rejection: in my personal life, in my work, in my career, and in my writing. I joke that failure is a familiar friend to me, but that rejection is my sworn enemy. I can deal with failure because I know that out of it will some day come  success. Rejection, on the other hand, is a form of failure that is so much more personal and ego-devouring, that when it hits me, it throws me into the bowels of depression, and I have a very hard time clawing my way out of its clutches.

I could quote chapter, book and verse on the number of ubersuccessful people who suffered rejection before ever  seeing their proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. 27 publishers rejected Theodore Giesel’s first book. Stephen King was rejected 30 times before his first book sold. Supposedly, Jack London received over 600 rejection slips before he ever sold a story. The list goes on, but one thing they all had in common was that rejection did not mean the end of their desire to write. It probably spurred it on just to prove the rejectors  wrong.

Obviously, I’m writing this today because I, too, have suffered another writing rejection. And it hurts. Like hell. This time I was so confident that something good was going to come out of my submission – based on what I was told by the person I was submitting to –  that when the final rejection came, with no explanation of why, I was devastated. Beyond devestated, actually. I had to talk myself off a ledge. A  proverbial one, but a ledge just the same. To be rejected, to have my work rejected, my thoughts, my ideas, the way I write the words, is soul-killing. I could barely put a sentence together for a while because every time I opened my mouth, all I wanted to do was wail, “Why??!!”

A little overly melodramatic, but true.

I’ve had a few days now to get over the hurt, shock, annoyance, dismay and anger.  I no longer want to make a phone call and say vicious things to the person at the other end about their heritage and schooling. I’ve pulled myself back in from the ledge to my writing room. I am still having a little difficulty with the “Why” but for now, I will ignore that question and ask myself this one: “Where do I go from here?” The easiest answer is back to my laptop, so that is where I am today.

And where I will be every other day I have the time opportunity to be. I will not let this latest rejection steal my joy about writing. And it is a joy. No one should ever be allowed to rob you of that.

To quote one of the smartest women I know – my friend Jill – who is quoting her father when she says, “every thing happens for a reason.” This is so true. I don’t know the reason now, but I am confident I will someday. As the James Lee Burke quote of above tells us, this rejection is dues I am paying that will some day, some way, be translated back into my work.

Want to talk about your rejections??





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