Monday, May 24, 2010
Location Location Location
What struck me about the building was that all the chairs and desks were still in place, waiting in the cubicles for the next occupants which, due to the financial downturn of 2001, were nowhere to be found. Everything was gathering a gritty, grimy dust. Not only that, but some of the desks still contained files and paperwork and office supplies.
It was a fun place to work, because I was often alone in the building. Sometimes when I had to drive over from the main inventory department—in another corporate park a couple miles away where I did most of my work—I would spend an extra ten or fifteen minutes poking around the building.
It was like a movie set. I could pretend that the world’s population had been wiped out and I was the last man alive, lamenting humankind’s fate while working out in the gym. I walked the stairs alone. I used the still-functioning restrooms. I took the elevator alone. I stood at a fifth floor window and looked out over the empty parking lot. I looked through every desk in the building, and procured fistfuls of paperclips, file folders, and binder clips. I found a drawer full of Wall Street Journals all from a couple years earlier. I found a Beatles CD and birthday cards. I was fascinated about how a building that had obviously been full of workers could become, and remain, a shell.
I never took any pictures of the place, but I still remember it. I started writing a story that grew from this location, the idea of such an empty building, and how it got that way through corporate downsizing. So, details like how the lobby was three stories high and contained leather chairs, are still logged and ready. I haven’t finished the story, but it’s still there, like the memory of the location, ready to be used when I’m ready.
A great location helps make a great book. Stephen King uses locations to add menace to his horror, often using locations like characters. Think of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. In A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole used all of New Orleans as a tapestry on which he imprinted his own brand of literary insanity.
As a writer, what are some of your favorite locations? As a reader, what stories made an impression through use of location?