Last week, Pints And Cupcakes posted a delightful interview with my good friend, fellow writer, and trusted reader Tony Quick. (Read it here. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Done? Okay, let’s proceed.)
Tony said some brilliant things in that interview, right? (Especially that part where he calls me “a remarkable writer who [he’s] convinced will become a future favorite to scores of readers when she makes her debut”–that was especially insightful, no?)
Having worked with Tony on Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, presented on an AWP panel titled “Writing About Nature in an Unnatural World” with him, and exchanged countless pages back and forth with Mr. Quick, I figured that he would have a lot more to say about how the environment factors into his writing if I asked, and I was right!
So here’s a mini-interview for you. I call it “Two More Q’s with Tony Quick.”
1. How does sense of place factor into your writing?
Beyond its role in establishing a backdrop for the story’s setting, place plays an integral part in my fiction because it inevitably feeds into character development. With all due respect to the idea of the self-made man (or woman), much of who we become as people happens to be influenced by where we’re from. So many factors: our values and assumptions, our careers, our hobbies, how we approach challenges, and so many other aspects of our personality are impacted by our reaction against or adherence to the standards of our surroundings.
Here’s an extreme example that almost borders the absurd but happens to illustrate the point pretty well. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and the Christopher Nolan movie Inception are both reverse-heist stories where the characters have to sneak into a fortified space and plant an object rather than steal it. Frodo, as a character raised in the leisurely shire and naïve to the nuance of Middle Earth, has an entirely different approach to his mission than Dom Cobb, a man who lives and works in a world of corporate espionage, mistrust, and various stages of unreality.
Their missions are different, of course, but they have similar end goals and the choices Frodo makes on the way to Mordor (This Gollum guy seems trustworthy) are different from those that Cobb makes during his journey into Fischer’s mind (You think I should tell my teammates my subconscious might try to kill them? Psh). That’s due in large part to how they’ve been colored by the fictional worlds they inhabit.
Another example that comes to mind is the difference between Michael Corleone from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather and Luke Skywalker of Star Wars. Both stories concern the legacy that sons inherit from their fathers. Michael Corleone initially reacts against the criminal world of violence and vendettas his father Vito inhabits but he’s a man raised in an post-WWII Italian enclave taught to put family above all else. When the call comes, he takes on his father’s role as patriarch. Luke, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a great Jedi. That original goal is supplanted when he realizes his father is the Sith lord, Darth Vader, a high-ranking member of the empire that Luke has been raised to loathe and fear.
When I craft my own characters, I do my best to contemplate how their environment might color their perceptions and influence their course of action as they move through worlds I’ve created. More often than not, those details will never be explicitly mentioned in the text but actively thinking through those particulars before and during the writing process helps impact my understanding of how my characters operate and who these people actually are.
2. You grew up in the Baltimore area, which is also the primary setting of your novel-in-progress, Scarecrow and Locust. Besides the fact that it’s where you’re from, what is it about Baltimore that inspires you to explore the city through fiction?
Urban landscapes feature prominently in my fiction because they offer so many opportunities to bring diverse people into the same arena to clash and cooperate. Cities create crucibles where characters from various cultural, ethnic, and economic backdrops can rub elbows. People who might never interact otherwise are drawn into conversations and conflicts by virtue of inhabiting the same space and that’s an exciting prospect to me.
Baltimore was really the only place Scarecrow and Locust could have taken place. The Patapsco River’s presence for various plot reasons that I won’t delve into here and the proximity to the nation’s capital provided an important reason to have a private military corporation installed there but beyond all that, Baltimore’s economic situation lends itself towards the theme I was going for in the novel.
So many areas in Baltimore appear downright post-apocalyptic and much of that has to do with neglect. Just recently, there have been reports of “food deserts” in the city where grocery stores have moved to more lucrative locations, leaving those without vehicles and the elderly without access to food. That’s not science fiction.
Scarecrow and Locust required a great deal of research and I learned a great deal about the famines in Ireland, Bengal, and Ethiopia. I was surprised most at the part government corruption, outright malice, or inaction played in worsening the impact of starvation on these populations. That’s not science fiction, either.
I’ve always been adamant that my fiction shouldn’t serve as a makeshift soapbox but when I’m writing I do consider how the arrangement of certain elements will impact the reader. The choice to write about Baltimore is an attempt to shine a slight light on real problems that exist in our world through a speculative filter. Maybe if I’m fortunate, my readers will lend a bit more thought to the people who often end up forgotten in the margins.
So there you have it, folks. Aren’t you glad I asked?
Make sure to visit Tony’s website at tonyquick.com, where you can read his bio and check out all the other cool things Tony’s been up to. Also, if you were following instructions, you would have already checked out Pints And Cupcakes, but if you haven’t yet, now is the time to make it right.