It's one of the first things creative writers learn: in order to tell a story effectively, one must anchor the story in a particular setting or place. Northern Michigan-based writer Jack Driscoll, who has written four novels and four books of poetry, and who just released his second collection of short stories, The World of a Few Minutes Ago, believes this is one of the most important lessons of writing.
"Place is not just practical; place is not just a backdrop or a setting. It informs everything about the characters who live there. I believe in place as the single most important element in fiction," Driscoll said. "[In fiction,] place is a character. The reader can never know the psychology of the characters until you understand the place itself, because a person's physical environment informs who we are."
Driscoll himself frequently uses Northern Michigan to backdrop his stories, as the landscape and its wildness (such as the myriad wildlife that populate the river outside his studio window) have had a large impact on his own life and writing.
"I'm originally a Massachusetts boy. I was hired in 1975 to help develop a creative writing major at Interlochen Arts Academy," Driscoll said. "[Moving to Northern Michigan is] the most magical thing that's happened to me my whole life. I thought it would just be a stop on my way back to the East Coast, but I've stayed."
The World of a Few Minutes Ago tells the stories of a range of characters united by a grey, wintry landscape and their attempts to survive and transcend it. Through unheard voices, boredom and isolation, the characters battle both their geography and their circumstances.
"Particularly when I'm writing about kids, which is what I like to do, they suffer from too much winter; they're looking to escape from the length and severity of the season and this incites trouble," said Driscoll of his characters' situations, amplified by winter and snow. "There's a moodiness created by the sameness of sky and land and lack of sunshine and the sameness of the days."
More than anything, though, Driscoll seeks to use the characters, their situations and their settings to illustrate bits of humanity that we can all recognize within ourselves. Driscoll quotes the poet William Matthews to make his point: "I write to speak what it means to be human."
"That's my ethos as well," Driscoll said. "To speak what it feels like to be alive and cognizant and compassionate. I suppose that's why I [write]. To somehow go deep enough into those private places where you strike a chord with readers. I believe that all art is exactly the same thing. Every medium tries to enact this transfer from my heart to your heart, from the writer to the reader, to strike some chord that reminds them of our humanity."
Other Literary Events
Book Tour Wrap-Up Party and Booksigning with Kim Harrison
March 10, 5 p.m.
Schuler Books & Music (28th St. location)
schulerbooks.com, (616) 942-2561
Lovers of witch lit, rejoice. Author Kim Harrison, member of both the Romance Writers of America and The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, is wrapping up her "A Perfect Blood Tour 2012" with a visit to Schuler Books. After the tour and book signing, look for more of her work -- namely, a young adult series and a graphic novel based on her Hollows series.
"Knocking at Your Door" — Tom Rademacher
March 7, 7 p.m.
Grand Rapids Public Library, Main Library
grpl.org, (616) 988-5400
Grand Rapids Press columnist Tom Rademacher has met many notable and interesting people through the 33 years of his career, and he's done a fantastic job writing their stories (as evidenced by his two top awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists). Now he's willing to sit down and talk about the remarkable people behind the stories and even give some personal back story to boot. If nothing else, come to hear what you didn't read in the paper.
Japanese Stab Binding
March 21-22, 4-5:30 p.m.
Kalamazoo Public Library, Eastwood and Washington Square branches
kpl.gov, (269) 553-7970 (W. Square), (269) 553-7810 (Eastwood)
Designed for grades 5-12, KPL is hosting a program to teach teens how to bind their own books with a decorative sewn edge. Stab binding is a tradition that East Asian cultures, such as Japan, China and Korea, have used for 500 years to bind books with beautiful results. The best part? You get to keep the book you make. Registration required.