An Excerpt From “Boundaries”

Writers often want their descriptions of places to hold the emotional force of their characterizations, as if the setting of their stories can affect readers as much as a fully fleshed out character can. In the excerpt below from Chapter Four of Boundaries, I wanted the setting to show Ben Snow’s response to the home he cherishes as his place of seclusion. If I succeeded, it would reveal much about his feelings. My desire to develop this in my stories accounts for the nature of Tyee City, the isolated stretch of houses where Ben found a rental a few miles outside the remote town where he works at a difficult job. In this scene, he is on his way home from a day at work that he is feeling rather desperate to leave behind.

“Passing through the daffodil fields and pastures of The Bottoms, Ben peered over the ground fog for the first sight of Tyee City. He loved the lonely togetherness of its single row of box-like houses sitting tight along Mad River Road. They were so unlike the block-after-block of houses, the lost landscape of St. Louis. He loved that nodding across a fence or a few brief words at the mailbox was the most anyone expected. It was so unlike the curious glances of the waitress at the soda fountain at Glaser Drugs, of his friends, of Julie’s, and the concerned ones of his parents. He loved how the ramshackle houses, cobbled together like playing card creations, hardly rose above the blackberry vines that engulfed the fence lines and climbed to the gutters. To Ben their low-pitched roofs made little sense where rain rules for six months of the year, but he loved that they didn’t come with neighborly expectations, so different from the inquisitive camaraderie of Humboldt Legal Services, especially of Tim Cummings.

His, Number 7 with its turret bedroom atop, was the only one to rise above the others, save for an A-frame at the end, Number 11. Getting closer, he could see his turret’s windowed walls and the bedside lamp he left on during the day so that he could see it from a distance coming home. He began counting in his head. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. ‘Number 7,’ he said. ‘Mine.'”

The desire to treat setting this way is one of the currents that flow through me when I am following my nose down a story trail. It is part of the organic approach to writing that I love like a good friend. In Boundaries, I didn’t know what my point-of-view character’s home would be like until I took him home from work on the first day of the story.