Our next Place as Person writer is Joyce Reynolds-Ward, a fellow ‘River’ author and teacher of Interpersonal Neurobiology, which sounds scarily intelligent to me. Thanks for contributing, Joyce!
Place as Person
Places have character. That somewhat goes against what the Language Arts teachers of my youth meant when they taught that the three basic story conflicts were man vs man, man vs self, and man vs. nature. Nature wasn’t meant to be a character but a conflict. But the growth of the environmental movement in the 1960s, the rise of writers like Edward Abbey, Rick Bass and Annie Dillard made the concept of place as a character more acceptable. However, I wasn’t exposed to the concept of place as having its own role in literary characterization until I took a course in Pacific Northwest Literature from Glen Love at the University of Oregon in 1978. Love, a major theorist in what later became the ecocriticism school of literary analysis, argued that place existed not only as a setting but as a fundamental character shaping the story, using regional writers such as Ken Kesey (Sometimes A Great Notion) and H.L. Davies (Honey in the Horn) as examples.
Place has always had an important role in my stories. Mt. Hood plays a prominent part in many of my Netwalk Sequence stories. The cover of Netwalk features one of my photographs of Mt. Hood to hint at how much my main character Melanie Landreth is affected by the Mountain and her Mountain life. The Wallowas are a silent factor in my unpublished novel Pledges of Honor, and the contrast that my character Katerin encounters between the drier interior lands she is used to and the wetter lands of Medvara is an attempt to reflect the actual Dry Line which is most easily seen in the Columbia River Gorge between The Dalles and Hood River. Other stories have come from a sudden dazzling moment while skiing in a blizzard on Mt. Hood and spotting a ghostly line of snowboarders two runs over, or noticing how a stump in the oak savannahs of the Willamette Valley looks like a human. Ever since that class with Glen Love, I’ve been open to the inspiration of Place as more than setting in my stories, of Place as a maker and shaper of tales. The traditional regional tales from the Pacific Northwest resonate with the sense of Place as person.
And so we come to the River. The Columbia River, the Willamette River, the Mohawk River. I grew up around and near rivers. So when Alma asked if I wanted to write for River, I had many rivers to think about. I wanted to write about the Mountain’s Child, the river boiling off of the Mountain to join the Great River. But I also wanted to write about the tidelands of the Columbia River, the great brooding depths where the River slowly rumbles past cottonwood plains once cleared for farmland now replanted in cottonwood/poplar crossbreds for quick pulpwood harvest. The story of an older woman on a transformational journey came to me on a drive down the Columbia River Gorge, and I wrestled with the need to fit both rivers into the story.
I couldn’t make that story work. I eventually placed “River-Kissed” in between the two rivers. The core of the story ended up being on Sauvie Island, the island at the mouth of the Willamette River where it flows into the Columbia. When I took Alma there in mid-November, she recognized the River, and I knew I had made the right choice.
Someday I will write that other story. Until then, I’ll enjoy the River, and the Mountain, and the Forest, while I wait for that story to unfold.
Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a middle school learning specialist, horsewoman and skier living in Portland, Oregon. Besides earning a SemiFinalist placement in Writers of the Future, participating in James Gunn’s online short story seminar, and going through a mentorship with Nalo Hopkinson, her publications include placements in Random Realities, M-Brane SF, The Fifth Di…, Nightbird Singing in the Dead of Night, Zombiefied, Shelter of Daylight, River, Gears and Levers, and Gobshite Quarterly. When not teaching or studying Interpersonal Neurobiology at Portland State University, she’s often hiking, thundering about on her intrepid reining mare Mocha, living la vida ski bum, and writing. Her novel Netwalk, part of The Netwalk Sequence, is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Follow Joyce’s adventures on her blog, Peak Amygdala, at www.joycereynoldsward.com