Writing in Red–Writing About Place by Peggy Bird

In the Pacific Northwest “place” doesn’t yet qualify as a religion but it’s close. It’s a well-established article of faith among Northwesterners that where we live defines us. Our broad vistas and differing landscapes of high plains, mountains, ocean views, rivers and broad valleys, fertile farmland and moonscape volcanic lava fields make us who we are. And it also makes anything possible.

 It’s not a modern phenomenon. For as long as humans have inhabited this part of the earth, their lives have been determined by what’s here. Native Americans didn’t have to chase game all over the west to survive like their Plains neighbors did. European settlers found what they couldn’t find in the old country or the American East or Midwest.  I found what I wanted, too, even though when I first moved here from Philly, I thought there were too many trees and not enough history.

Now I know better. I have become who I am because of where I am. So I set my novels in Portland, Oregon and try to bring some sense of this special place into what I write. Most of my characters come to the city from another state just like real Portlanders. And like the actual inhabitants, they love Portland’s quirky charm.

In this live-and-let-live atmosphere, Nike execs, cowboys, hi-techies, artists, anarchists and entrepreneurs, locavores, microbrewers and loggers coexist. Sometimes it’s even hard to tell them apart. We all have closets full of fleece vests, Tevas, khaki shorts and battered backpacks. Except for the bicycle riders. They like Spandex or hipster dress. Or they ride nude. (Might want to reconsider buying that used bike in Portland.)

 Like good Northwesterners, the characters in my novels are shaped by where they live—in “Beginning Again,” Liz and Collins, two Californians, find artistic freedom in NW Portland and the Wallowa Mountains, respectively. Sam, the city cop in the next novel, moved from Eastern Oregon but couldn’t leave his jeans and cowboy boots behind. Amanda, his love interest, came to Portland for college at Reed and stayed. No one smokes. Everyone has a favorite food cart. They eat, drink and listen locally. That means Washington County strawberries, micro-brews, pinot noirs and Pink Martini, Chris Botti and Storm Large.

 I’ve thought about setting my stories in other interesting parts of the country, regions where I’ve lived or enjoyed visiting. But my characters insist that Dorothy got it right: “There’s no place like home.” And home is here, where we’ve found our place. Who am I to disagree with my characters?

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12 Comments

  1. I loved your post, Peggy. Portland, Oregon came alive for me in just a few paragraphs. The people I know who’ve either visited or moved to the Pacific Northwest really love it. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks, Ines, for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Oregon and Washington several times, and I agree…there’s something about being there that is like nowhere else in the world. For one thing, the mountains put things in perspective and perhaps erases some of the hubris found elsewhere LOL

  3. You’re right, Betty. The Cascades are humbling. Although we haven’t gotten rid of all our hubris. We just hide our belief that we’re better than anyplace else under our politeness.

  4. Peggy,

    I lived in Eugene for a time and I like to describe Missoula, Montana the place where I live now as a young Eugene. There are so many wonderful parallels. I truly loved my time in Oregon. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful look into your world.

    All the Best,
    Rionna

    • I had a little bit in the original post about Eugene–the last bastion of hippiedom in town and a football mad college population in the middle of an agricultural area–but the piece was running long. Thank you for giving me the excuse to get it back in. (I lived in Montana for a couple years–loved Missoula.)

  5. Great article, Peggy. There’s something mystical about the northwest (and it has nothing to do with the Twilight phenomenon). It’s the trees and water and greenery and Native American heritage and yes, the eclectic population. A pace of possibilities where one can imagine anything could happen. Thanks for reminding me it’s time for a visit!!

    • Let me know when you come to visit!

  6. Amen sister Peggy for singing the joy of living in the Pacific Northwest. My Bull Rider series is set in Idaho, just east of Oregon. My next release happens mostly in greater Boise. But my paranormal series I’ve set here in my new home – St. Louis.

    But I miss home.

    • Loved Boise when I used to travel there on business. And the Salmon River is spectacular. Maybe I’ll have to set some part of a novel on The River of No Return (wasn’t Marilyn Monroe in that movie?) and use that as an excuse to go back and visit.

  7. I’ve heard of it’s beauty. You are very lucky, Peggy. Loved your book!

    • You need to come see it, Kay. It’s wonderful! Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.


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