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Architecture & Writing

The Creative Process

Kane Residence.jpg

Laguna Beach, California

Compton High.jpg

Compton, California

Flying Goat.jpg

Elmer City, Washington

Like Jillian, from my first novel Hush Little Baby, I am an architect, and my background and experience influenced not only the main character, but Like Jillian, I am an architect, and my background and experience influenced not only the main character, but also the crafting of the story. Environment influences everything we do.  Jillian is bound to her husband Gordon not only by familial ties, but by the life she created with him, the home she made, and the community in which she chose to live and set down roots. "Terroir" is a winemaking term used to describe the unique traits of a vineyard and its influence on the flavor of a wine. Each location within the novel is a terroir that affects the characters and directly reflects their values, tastes, and personality.  

Being an author is similar to being an architect. When you are given a problem or a theme, you start with a context, a site, or a plot idea, then you develop a set of criteria or a cast of characters and set out to create something unanticipated and meaningful, struggling to articulate the abstraction in your mind onto the page so it will be understood and appreciated. You fail more than you succeed, and resilience and perseverance contribute far more than talent. Dead ends and wrong turns are common, and in the marathon of hard work it takes to create something as substantial as a building or a novel, there are but a few easy strides of unencumbered inspiration. You play to an audience – your readers, your clients – their perception forefront as you flesh out the details draft after draft.

Jillian uses these same skills to prevail against Gordon. Her only chance of survival is to outwit him, to be smarter and more creative, to anticipate his moves, control the perception of those around her, and to strike with surprising moves of her own. Every creative endeavor, whether it be writing a novel, designing a building, or devising a plan to annihilate your enemy is similar: open your mind, find an ember of inspiration, and nurture it until it grows to its full potential.

Where you think you are going is rarely where you end up, and the revelation of discovering where you have arrived when you finish is as rewarding as what ultimately was created. Jillian's story was a surprise, not only to the character, but to me, her author. Her circumstance, the other characters, and my mood determined her fate, altering preconceived notions and sometimes detouring radically from original ideas.  

This suspense with uncertainty is the part of the process I love most, the thrilling anticipation of not knowing where a story or a project will lead. Sometimes a vision is clear when I begin, but rarely does it stay the same, and as it evolves, it solidifies, until it seems absolute, like there was no other choice, and although still only words or lines on a page, the characters, the story, or the buildings become the absolute truth, as vivid and concrete as if they exist in real life.

A home is a reflection of who we are, and for Jillian, it defines her – sophisticated, contemporary, ambitious, and sharp.  She is well educated and wealthy, collects and appreciates great design and has spent her life pursuing it. So when she is forced to give it up in order to save herself and her children, it's no small sacrifice.

Jillian is the vice president of the third largest design-build firm in the country. In the beginning of the story, she works to convince Jeffrey Wheeler, the project manager of an inner-city middle school, that the classrooms need to have windows. It's more than just business between him and Jillian, and as the story develops and their relationship progresses, so does the design for the school. The solution is a Mondrian-inspired façade with pocket windows too small for anyone to crawl through. This design was based on an actual project I worked on, in which I was given the directive to design the classrooms without windows because of concerns about vandalism. The colorful façade was developed as a deterrent to graffiti . Among street artists, there is an honor code that "art" is sacred and therefore should not be tagged.  And even if the code wasn't respected, the patchwork design allows for easy touch-up of a single panel, rather than having to repaint the entire building if it were defaced. 

Jillian finds herself on the run with her two kids, no money, and no plan.  Salvation is found when they stumble upon a restaurant in the backwoods of northern Washington and a family of Native Americans take them in and offer them safe haven with no questions asked. Jillian's new life is a stark contrast to the one she left behind, her new home steeped in history, legend, and tradition, a place where an Ivy League education means nothing, but if you can divine a deer migration during the hunting season, you're deigned a genius.

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