I’ve been spending a lot of time lately revising my novel. It’s set in a small town in Pennsylvania, and while the town is fictional, when I think of the geography, I think of Jim Thorpe, PA. Jim Thorpe is alternately cute and run down and, wedged as it is between the Lehigh River and the hills, it’s got a certain drama in its landscape. It’s a drama that befits the joys and woes of my small town characters.
In my edits, I know that details add texture. And so I’d thought about driving up to Jim Thorpe one of these days and walking around. We’d gone there a week and a half ago to bike, but had mostly driven around the town. We ate dinner there, but were quick in and out with hungry kids eager for pizza. I wanted to wander around and explore like a writer with all the time in the world.
Of course, there were a million reasons not to make the trip. I have deadlines! I have editors who are wondering where I’ve gone these past few weeks of novel revision. Sure, I work for myself. Sure, we have regular and reliable childcare of the sort that makes day trips to New York and elsewhere possible. But taking a day to drive to a little town that’s only somewhat like the town in my novel, given that the novel is a completely speculative venture, seemed indulgent.
But, hey, what the hell. I went on Monday.
It was a great day. I filled pages in a notebook (a nice leather notebook — if I’m being indulgent, let me be over the top) with observations. I wandered into the Asa Packer mansion and the lovely woman at the desk mercifully elected not to make me wait for the next available tour, but showed me around briefly herself. Several parts of that mansion will now become present in the old hotel in my novel. I had lunch at Molly Maguire’s pub and found the ornate paneled ceiling and dark wood booths to perfectly sum up how I wished to describe my small town’s coziest bar. Even the presence of mums and pumpkins together on porches reminded me that people would decorate that way — and certain rustic aspects of commerce, like a woman selling scarves off her front porch and another person taping a notebook-paper sign to his door advertising DVDs and CDs for sale reminded me of how economies sometimes operate away from big cities.
I came home and, in the last 36 hours, have taken out about 1000 words (to the outtakes file) and added another 3500. Everything else is stacking up, but I’m having a marvelous time.
Photo of a gift shop in downtown Jim Thorpe