July 10, 2014

Artifacts of Fiction

Last month, while I was out for a walk in my neighborhood, I saw a sign for an estate sale inside a house that was on the market. I never pass up an opportunity to look around a stranger's home in a socially acceptable manner, so I went in.

It was clear that someone had spent a long life in that house and taken great care of their belongings. I lingered for a while over a beautiful Art Deco bedroom set that has nothing to do with the decor (if you can call it that) of my own house but would fit in well at the home of my antique-collecting parents. Primed by childhood weekends of antique fairs, I turned my highly specific knowledge to the shelves of smaller items in search of any other Deco pieces. I didn't find any, but my attention was grabbed by a set of white dishes with tiny green flowers near the edges. The pattern instantly made me think of being young in my other parents' kitchen. It's a strong memory, but I'm not even convinced it's correct -- it might be my grandmother's dishes that bear this pattern.

Then I spotted another object full of personal significance, but this one had nothing to do with my real family. Instead, it was connected to the fictional family that inhabits my novel. In THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE, the characters buy an early model Polaroid camera. It's not a major event in the story, but the camera does play a role in several scenes, as do the photographs passed down through the years. I put a fair amount of effort into researching 60s-era Polaroids, so it gave me a thrill to unexpectedly discover one in front of me.

The actual camera in my novel, which the characters purchase in 1964, is a Polaroid Land Model 100. It retailed for $165, equivalent to over $1000 in today's dollars. The estate sale camera is a Model 250, available starting in 1967 for about the same price, but the two models are similar in design. The original owner had carefully preserved all the camera's accessories and documentation, and what most excited me was the idea of a carrying case packed with everything my character would have brought home from the store. For $40, I took this piece of fictional family history back to my own real house.

Polaroid Land Model 250 camera

Polaroid Land 250 with all its accessories

I've posted additional photos of the camera, and you can check out the whole album.

To my surprise, it's still possible to purchase film that works in this camera, so I'm going to buy some and see if I can get the camera working. I don't spend much time on photography these days, but it used to be a passion of mine. Taking amazing pictures is something that runs in my (nonfictional) family.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Charlie Jane Anders at io9 offers One Weird Trick For Cutting Down Your Novel: "The magic of outlining something you've already written and rewritten is, you can see where the actual beats are, and get a rough sense of just how much space each of the beats needs to have."

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