Sunday, September 27, 2009

Déjà vu

Last Friday I moved my sailboat into a small marina in Annapolis, Maryland. It’s one of a dozen or more marinas that crowd the shores of Back Creek. When you step off the docks, you are in the Eastport neighborhood—known locally as the Maritime Republic of Eastport. A less-touristy area than Annapolis proper, Eastport has none of the bustle that accompanies the capitol of a state. If you didn’t know the State House was just a short walk across the Spa Creek bridge, you’d never guess it. The streets are lined with small charming houses. Trees arch out to form a canopy of green overhead. From around every corner you catch a glimpse of water and, of course, boats.

Walking out of the marina parking lot to look around, you find the Leeward coffee shop two blocks to the east. About a half-block west is Davis’s Tavern, a former mercantile store in the 1930’s, converted to a local watering hole. Really, this is about as perfect as it gets for a writer: libations for either end of the day all within walking distance.

The evening after we tied up, we decided to go see what was happening at the tavern, see what the locals do for fun after the long work-week. To our surprise, Davis’s was crowded. Outside, people stood in clusters under the green awnings or sat at the tables. Inside, the barstools were full. We took a table nearby and overheard several lies . . . I mean sea stories being told. Most of the patrons had houses nearby, or boats at the marinas across the street, or both. It was a happy, convivial atmosphere that made you want to stay and mingle.

That’s when my first attack of déjà vu hit: I had been there before. No, I don’t mean that I had ever been in Davis’s Tavern. Before that evening, I didn’t even know it existed. But there was a feel to the place that was very familiar, except I couldn’t figure out the connection. The next morning, writing away on my latest book, I realize that Davis’s shared some striking resemblances to the bar I had created for my characters. My bar—The Laughing Gull—is in an old, historic building on the waterfront. You can see boats from its windows. The vibe I get from the bar I created is a lot like the real one: warm, welcoming and boisterous.

A few days later we stopped into the tavern again. It wasn’t so busy on a weeknight, so we pulled up a stool. As I was sipping my wine, a man walked up to the bar next to me, smiled and ordered a drink. He had a thick accent that sounded Italian. After the bartender served him, he took his beer outside to a table. Through the windows, I could see him sit down with several other older men who all seemed to be talking at once and having a great time. Forgetting my manners, I started to stare. He looked very like my image of Antonio Berzani, patriarch of the Berzani clan and father to my hero, Ian. Did he have an Italian accent? Yes. Did he talk with his hands? Yes. Was he tall, have silver hair and dark eyes with a twinkle lurking in their depths? Yes, yes, yes.


Did one of my characters just come to life? And was he in a bar that came out of my imagination? The universe isn’t supposed to work that way, but what if this is one of those mysterious anomalies? What I love most of all about this “déjà vu” experience (I’m sure there’s a better psychological term for experiencing something you imagined beforehand) is that it shows I’ve successfully translated my experiences on the Chesapeake Bay extracted from a myriad of small communities—Chestertown, Deltaville, Oxford, Easton—into a “real” fictional place, somewhere my characters really would live, laugh and love.

So far, none of my other characters has made an appearance at Davis’s or around the neighborhood, but I’m not giving up. Any day, I expect to see Kate and Patrick with their baby, strolling along Chester Avenue, or Ian lugging his tool box into a boatyard, or Mimi strumming her guitar and singing at a local hangout. I believe that there’s a thin spot in the fabric of the universe somewhere around here and through it, my stories are entering this reality.

How cool would that be?


Lynn said...

I was at the doctor's office the other day when the grampa from my story walked in and sat down next to me, I started to go back to reading BOn Appitte and realized, this was the best time ever for me to talk to him. After he left, I scribbled down everything I could remember about him.

Kind of strange the way that the universe gives you the info you need.

Lisa Ruff said...


That's a great idea! Maybe I'll have to go see if I can talk to my "dad," too.

Sharon Buchbinder said...

I made the mistake of writing about a problem student in my latest WIP--and guess who just turned up this semester in my office? You got it. At times it seems like we are sorcerer's apprentices.

Lisa Ruff said...

Wrote that one too "real," huh? On the plus side: wow, you're really tapped into characterization.

Linda Henderson said...

How extraordinary. And the waterfront sounds lovely. Do they have any lighthouses there ?

Lisa Ruff said...

Not on the waterfront, but there are several out on the waters around Annapolis: Thomas Point, Sandy Point and Baltimore Light are all navigational beacons and pretty, too.

Joya Fields said...

That's so cool! It also proves that you depict your characters (and your watering holes) in very realistic ways! It must have been awesome to meet someone from your imagination in person!
I hope I don't run into any of my "bad guys" out there in the real world.

Lisa Ruff said...

Ooh, that would be bad for you, since you write romantic suspense. Brrr.

PamStone said...

I've never experienced deja vu exactly, but in my first book the antagonist's name was Perry and my hero continuously called him Percy just to irritate the guy. At the time I was writing the story, I was an account manager for a large company. One day, my client introduced me to a co-worker whom he was transfering the project to. His name was Percy (not a common name in my neck of the woods). I had the hardest time remembering whether to call the very nice gentleman, and my new client, Perry or Percy.

Lisa Ruff said...

Hard to keep track of, especially since he was you "bad guy," lol.

Marin Thomas said...

I'm posting this for Rebecca Winters--she's having blogger troubles today.

"Thanks for the delightful post. I found myself entranced by it.
I once wrote a novel with a plot I'd worked on for a long time and about a year later I received a Catholic underground newspaper that told a story so identical to what I'd made up, I had gooseflesh all day. It took place in Paraguay. Except for the names, it was like the story they'd printed had been lifted from my story, but of course that was impossible because my novel hadn't been in print yet. Weird..."

Rebecca Winters