Thursday, January 19, 2012

Going Back...To My Own Piece of Hollywood

So last spring I made my first foray into Los Angeles. Before that I'd only ever been as far west as Nevada. It was a really quick trip smashed into our Vegas/Anniversary get-away. But it was perfect. Sure we were in a luxury bus for four-ish hours as our driver (literally) sped us to L.A. Sure, I thought one or twelve of those drivers might actually cause an accident that might kill me. But it was still breathtakingly fun. Went to the Hollywood sign, wandered all over Rodeo Drive and Melrose, saw Santa Monica Pier...all the touristy things you want to do.

And then I realized we have a little bit of Hollywood right here in Ohio - in the form of a prison. The Mansfield Reformatory to be exact - the real-life prison where Shawshank Redemption, scenes from Tango & Cash and Air Force One were shot. Just after the Hollywood trip, we headed down there for a murder-mystery night with some friends. We all joked about going to prison to have some fun before we actually drove through the gates...but driving through? Yeah, that made it a little more serious. Of course, we still joked about it. As you do.

Unlike many other prisons, the Mansfield Reformatory doesn't have cells facing one another; if you're in a cell, you're facing a rock wall. No windows. The exterior, barbed-wire-topped walls have been torn down, paint is peeling from the bars, and no prisoners have been inside the walls since the 1990s. And yet there is still a feeling of lonliness and loss inside. Solemnity that even the silliness of the murder-mystery (there were a lot of jokers in the crowd) just couldn't cut through. I can't imagine what it would be like for actual prisoners. Which brings me to books and atmosphere, which is a part of setting. The part of setting that I usually don't get right right away. My books are mostly fun and a lot flirty, but there still needs to be an atmospheric undertone...just like the undertone of the prison was still there on our fun date night.

In fact, we had so much fun, we're doing that night over (with a different murder-mystery!) in a few weeks...and I'm sure the jokes will be just as seriously funny.

Another thing that really caught my attention - and had me reaching for my notebook and pen often - were the non-prison events held there. They host weddings, receptions, ghost hunting, haunted houses...the list goes on. And I thought, what an interesting kind of place to set a romance novel - not my usual contemporary books, but something different. I've had about twenty ideas hit me since that night, and now that we're going back those ideas are cropping up again. Yes, I'm making notes. Most will probably remain ideas, but I'm hoping that one might be something more....

What about you? Where do you get your ideas?