Monday, April 14, 2008

Designing the Imprefect Dragon's Lair

One thing I'm not, is a good visualizer. I can envision limited glimpses of a place in my mind, but things like an overall floor plan tend to baffle me. For this reason, I've thus far cheated on my descriptions of the home of my dragon detective, Vern.

I have a vision of a run-down, built-for-function-not-beauty warehouse with a six-foot chain-link fence around it. There's a fenced dog run near the double-gate, lousy grass (dragons aren't gardeners), and cracked pavement leading to the warehouse.

From there, I draw a blank as far as the overall scheme. I've had a vision of a large long echoing walk to where Vern resides, an incredible crowding of boxes and junk, a second floor with a small room for Grace, an isolated workshop, and a small office in the front area with a closet and a window facing the yard. And a kitchen needed to be there somewhere.

Some days, it embarrasses me that I teach worldbuilding at conventions. Those who can't, teach, right?

Well, moving to Minot has been wonderful for building Vern's world. Small town, railroad, not particularly glamorous and not interested in being so, It's just like pre-gap Los Lagos. And there are warehouses everywhere! Big, little, steel, brick, curved roofed like an aircraft hangar--you name it, you'll find it in Minot.
Could I find Vern's home?

For months, I've been daydreaming as I drive. That one's too new; that one's too big; that one's too filmsy. Where was my dream lair?

Last Monday, I found it in the Minot Restaurant Supply Store on Burbank. When I walked in and told the owner I was an author, he immediately asked if I needed a portly, almost 60 man with a balding head. I promised to write him in, but either way, he was only too glad to take me around his warehouse, answer my questions, tell me its history and let me make sketches.

Built in the 1950s as a toilet manufacturing warehouse, the front half is whitewashed stucco; the back half, old brick. Inside, the store proper is about a 20 x 40 (guessing here) area with two small offices made with 70s paneling and 2 x 4s behind a long counter. The merchandise--and they had some cooooool stuff--was all on metal shelves or on the wall. A large set of wooden double-doors led to the warehouse in the back.

There are actually two warehouses: heated and cold. The heated one was full of metal shelves holding a variety of stuff, but what drew my attention was the second level--again done with paneling and 2 x 4s; sturdy but cheap and just what I wanted. The bathrooms were just inside the doors, Men and Women, and looked like they'd been tossed up sometime after the original construction. The cold room was similar, just...well, colder.

The ceiling was corrugated steel braces with railings that hung down about 2 feet. The ceiling itself is only 14 feet, and he said many a young worker has smacked his head while working on the upper level.

I loved it. It's not quite perfect for Vern's house, because my piecemeal vision has led to several stories mentioning things that Minot Restaurant Supply's building doesn’t have, but the overall feel was just what I wanted.

Want to know what I ended up with? Read it from Vern's side, or check out this blog Thursday.

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