Location, Location, Location

New York, Winter 2010

My Seminary interview- The interview to end all interviews. The moment that I had been preparing for since…how do you measure forever? I couldn’t remember what the point was anymore. However, I’m writing this in light of everything that has taken place in my life since that blustery, freezing New York Friday afternoon… I’m probably looking at the events from a screwed vision. In fact, I am absolutely sure that that is what is happening here.

I’m trying to place myself back into the shoes of 12th Grade Leigh on the morning of the interview.
I was nervous beyond belief. I couldn’t fit one ounce of food into my mouth without feeling like I was going to throw up (similar to the way I feel every time I send my manuscript out for review, or make an edit to the manuscript itself).

 But, regardless of what ever else was going on in my life at the time, I knew that I wanted “this.” The drive was there, the confidence was instilled, phone calls had been made, and I had a date with the headmasters. I needed then, more than ever before, to prove my worth and my ability to succeed in my surrounding environment. Until my interview, only two students from my school had been successful in landing a spot in their program. I was determined to secure my spot.

The interview began fairly well. They asked me basic questions about my educational background, where I came from, who I was.
The series of shot gun questions began very slyly, but once the rounds too off, I couldn’t help but defend myself and run for cover.

Why do you think you belong here?
What can you offer to our program that you think other girls can’t?
How are your Hebrew reading skills?
What are your friends like?
Do you feel that the world around you influences you?
What is your gray line?
Boom, boom, boom. Question after question- I answered to the best of my ability without chocking.

I knew who I wanted to be
I knew what I wanted to achieve
I just wasn’t sure if they could be of any help…

I deserved a slot in their program as much as the next person…
I was determined, head strong, passionate and willing to work as hard as possible to make my statement count.

At the end of the interview, they thanked me, wished me a Shabbat Shalom, and sent me on my way.
I don’t know what came over me, but immediately after I walked out of the building, I burst into tears. I called my father, who couldn’t comprehend a thing I was saying through my gulps and sluring of words. Technically, nothing had gone wrong. I felt that I had done a good job of making myself heard. I would definitely add a unique flavor to their institution (little did I know at the time that that was the exact opposite of what they were looking for).  I stood on the street corner for a while, trying to compose myself. I couldn’t understand why I was reacting in such a way. Maybe it was because for the first time, I was realizing what this decision would mean for me and my life. It would mean moving away from home to a different country, away from everything I knew and loved. A new location, a new life. A new me? Could allowing myself to be open to such an idea mean that there was a possibility for me to come back as a different person?

And while I took an expedition of my brain and my soul to find the answer lurking behind the answer to my immending address change, another location came to find almost immediately: Where was I going to set the novel? It had been weeks since the idea popped into my head. I had begun to brainstorm on the intricate details of every chapter, down to the color of the toenail polish that one of my characters would be wearing in the opening scene (although it wasn’t applicable to the story line and I wasn’t planning on writing that part in anyway). But, how was it possible that I had begun to take the next step into the process without a proper location to set the novel in?

My heart was still stuck on setting the story in San Francisco. But, my history with the city made it incredibly difficult for me to separate fact from fiction. How could I not mess with my personal history within the city, and yet be able to create fresh, lively characters in a world that I had known so well?

I began to think about it further, and realized that it would be difficult for me to base the story in any city in which I had a personal history. Automatically, Huntington Beach and Brooklyn were crossed off the list. I had to be objective, and I could not be objected about places that had given me shelter and warmth.

I admire those authors that have the ability to tamper with history and make it their own. It takes courage and a power house of strength to change the course of history, even for fictional terms. At that time (and even more so, now) it seemed impossible for me to intertwine my worlds. I had to find a place that was unknown to me, as unknown and foreign as it would be for my characters when they were to grace the first page of the novel and enter the threshold to their setting.

They had to be strangers to the land as much as they were strangers to themselves. Their history with the location had to limited, and it could not be the permanent home of any of the characters. They had to be weary travelers, searching for a home, both physically and mentally.

I was frightened by the thought of using a fictional location. How could I give myself the right to plot a fictional town in the middle of a factual country? Where could I build a town over a plot of land without stepping on the property rights of others? I learned that I had to give myself that right. I needed a place that was neither mine, or the characters. It had to be as unknown and mysterious to me as it would be to them. I had to discover it, step by step, as they would in the wake of the events that were yet to take place.

Slowly but surely, I began to create the town. Small, quaint and charming, it had to hold a grave past. Its body had to possess a heartbreaking beauty and devesatating heartbreak. In other words: It had to be a survivors’ town. A small haven where the washed up folk could go for peace.
The story had to be just as much about the town as it would be about the people that inhabited it. But, as fictional as it was, it still had to feel real. It had to have a real past, a real potential for a thriving future. It had to be a place where I could point out on a map and visit.

And that’s exactly what I did. There, in my hosts home on that dead cold New York afternoon, with tears still streaming down my face from the shock of the interview I had just survived, I took out a map of the United States and began to search. Where could I place this small, unassuming plot of land without bothering existing cities? Where could I build and not destroy?

Almost immediately, my mind fled to thoughts of Louisiana. I felt as though the thought was grabbing hold of me with a magnet. A state that had endured a tradegy and had, at the time, only begun to rebuild itself from the ruins.

My plot of land had been discovered. Then, with my bare hands, I began to dig the earth of what was soon to become Rolland County, Louisiana.