Friday, March 29, 2013

Avatars and Uncle Charlie


I'm in Washington, D.C. right now, attending a terrific popular culture conference. But I need to get busy booking a trip that I'm going to take in about six weeks. I've signed up to tour the Virtual Human Interaction Lab (virtual reality) at Stanford University. The lab is open to the public for one hour on selected Fridays. I'm scheduled to visit on a Friday in May. Getting an inside look at the work being done in this lab will be incredibly useful as research for the mystery I'm working on. The second book in my police procedural series is set in 2020. One of my characters has an avatar and has been spending time in virtual reality, and the Stanford lab is at the forefront in this research. This tour will also be a chance to think about my academic research on crime and visual images in a new ways, to take a leap into the future.

Even so, it seems rather impulsive and extravagant to hop on a plane and fly to California to take a one-hour tour. So I'm going to give myself another treat. If I fly into San Francisco, I'll be centrally located for both my tour of the Stanford lab on Friday and a trip the next day to Santa Rosa, California. "Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa, California." Recognize the quote? If you're a Hitchcock fan, you probably do. It's what "Uncle Charlie" (Joseph Cotton) says to the operator who is taking down his telegraph message to his sister. Uncle Charlies, a serial killer, is about to pay a visit to his sister and her family in the quiet, peaceful little town of Santa Rosa.

From what I've read, Santa Rosa has changed a lot since Hitchcock filmed Shadow of a Doubt on location. An earthquake in 1969 destroyed many of the downtown buildings that were there in 1943. But, still, I am drawn to the place. It's rather like the fascination that I developed with Seattle after seeing "Here's Comes the Bride" on television. The series was about early Seattle and had nothing at all to do with Seattle in the 20th century, but I wanted to see the "greenest grass" and "bluest sky" I'd ever seen. I ended up spending 2 years in Seattle.

I certainly don't expect to move to Santa Rosa. But as a writer, I do think that it's important to follow "leads" – the ideas and the places that resonant in your head and heart. I've never gone wrote doing that. I always find a use for research I do after someone makes a passing reference to something that sounds intriguing. Or, when the idea of seeing a place makes me want to hop on a plane and be off. That happened some time ago when I first heard Joseph Cotton say, "Santa Rosa". It happened again when I was doing research on the Stanford website and saw mention of a "public tour". Public tour, oh, yes! Even though I live on the other side of the country.

I'll report back in May about what I found. I think somehow both lab and small town are going to end up influencing both the mystery I'm working on and my academic research. At any rate, like a good sleuth, I intend to follow my nose.

1 comment:

Toe Hallock said...

Ms. Bailey: I know the movie you're talking about. Never realized it was filmed on location. And didn't remember it was Alfred Hitchcock. But, I do recall the great job Teresa Wright did in playing the niece who was at first attracted to Uncle Charlie's easy-going ways. That was only the beginning. Later, she became more and more confused, concerned, and finally, frightened as his actions became increasingly sinister. Love your avatar idea. Yours truly, Toe.