Monday, August 23, 2010

Mystery door

Who knows what this little door is for? It measures about 11x5 inches.
I noticed it recently, which doesn't say a lot about my observational skills. But, in fairness and defensiveness, I will say it's located outside the back door of my apartment, which I rarely use. And that's the neighbor's planter, so it's not like I've been watering a plant and ignoring completely a mystery door. Okay, enough mea culpa.
I live in a gorgeous, Spanish-style building, built in the 1920s, with a courtyard, so I usually go in-and-out along the red-painted path (pictured below).
After I noticed it, I pondered this door and then it came to me what its purpose must have been...

In the early part of the 20th century, people received lots of home deliveries. Since the little door is located off the kitchen, I believe it was so the milkman could put bottles inside and not leave them to the elements. How cool would that be, to get up in the morning and find fresh milk waiting? No trip to the store necessary.
Besides the fun of discovery, this little light-bulb moment made me realize how important the small details are in our stories. We may not be writing historical fiction, but creating environments that come across as authentic is necessary even in fantasy, sci-fi or dystopian fiction.
Perhaps a check list would be a good tool in order to avoid assuming our world is their world. How do our characters get milk? What do they read and in what format? What's on their feet and why? Are there hairdressers? Do they sleep on mattresses or something else? What if their eyesight is poor? Are there musical instruments?
The list could go on and on, but I hope the little door will remind me to be more attentive to the small things that make a world go round.


Jennifer Shirk said...

Oh, that's so true. I don't think I spend enough time on those little details but I really appreciate it when an author does. :)

Claudia said...

Hi Tricia,
Thanks for sharing this story. I absolutely love Spanish-style houses/buildings, especially those with the courtyard in the middle and big porches or terraces. The mystery door, hmmm, as a writer, I could come up with a dozen ways for usage. Life is a mystery itself and if we could unlock all its secrets then it wouldn't be life. But your explanation of how this small door was used at the beginning of the 20th century makes sense. ;)
Claudia @

Char said...

i've heard that before about the doors. it makes sense - i love your pondering about it.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I love this post Tricia- your questions just prompted a detail for one of my secondary characters.

Minutiae can be important for world-building. I'm guilty of ignoring them until I have to fact check- did the Egyptians have candles? Did they sleep on mattresses?

Wen Baragrey said...

For some reason, and I know it's miles off, but your apartment building reminds me of the Mission Hotel in Riverside. Not sure why, probably just the shape. It looks gorgeous though!

I love mystery doors. We had one in one of our apartments when I was a kid. It turned out it led into the attic, but we hadn't realized. It was definitely the coolest door ever!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jennifer: I was recently listening to the audio version of Neil Gaimon's Stardust, and I kept being blown away with the wonderful detail that pulled me deeper into this other place.

Claudia: Hi and welcome. This apartment is so lovely inside, too, with hardwood floors, arched doorways and tiled areas.

Char: I lean toward pondering. ;)

Stephanie: Yay! I love that I promted something with my ponderings. :D

Wen: Not miles off at all! I live just blocks from the Mission Inn. How do you know that hotel? It is truly an amazing place.
As for mystery doors, there are some crazy ones at the Winchester Mystery House in California. It was built by an heiress to fortune made from guns. She kept trying to outrun and outsmart the spirits with crazy building.

VR Barkowski said...

How could I resist a mystery door? Love the idea it's for milk. Did you open it? Is there just a cubby? It is just this sort of detail that intrigues and brings a story to life.

Unknown said...

This is just such a cool post.

And I love how you related it to writing. Writers do that all the time, don't they?

I've been reading historical fiction the last two days, and thru that novel I realized the point you're making here: the details, the details.

Thanks for posting this.

Jade said...

I was hoping it was for leprechauns. Oh, well.

Paul C said...

Wonderful post. It's the small details that can bring richness and depth to writing, and possibly a great image.

storyqueen said...

Love your little door! I remember the milk man leaving milk when I was we all just have to go to the store.

You are right, of course, it's the little things that often make a story ring true.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

VR: Isn't it fun? I tried to open it but it's sealed in some way--probably because the doors aren't used anymore or for safety precautions. The inside wall is plastered over it, but it's near enough the floor that there could have been a ledge or the bottles could have been set down without problem. Of course, this is a guess on my part. I'm letting my imagination fly.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Damyanti: Thank you so much! There is so much to juggle when writing a novel, it makes my head spin. While the plotline and character development are the most important elements in keeping a novel strong, the details make it rich and real.

Jade: Ha! Of course, they might curdle the milk. :D

Hi Paul: Thank you. You're so right.

Shelley: Isn't the door a wonder? I loved that moment of spying it and thinking, 'whatever can that be?'

Jemi Fraser said...

My grandfather used to deliver milk (via horse and buggy no less) in Scotland. Every home had one :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jemi!!!! Really? So the little doors are for milk? I'm quite excited. And I love that bit about your grandfather. I think you should write some story surrounding that. :D

Davin Malasarn said...

That's so cool, Tricia! I remember once I was at a friend's house and we found a little door like this inside that he had never noticed before. It was so odd to open it and reach inside and try to think of what had been in it before. I'm often jealous of the times when people had milk delivered to them in glass bottles every morning!

Bish Denham said...

It's an Alice in Wonderland door. It could go anywhere, even into another universe or a different dimension. And you are so right about paying attention to those little details.

Tere Kirkland said...

Thought provoking post, Pat. It's funny how something like a door can act as a window to another time. Better yet, it can spark the imagination of tons of writers, all in unique directions!


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Domey aka Davin: You had me going for a minute. I thought does Davin have a brother? I like you by any name. :) And how cool you found a little door, too! I love exploring old buildings.

Bish: It is at the moment a sealed door,which makes it more intriguing, doesn't it? The little passage to another world. I love that.

Tere: Great way of putting it--a window to another time. It's one of the wonders of being a writer, exploring all these possibilities, isn't it?

MG Buehrlen said...

I love this post. It's so true. And I immediately went through your checklist and patted myself on the back for already knowing those things about my world. (I don't give myself pats on the back very often, so this deserved a comment.) Your building is beautiful!

Donna said...

Lovely doorway to mystery.

Claire Dawn said...

This is something that's missing from my work. I always notice when other authors casually mention passing things. It fleshes out the world so beautiful. My world is sadly, still black and white.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

MG: Ah, gotta love the pats on the back, and good for you!

Donna: Thank you.

Claire: Awareness is the first step. I find that there is plenty of time in revision to add layers and bring the reader deeper in to story.

Linda Kage said...

There's this door set in the side of a small hill and half hidden by some trees along a roadside about 30 miles from where I live. Every time I passed it, I always wondered what that door led to.

My husband finally told me the area is full of old mine land, and it probalby led into a mine from the early 1900s.

Angela Ackerman said...

I love doors, I really do. They are often story sparkers for me. You should find the landlord and see if he knows for sure, or if he can open it. I like your explanation tho--that makes perfect sense.

BTW, I am still revising and just had to stop by and make sure you and everyone else was aware of your awesomeness. Thank you so much for your crit on my WIP. I don't know what I would do without you!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Linda: OOoooo, I love secret doors in hillsides. I found one in San Clemente. It's a rusted mesh door in a sandstone cliff. I'm sure there's some logical explanation, but I prefer to imagine something magical. I have a photo on this blog of it called Secret Door Too.

Angela: There's something about a mystery door that does spark the imagination. That little door is sealed, though, probably after they stopped using them.
Thank you so much for such kind words. *blushes*

Robyn Campbell said...

Dang it! You live in a beautiful area, Pat. I loved looking at the red-painted path and thinking about how many times you walk down it musing.

The little door is very interesting. And I would love to wake up to a fresh milk delivery every morning.

And you're right on about creating authentic environments. That is something I have had to work on repeatedly.

I hope the little door will make me more attentive, too. Thanks, great post pal-o-mine. ^_^

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

*waves at Robyn* pal-o-mine, ha! Do you have horses on the brain, my dear?
I do love the beauty of this apartment but the area is toooooo hot. Today is about 108. Yuck.
But I have little doors to escape into and a trusty AC unit.

Suzanne Casamento said...

First, your building is gorgeous!

I love the idea of fresh milk in the morning! I think your milk theory is a strong one regarding use of the little door.

And I love how you related the door to your writing. You're absolutely right about the importance of details. Thanks for the reminder.

Paul Greci said...

I like that little door!!

I think those little details can help ground the reader in a story.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Suzanne: Thank you. I love the building and just wish I could transport it closer to the beach. Le sigh.

Paul: Thank you, too! It is grounding, for sure. It gives a sense of a real place.

Barrie said...

There's something very intriguing about that little door.