Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about setting. Location, location, location. Some books provide such a rich description of the setting, I feel like I’ve been there. Or make me WANT to go there. Remember Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? I longed to go to Savannah for months after reading that one.
Thanks to Joyce, I’m currently on a Julia Spencer-Fleming kick. I want to write like her when I grow up. She makes me believe I know that rural community of Miller Kill as well as if I’d grown up there.
My current work in progress is set in a fictionalized version of my own rural township. I fictionalized it so I could borrow bits and pieces of neighboring communities and throw them in without being lambasted by the locals. There are a lot of family farms and old coal mining towns. I noticed the names of the kids in the homecoming courts. The last names are the same as the kids I went to school with. There isn’t a lot of emigration. Even less immigration. Everyone knows everything about everybody. Or so they think. Which makes this place the perfect location for my story.
Getting more specific, there is a house that tends to show up in every novel I write. I moved it to West Virginia for the two manuscripts set there, and now it’s back in its original Pennsylvania home. This particular house has been the residence for two of my protagonists.
Totally selfish reasons. I grew up in this house. It was my grandparents’ home and my great-grandparents’ before them. In its day, it was a showplace. And that’s how I wish to remember it. So, I write it like that. In two stories, I had the protagonist refurbishing the house. In my current story, a different protagonist lives in half of the house, sharing it with the elderly owners of the place.
Here’s what it looked like over 80 years ago.
Here's a picture of my brother celebrating Christmas in the house, early 1950s.
And here’s what it looked like back in the 70’s.
That's me in the yellow pants in the last one. And that’s how I want to hold it in my memory. Not the way it looks today.
I intended to slip inside and photograph the room the birthday party pictures were taken in. But I’m a chicken. With holes in the floor and gaps in the ceilings and roof, I chose to stay outside. Especially since I was by myself. No one to rescue me if I ended up in the basement with the house collapsing around me. Trust me. It doesn’t look anything like it used to.
My grandparents’ farmhouse isn’t the only thing I revive from the Great Beyond in my stories. The cats and horses in my manuscripts are all based on those I’ve loved and lost throughout the years. It’s my way of immortalizing them…of keeping them a little closer to my heart. Sometimes I change their names. Sometimes I don’t. I’m not sure WHY I changed their names. They aren’t about to sue me.
Maybe I’ll change them back.
Do any of you use sentimental locations or pets or even long lost loved ones in your works? And how do you choose your setting? Do you pick it because it’s a place you know well or because it fits your story? Or both?