If you’ve heard any shouting from the rooftops lately, it might have been me. I’m not admitting to anything, you understand, but I do have a new book out today (Fangtabulous, the fourth book in my Vamped series). I, uh, might have been a little vocal in my excitement. For a visual demonstration, I refer you to Daffy Duck.
Anyhoo, I’m going to go on with my guest blog here at Magical Words and pretend I’m not thinking “Why are you sitting around reading this when you can be reading Fangtabulous RIGHT NOW! You don’t even have to leave your seat if you prefer to download straight to your e-reader.” But, er hum, I’m very carefully not saying any of that out loud. Decision is totally up to you, of course.
So, what do I want to talk about today? Settings. I don’t know about you, but I see my books as movies playing out in my head. If I can’t visualize my scene, I can’t write it. The cameras stop rolling. The pen stops flying across the page. If need be, I’ll turn to on-line resources trying to find obscure things like what the parking lot looks like at the Wave Organ in San Francisco and whether the walk from there to the Organ is paved and, if so, with crushed shells, asphalt, loose stone, what? As you might imagine, people don’t generally go around taking pictures of parking lots and posting them on-line. Even asking someone who’s been there might not help, because people don’t necessarily take mental note of these things. They’re just not important…until you have to write about them. This is why there’s no better tool than first hand observation. To an author in full-on research mode no detail is too small. You never know what you’re going to use.
Take, for instance, Salem, Massachusetts, my setting for Fangtabulous (oops, there it is). I knew I wanted to set my novel there—where else could fanged fugitives have any hope of blending in?—but I’d never been there. I only had the merest glimmer of a plot in mind when I took my trip, something about unsettled and deeply dangerous spirits. But the town itself inspired and informed everything after that. For one, just getting out of the car and walking the rain dampened streets of Salem town gave me goose bumps. I’ve never believed in ghosts or hauntings, as much as I might like to read about them, but here…the history was so alive that it was easy to believe that the participants in that history might still be hanging around as well. I went everywhere I could think of, from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables to the Witch House where one of the trial judges interrogated suspects, to the Witch Dungeon, the Witch History Museum, the Old Burying Point Cemetery and many more places. I took a ghost tour. I bought books. But best of all, I had a native guide, a friend of mine, Don “Vlad” Deich, who performs a gothic magic show (much like a certain character in the new book), who was able to tell me things I wouldn’t learn on any tour, like about the Old Jail, which had been turned into luxury apartments, or about how Salem is almost a ghost town after Halloween (and not so busy in the months leading up to October, when there’s, of course, a huge boom).
Settings are so important to the reality of a book. Sometimes a place with a lot of character practically becomes a character all by itself. I can’t stress enough how much I recommend firsthand research and primary sources whenever possible. Also, If you’re using someplace as a setting, you can’t go as a tourist. It helps to get the insight of insiders whether you befriend and interview people on the spot or come prepared with a native guide.
And there are my two cents.
(Note: any Salem inaccuracies you might see in Fangtabulous are mine and mine alone. I will admit to having to use my imagination on a couple of locations I was unable to scout first hand.)