One of the biggest differences between the two main projects I’m juggling is the setting. My small town love story is set in the present day on earth and the the sequel to THE DARK PROVINCE is set in a fantasy world out of our reach. To stretch this contrast even more, the world of my small town love story is modeled after a town just 35 minutes east of where I live—on the edge of the southeastern California desert. The cool thing about this is that it allows me to visit on occasion to gain inspiration. Of course everything I describe in my work is imagined however there is something amazing about physically standing on “the set” and imagining where my characters walk, play, and work.
Here are a few photos from a recent visit that I thought would be enlightening to share and give a breath of how this type of visit can generate inspiration.
“There’s something about a town where stores most people would recognize are far and few between.”
The road into town begins with a secluded drive off the interstate. One of the things I love most about this town, like so many small towns around the world, is that nobody’s heard of it. Consider the energy of that; consider what that can represent. There is a sense of privacy inherent in a story set in a place that a relative few have heard of or been to. It can feed a sense of intimacy and at the same time a sense of isolation for the characters. This being a love story about childhood friends that come of age a little late in their lives, I get the benefit of both.
“He chose the mountains that rose toward the sky beyond the town to anchor his frustration and let the words come to him.”
This mountain range guides your drive into town and hovers above the flat desert city. It can be seen from virtually anywhere you stand giving the tiny community an even greater feeling of being hidden. The mountains feel like the walls of a fortress keeping its secrets. In the summer they are bold, arid structures of stone that rise from the desert floor. In the winter they are dressed in green and at times adorned with a misting of fresh snow in the highest elevations.
“If you haven’t played the game of basketball in desert heat, you haven’t truly played the game. The sun nearly scolds your brow and the concrete is like the devil on your shins.”
The main characters, Carlton and Libby, are childhood friends. They’ve spent a great amount of their adolescence right here on this basketball court in the town’s main park. There is nothing glamorous here. Dusty desert soil covers the edges; there are no lines on the backboard. The rims don’t always have nets on them. Glamour, however, never measures how much a place can be called home.
“Morgan’s taxi turned onto Main Street where her glad eyes welcomed more of the same—an antique mall that was less like a mall and more like a pair of Siamese storefronts.”
These antique shops are the centerpiece of the main thoroughfare through the old part of town. They are part of an ensemble of unique, locally owned storefronts that welcome Morgan to town. She is the most significant supporting character, and the lone outsider in the story. With her comes a more objective viewpoint of the setting. I feel that her appreciation for the community’s hidden quality helps to seal off the outside world and reveal its true warmth.
“Do you miss her? I mean, outside of the saintly stuff—do you ever just wish she was still right there at home where you could go and talk to her?”
Estelle “Stella” Trubaker, Carlton’s mother, is something of a town legend. She died when he was eight. Stella was the founder of a children’s home located in the old part of town. With Libby having grown up in that home, Stella is the most intimate thing that she and Carlton share in common. But their memory of the saintly woman differs greatly. While Libby remembers Stella clearly—her face, her voice, the old soul songs she used sing to herself during visits to the home—Carlton has no memory of her at all.
Whether you build your world from scratch, chose a distant land you’ve never visited, or your own hometown you’ve spent most of your life in, choosing a setting is one of the purest joys a writer gets to experience. If it’s based on a nearby town that intrigues you, consider a day trip or even spending a night (I’ve done that too!). If it isn’t nearby, search the internet for pictures from the city or town. If it doesn’t exist on this earth but instead a fantasy world, you can still search online for architecture in real life or fantasy art that you feel a connection to.
Happy location scouting!