Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Kathleen S. Allen

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Kathleen S. Allen, author of Aine and Faerie Folk

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Hi, I am Kathleen S. Allen. I write Young Adult fantasy. My favourite setting has to be Ireland, where I set both of my faerie books, Aine and the sequel, Faerie Folk. I am enamoured of Ireland. I have never been there but I feel a connection to the country.

I began researching my family’s history and found out my great-great grandmother came from Ireland. She was sent to America at the age of sixteen on a ship during the potato famine and met and married a Bavarian man on the ship. The captain of the ship married them and she ended up settling in Ohio and had eleven children. She had a younger sister who stayed in Ireland and parents who also stayed. That’s all the information I could find out about her. I wondered, why was she the only one to leave Ireland? Why not the younger sister, too? I thought maybe the younger sister was ill or had died. I have no idea what happened to her parents.

For Aine I researched Irish legends and came across the Iegend of the Irish Goddess, Aine, I talk about it in Aine. The legend fascinated me so I decided to write a story about the legend and incorporate it with the legend of the Irish banshee. I have always loved the coast and the ocean, so putting Aine and Faerie Folk on the coast of Ireland was a given. I used the legend of Merlin bringing the Stonehenge stones–called the Giant’s Dance or the Great Stones of Ireland to Stonehenge–in a more recent book.

Let’s take a tour of my ideal setting. First I travel up the coast of Ireland just outside of Galway–where I teach creative writing at the National University of Ireland in Galway–to a small thatched roof whitewashed cottage off the main road but accessible. There are emerald green fields surrounding the cottage on three sides, one of these leads to a cliff above the sea. There is a small garden out front filled with vegetables and at least two cats roaming around. Inside the wooden floors gleam as I walk into the living room. There is a working fireplace, comfy chairs and along each wall are built-in bookcases filled with books. An old fashioned wooden desk sits under a window where I do my writing. On one side of the desk is my laptop, and on the other is a teapot under a tea cozy. Continuing to the kitchen I find a spacious kitchen with a white farmhouse style sink, cupboards and a breakfast nook that overlooks the garden where a small wooden table with four chairs sit waiting for my next meal. Down the hall is the loo with a working hot shower, and I come to the bedrooms at the back of the cottage. The guest bedroom is small, big enough for two single beds and a dresser with a small wardrobe. The master bedroom is slightly larger with room for a queen-sized bed, a dresser and a wardrobe. There is a cozy window seat that overlooks the side that faces the sea and the blue water sparkles as the sunlight glints off of it. It is my favourite place to read, if I can get the cats off of it! The laundry room is also in the back with a full size washer and dryer. Out the back door I walk to the cliff to look out over the sea and spy stairs leading down to the beach below. As I go down the stairs I begin to hear the cries of the seals that populate the coast. Their sound goes right through to my heart and I catch my breath. Taking off my shoes I wade in the still cold water, watching the waves as they wash over my feet. The seals float off shore watching me as I walk the beach but they are not afraid because I do this nearly every day and they are used to my presence. There is no place lovelier on earth than the coast of Ireland and I rejoice that I have found my paradise, at last.

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A big thank you to Kathleen S. Allen for sharing this guest blog about her ideal setting. To find out more about her and her writing, visit her website www.gaelicfairie.webs.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter as @kathleea. Kathleen’s next book, Lore Of Fei, will be published in April 2012.

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Paul Kater

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Paul Kater, author of Hilda – Lycadea

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Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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” ‘Almost there’ meant another hour of walking and a more frequent handing over of cats from one to another, through an environment that was changing very rapidly. They had just walked past a few groups of trees, when they entered a forest with humongously big trees. Everyone, except the two natives, had their head on a swivel, trying to see all the high treetops, or discover what animals up there were making a cacophony of sounds.”

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So where is this place with a cacophony of sounds? It is in Yucatan, Mexico, in the forest that surrounds Playa del Carmen. I was in Playa for a vacation, to do as little as possible, but I had to do ‘something’. So I went along on a trip through the immensely dense forest there.

My home has forests, and for that I am very grateful. But the forests in Mexico are breathtaking. First because they are so huge, high, dense. Second because it is so hot and humid there and walking around then really takes your breath away. I have always felt at home around trees and in wood, so the trip to this area was a treat. Because it is so far away from home (I live in the Netherlands, Europe) the difference in the kind of forest was already fabulous. I knew I could use this feeling in my writing somewhere. Later that day, back at the hotel, I immediately wrote down my experiences and feelings, so they would not get lost.

The smell of the forest was amazing. Different. The air was rich, sweet and also permeated with the smell of rotting things, but not in a repulsive way. It is part of nature, and nature does not always look or smell great.

The walk through the woods there was guided by locals who apparently were as close to real Maya ancestors as one can get. Small people but amazingly friendly and helpful. These people made such an impression on me that I had to use them in the story as well. There were sounds of animals unseen, shreeks, quacks and toots. Monkeys hung in the high trees, observing us as we observed them. Really, everyone in the group was looking around.

Yes, that was something I had to capture, if only a little bit, so I took in as much as I could. The guides had fun taking everyone back through a part of the forest that was extremely dense. That caused this bit to happen:

“Hilda wondered how mountains could be hard to find, but the two were right: they had to travel through a part of forest where the trees were growing so close together that it was impossible to know where you were going unless you knew where you were going.”

That forest is not my home. It will never be my home. But the sheer overwhelming sensation of walking there, realising for myself that I was walking in an as yet unspoilt part of nature with all its smell, sounds and so many shades of green is something that I will never lose.

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A big thank you to Paul Kater, from Cuijk, Netherlands, author of Hilda – Lycadea for sharing this guest blog about Playa del Carmen, Mexico. To find out more about Paul’s writing, visit his website http://paulkater.wordpress.com or visit him at his blog http://www.nlpagan.net/.

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Jim Murdoch

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Jim Murdoch, author of Living With The Truth, Stranger Than Fiction, and the soon to be released Milligan And Murphy

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 A Country Road. A Tree. Evening.

A place for everything, everything in its placeBenjamin Franklin

Writers are frequently asked to talk about what inspires them. It’s a difficult question for me to answer because I don’t believe in inspiration, not in any Romantic sense of the word and I never talk about my muse. I believe in ideas. My definition of inspiration is a good idea. And I can get a good idea anywhere.

I had a religious upbringing. It didn’t do me any harm but I can’t say my world view has not been affected by what I was taught. I never really got churches, though. Or graveyards. The idea that you need to go to a specific location to talk to a god or to remember your loved ones never made sense to me. You never got Jesus dashing off to the synagogue so he could commune with his heavenly father and why would I want to drive forty-odd miles to stand around in a graveyard my parents never went near in their lives simply to remember them?

I’m not big on place. That doesn’t mean I’ve never been to places. I have. Loads. And what I learned from going to all those different places is that none of them is that different. I’m sure I inherited that attitude from my father who never wanted to go anywhere. He used to say, and I never argued with him, that “contentment is being happy with whatever you had at any given point in time.” He never said, “…and space,” but that was implied.

There is, of course, no right way to be a writer. As a young boy in sixties Scotland I was exposed to the poetry of fellow Scots Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns along with a selection of English poets like Wordsworth, Tennyson and John Masefield. By the time I got to secondary school I was sick to the back teeth of babbling brooks, vagabonds and fields of daffodils and it took the war poetry of Wilfred Owen and the bleak verse of Philip Larkin to make me realise that there was much more to this poetry malarkey than nature poems. The poem that made all the difference to me was ‘Mr Bleaney’ by Philip Larkin and one of the things I liked about it was its descriptions. The poem opens:

This was Mr Bleaney’s room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him. Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land?
Tussocky, littered. ‘Mr Bleaney took
My bit of garden properly in hand’
Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags —
I’ll take it.

His depiction of the room is reduced to a checklist and I liked that; it respected me as a reader and allowed me to use my own imagination. One of my personal writing edicts is: Say what you have to say and get off the page. That doesn’t mean all I write is flash fiction but it does mean I’m come to appreciate how little you can get away with when it comes to descriptions.

Have you ever seen the film Dogville? Essentially it’s all filmed on a sound stage. The buildings of the town are represented by a series of simple white outlines on the floor and a church spire suspended above the ground. Even the eponymous ‘dog’ is present only as an outline. No dramatic backdrops, or exquisite realistic period trimmings. All you are left to look at are a few tables and chairs. Oh, and the actors. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I loved it.

When Amy asked me to write this article she suggested I include a section of my own writing. It wasn’t easy but I came up with this description from my first novel:

The town of Rigby had been built piecemeal over the years. It nestled itself uncomfortably in a sheltered escarpment not quite the archetypal seaside town it purported to be. But it did its best. Its architecture ran the full gamut from the seventeenth century on, though you’d be hard pushed to call what remained from that time Georgian. They were functional cottages when they were built; practical. Now, they were empty, but no one would commit to doing away with them out of some misplaced sentimentality. Most of the residential part of the town was of solid Victorian stock, though they’d been building ever since. It always smelled of paint and seaweed. It had a cenotaph with eighty-three names on it (eighty-four if you counted the graffito), a sizeable park complete with pitch and putt, a duck pond (but no ducks) and a statue of someone long-forgotten covered in bird-do. There were public baths, innumerable guest houses and B&B’s, a retirement home or two and a Town Hall, with a library grafted on at the rear. Its promenade was an austere place on days like this, when the holiday crowd was back working away wherever they came from. Most of the shops had been boarded up for the winter and it seemed like winter was getting earlier every year and lasting longer. He half-expected that one year they’d forget to open up at all and no one would notice. The shorefront was comprised of a huge arc bordered by a great stone wall a yard across. He’d walked the length of that more times than he cared to remember.

That description was not in the first draft of the novel and it was a chore to write. All I said in that first draft was that Rigby was a seaside town in the north of England and really that says it all especially if you make the connection to the Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby – “All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?” To my mind that’s all the information you need to conjure up the town in your own mind. It’s really an amalgam of every seaside town I visited as a child, although, I suppose, primarily the Scottish towns of Ayr, Troon, Saltcoats, Ardrossan and Largs. That said, I’ve seen enough films and programmes on TV to realise that there’s much of a muchness about all seaside towns, places to retire to and die, take for example the titular town in the recent BBC series, Sugartown (Filey) or the resort in the Michael Caine vehicle, Is Anybody There? (Chalfont St. Giles which also doubled as Walmington-on-Sea in Dad’s Army). But I could never say that any of those places inspired me. I needed to have my protagonist live somewhere and that was the right kind of place to put him.

My third novel is set almost exclusively in a park. The park I used as a model was the one at the end of my street, Victoria Park in Glasgow, but very little of the actual park makes it into the book, for instance:

The pond was shaped like a giant kidney bowl. It was something he noted every time he came to it. He also remembered that the Bible said the kidneys were the seat of the deepest emotions, not the heart.

The pond is not shaped like a kidney bowl. I wanted to include the remark about the kidneys and so the shape of the pond changed. I also added benches because I needed a bench for my protagonist to sit on. The swans were there already though. Bottom line, it could have been any park anywhere; I never mention it my name nor do I even say what city he is in not that it’s hard to work out.

Most of the action in my last novel takes place in the flat I live in at the present. It gets a makeover in the novel but the structure is still the same: three bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. Not that I do much describing of anything. All we learn about the protagonist’s bedroom, for example, is that when her father moved house (while she was at university) he had taken photos of the layout and replicated the room to the best of his ability in his new flat. The only things I even mention are in the room are her bed and an Eyes of Laura Mars poster that she decides is creepy now and needs to go.

If I was to think of a word to cover all my writing, the poetry, the stories and the novels I’d probably go with ‘chamber pieces.’ Okay, that’s two words. The road that the two brothers walk down in Milligan and Murphy is just a road. I don’t even mention that the road is in Ireland. It’s obvious where it is and why state the obvious?

So do I have places that I have an attachment to? Not so much. I accept that there are different mes depending on who I am with but I’ve never been able to perceive a different me based on where I am.

Bioregional animist psychology is focused on a concept of oneness, not unity per se but specifically oneness as unity indicates there are two things that are united or BECOME one. The difference on this point lays in that you do not become what you already are but you can become aware of what you are. – Self and Place, Bioregional Animism, 9 July 2010

I get that. I could wander down to the Clyde and watch the water and enjoy a few minutes of calm but I think too much can be made of the physical journey and location. Why can’t I simply imagine being there? I have access to that level of awareness anywhere. What if the Clyde wasn’t there or Wordworth’s Lake District or R.S. Thomas’ Wales? What if they’d been born in Brisbane or Seattle and I’d been born in Johannesburg?

Place is unavoidable unless you write purely dialogue and the more I write the more I’m drawn to that mode of expression. My radio play, Vladimir and Estragon are Dead, for example, takes place in limbo – there are only the two characters, no props, no scenery – and in my novel, Left, a large section of the book takes place in cyberspace and is presented as a simple chat log. I’m not the first writer to do that kind of thing, in fact entire novels have been written as pure dialogue: Delores Claiborne, by Stephen King is one that might surprise most people – the story opens with a quote that does not close until the very last page of the book – but there have been other novels written in dialogue before: Nicholson Baker’s Vox springs to mind, although it’s not completely in dialogue, and there’s also Corey Mesler’s Talk. I’ve personally written two short stories completely in dialogue, ‘Just Thinking’, which was published in The Ranfurly Review and ‘Ugly Truths’ which appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears. It’s quite refreshing actually to be able to forget about those boring descriptive passages.

I don’t think writers who feel the need to go to specific places to charge up are weird. Okay, I do think they’re a little weird but I respect their right to be weird just as I understand that there are those writers who need to write with their lucky typewriters (just ask Isaac Bashevis Singer or Cormac McCarthy about that). It takes all sorts to make a world. We need poets who know how to write a decent haiku and storytellers whose verse can quieten a class of eight-year-olds, we need writers who can recreate a place on a bit of paper for all of those who will never have the chance to visit and we need writers capable of unflinching inner vision, too.

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A big thank you to Jim Murdoch, from Glasgow, Scotland, author of Living With The Truth, Stranger Than Fiction, and the soon to be released Milligan And Murphy for sharing this guest blog about the use of setting. To find out more about Jim and his writing, visit his website http://www.jimmurdoch.co.uk/, his blog http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.com/, and follow him on twitter as Jim_Murdoch.

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Jonathan Gould

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Jonathan Gould, author of Doodling.

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In front of the water-wall at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia

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 Doodling 

Neville looked around. High above, the lights of the stars twinkled. To his left, a comet flashed past. To his right, a sudden blaze of brightness flared, a distant supernova. It was a beautiful sight. An everlasting silent night.

Suddenly Neville was overcome by a feeling of peace. No more desperately rushing to keep up. No more frantically clinging on for dear life. Neville didn’t need the world anymore. He was free.

He looked around and noticed a stream of lights gliding past. Asteroids, some glowing like small planets, others seemingly no bigger than a teapot. Suddenly Neville had an idea. He would find himself an asteroid and make it his home. One that was not too big or too small, just comfortable. Then he could start again, from scratch. He would fashion for himself a new world. A world that worked exactly the way he wanted it to. And then, at last, he could get down to the important business of just being Neville.

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Doodling is an absurdly comic novella about a man (Neville Lansdowne) who falls off the world – because the world is moving too fast for him. As described in the excerpt above, he then finds himself floating in the middle of an asteroid field which provides the setting for the remainder of the story.

Obviously, while asteroid fields are a genuine phenomenon, my setting does not refer to a real location. It’s something that came out of my head, but that does not make it any less special. The idea for the story originally came from a comment my wife made, that she was finding things moving too quickly for her. My overactive imagination took hold and I began thinking of what would happen if the world moved so quickly that someone actually fell off. Where exactly would that leave them? And that’s when the idea of the asteroid field came in.

What I really liked about using this location was the way it allowed me to have a couple of levels of characterisation. Many of the asteroids had a kind of personality of their own. In particular, there’s one that becomes known as the Aimless Asteroid, because it seems to wander here, there and everywhere, that definitely seems to be become a character in itself, a bit like a lost dog.

The second level of characterisation refers to the actual people who live in the asteroid field (and let’s face it, it wouldn’t be much of a story if there was nobody else there). Many of the characteristics of the people Neville meets are very-much defined by the features of the asteroid they live on. The Aimless Asteroid is a good example as the girl Neville finds there is similarly aimless. Another asteroid is particularly featureless and boring but the couple who reside there have found some highly unusual ways of dealing with that (but I’m not going to tell you what they are).

So the asteroid field as a location turned out to be a really rich source for characterisation. What also worked really well was the space (space – get it!) for satirical observation that it allowed. As a fantastical location, it allowed me to open up a bit of a window on the kind of pointless, silly things that we people get up to in the real world. The ideas for the various asteroids I created came from a variety of sources, for example current events, things I read in other books, or sometimes just random inspiration, coupled later on with the need to generate a couple of extra characters to get the story finished.

But what was particularly interesting was the way readers responded to the various characters and situation within this location. Some readers, obviously on a similar wavelength to me, were able to recognise some of these ideas and it was fascinating to see them described back to me in reviews. But other people came up with wholly different ideas to explain what was happening, which I thought was great. Reading a book is a personal experience and readers have no obligation to interpret things in only one way. As a writer, it’s a wonderful thing to see readers ascribing different meanings to my words and really makes me feel like I’ve created something with some level of depth.

So that’s a little something about how place is an important element in my story. In my case it’s an imaginary space, an internal one that originally belonged to me alone. But as my book has gone out to the world, it now belongs uniquely to each of my readers as well.

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A big thank you to Jonathan Gould from Melbourne, Australia for sharing this guest blog about an asteroid field, the setting for Doodling. For more of the story, read the sample at Amazon and visit Jonathan’s blog here: http://daglit.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter as @jonno_go.

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Shaun Allan

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Shaun Allan, author of Sin.

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Sin

But hey-ho daddy-o, it’s off to hell we go. Free will – or was it Free Will, Will being William, or Bill to his friends, a man locked up in prison for the past ten years for a crime he didn’t commit? Anyway, free will was looking to be pretty scarce at the moment. My will certainly hadn’t been free whilst in the mental home (maybe it had been locked up with Bill) and it had been hijacked by my sister since then. I felt as if I was just along for the ride and wished I’d had the foresight to strap myself in.

Still, whether I was being dramatic or not, I had to take a deep breath and steel myself before stepping over. I’d been in there more times than I could remember when I was young. The Seven Hills were an adventure and a dare for a kid, and I’d had plenty of both. My courage, or innocence, had faded with the passing years, however. I could tell myself that it was only a sense of the danger in walking on such uneven ground in the darkness that was making me wary. I could tell myself that, but I didn’t necessarily believe it.

Something else waited for me and I was letting the ghost of my dead sister lead me to it. I was walking into a cellar, with a light that didn’t work, and I was ignoring the streaks of blood on the walls and the sinister scratching sounds from below.

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They say write what you know.

It’s an interesting premise, though I’m not sure it always works. Did Tolkien have experience of fantastical creatures? Or Rowling of wizards and wizarding school? Maybe they did. And that’s, perhaps, a contributing factor to their vast success. Does Rowling have a fringe hiding a certain lightning bolt scar?

I read a book once, by Clive Barker, where he described a normal town, back alleys and the like. It sounded very much like my own home town, Grimsby. But, to me, Grimsby was so… boring! Nothing happened. I led my life. It was fairly mundane. Work, rest and a little play. There were no alien invasions – and nothing that would warrant so much as a passing glance from one of the heads of a passing ET aboard his (or its) flying saucer.

The town had once been the biggest fishing port in the world. Once. A few years ago the makers of the movie Atonement filmed scenes here – though, to be honest – they were in a rundown part of the old docks. Oh, and it featured in the game Killzone.

But that was later. When I was starting out on my writing journey, back in school and beyond, it was just plain old Grimsby. Grim…  As a child, you’d think the name meant something more suited to your opinion of the place rather than referring to the founder, a man who settled here to protect the heir to a throne from those who might kill him.

So how come Sin, the character in my novel, escapes to here? How come, he could have ended up anywhere (whilst on the run) and still felt the need to return home? Possibly for the same reason I, though I’ve lived in other towns and cities and have come back myself. Because it’s home. And it’s not so grim.

When I was a child, at school, before writing had seriously grabbed me (thanks to a reading of To Kill a Mockingbird by my English Teacher), there was a place called the Seven Hills. It was a plot of wasteland, undeveloped (it has houses covering it now) that was bordered by Cambridge Road, Yarborough Road, Chelsmford Avenue and Littlecoates Road. My schools, infants, juniors and seniors, were all on Cambridge Road, so I walked along it every day. On three sides the Hills were surrounded by houses that backed onto its unkempt borders. The fourth had a low, knee high barrier. That side was, you guessed it, along Cambridge Road.

Rats. Rats the size of small dogs. They roamed wild, breeding, mutating, dining on the limbs of children careless enough to wander in their domain.

Of course that’s rubbish. I don’t doubt there were rats, but that they had grown to such epic proportions and developed a taste for human flesh. Either way, the Seven Hills were legendary. When you stepped over that barrier, you were entering a world where your heart could race faster than you. And if you returned unscathed, you were a hero.

So, when Sin’s dead sister desperately needs to show him something, where else is she meant to take him? Where else would a journey into the belly of the beast begin, other than in the land that developers forgot?

The Seven Hills, alas, are no more. At least when I drive past there’s houses all the way around now. I don’t know if they occupy all of the land that the Hills once covered, but I hope that they don’t. I hope that, right in the middle – a heart still beating – there’s a remnant of the old Hills, where the demon rats are sleeping until the day when they awake, hungry, and fancying leg on toast.

Perhaps Grimsby does have its ‘grim’ side, but in some ways, this can be a good thing.

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A big thank you to Shaun Allan for sharing this guest blog about Grimsby, and Seven Hills, the setting for Sin. To read more of the story, go to http://www.shaunallan.co.uk/sin.html. To read Sin’s diary written from within his asylum, visit http://singularityspoint.blogspot.com

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Jennifer Chase

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Jennifer Chase, author of Dead Game.

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Dead Game – An Emily Stone Novel

The cold Monterey Bay quickly surrounded her petite body as she eased herself further into its icy grip.  She unconsciously took a deep cleansing breath and slowly let out an exhalation.

Fog deftly floated across the boat harbor at Gulls Landing, and then headed east with the usual aranormal flair. The atmospheric ghost continued to gradually suffocate the masts of nearby boats until they were no longer visible.

Her vision obscured only by the heavy coastal evening weather, but she knew the direction she needed to swim. A child’s life depended upon her expertise and there was no time for any mistakes. It was entirely up to her now.

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I refer to the Monterey Bay in California in my novel Dead Game, which is a place where I’ve grown up and find myself gravitating back to its splendid landscapes. The actual “Gulls Landing” was a fictitious town, but you can find many small California coastal communities with boat harbors and small beaches that would fit my description.

Almost every Sunday I take a leisurely drive to this small, quaint coastal town to go for a long walk or watch my dog chase his favorite ball along the beach. It’s a place where I feel comfort and a sense of home especially after a hectic week. I put my busy schedule and to do lists on hold and just relax to breath and smile. It’s definitely not a beach that you’d expect to see many sunbathers, but it’s a place of solace – at least for me.

The seasons subtly change the surroundings as well as affect the level of the surf. I love to examine the understated changes and make a note in my mind at how everything feels, smells, and looks.  It’s a permanent imprint that I can draw upon any time because of my familiarity with it. It’s one of those rare places, at least for me, which I appreciate every time I visit.

I remember the day well when I was walking with my husband and two Labradors that the boat harbor struck me with such a dramatic impression. We had been walking for about forty-five minutes when the fog began to roll in. This time, the fog was extremely heavy, thick, and it looked ominous. As I looked around me, I felt like there was no one else left in the world. It was a strange, but powerful feeling. The boat harbor slowly began to disappear and you could barely see the body of the boats, just the masts.

At the time, I was in the middle of writing Dead Game. Then it struck me! I knew how I wanted to begin the novel with my heroine searching for a missing child. She would stealthily approach the boat where the abductor had the child in the water on a foggy evening. I could feel the chill and loneliness in my bones as I wrote the scene.

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A big thank you to Jennifer Chase for sharing this guest blog about Monterey Bay. To read more of the story placed in this setting, be sure to click the links above or go to www.authorjenniferchase.com.

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Philip van Wulven

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Phil van Wulven, author of Heavy and Light Tales.

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The author sits on the left - Fishhoek 1956

A note about the photo: The couch is covered with a kaross, which is the traditional animal skin blanket used by the Khoisan people of the Cape in the olden days. That one included a piece of skin from a quagga which is (and was then) extinct. Probably dated from the 1850s or so, and made by my great-grandma (I think, could’ve been great-great grandmother).

 *****

Sunbird, a short story from Heavy and Light Tales

They went up the mountain in the morning, when bright sun sparkled on the dewy twigs, the leaf tips and spider webs, and mist rose from the grass and rested in the hollows. They were three together, barefoot boys. They slipped through the seaside bungalows and white fenced gardens to the wild slopes beyond. There was a rough dirt track that led up halfway, and then a footpath through the rocks and  heath, the scent of wild geraniums strong as they brushed by. They had sticks in case of snakes and a bottle of tap water and three oranges, some marbles and a catapult, slingshot to you, made with carefully cut rubber from an old car inner tube. They took turns to carry the provisions, which they were all going to eat later,  but only the two older ones carried the catapult in turn, because  Rich couldn’t shoot properly with it, and what good would it do if he was carrying it and they met a leopard, say, in the middle of the path? Of course nobody had actually seen a leopard around here for a couple of hundred years, but you never knew.

Eland, a short story from Heavy and Light Tales

and also Eland Dances (unpublished)

Right at that moment the wind changed again, blew down the slope at them, carried choking black smoke and a rain of burning debris into the surrounding bush. Several minor fires started up where flaming leaves landed in dry grass, and in a few seconds their feelings of security and eagerness to see more action changed to unease and some apprehension.

“That mother eland won’t come back if it starts to burn here,” said John. “Let’s carry the baby down the hill a bit, where the fire won’t get it.”

They quickly went and picked the little animal up. John crouched down and they draped it over his shoulder with its legs dangling front and back. He said that was a “Fireman’s Lift.” His younger brothers were impressed, as they hadn’t known there was a special way to carry animals when you rescued them from a fire. They would have done it all wrong without their eldest brother.

The mantis came along too, seated comfortably on Peter’s shoulder, with quick side trips over to the baby eland every few minutes. On one of these check-up visits Rich noticed something that looked like a little wasp’s nest stuck to the hair under the buck’s neck, almost invisible in the hollow where the neck and chest merged, “Here’s the mantis’s babies too,” he cried. “Look here, that’s why it was so worried!”

They stopped for a bit and examined this for a few moments while John rested, then Pete picked up the load and they set off again. Soon they reached a smoke free area just uphill from the first houses and stopped again a few yards off the path, out of sight in case that man came back. Here they noticed a single bump in the middle of the baby’s forehead.

“That must be its horn,” said Rich.

“There should be two horns,” said John. “All animals have two horns, if they have horns.”

“Unicorns don’t, they have one horn,” said Pete. “That’s what their name means. Uni means one and I suppose corn means horn.”

*****

We moved to Fishhoek when I was around 4 or maybe 5. I don’t remember. I do know it was the place where I became independently mobile, able to decide to some extent where to go and what to do. The closest to freedom we can experience, with our only responsibility to live and learn.

A place of glory. Curiosity, discovery, trepidation, fear, and growing confidence in myself and in the world and people.

There was the unwavering certainty of home and mother to return to, the seashore and mountain for adventure.

I always had siblings for company, rivalry, role models and to care for. School and the world of grownups and classmates were on the next circle of importance.This was a suburb of Capetown, connected by rail and road with the City as one of the long string of urbanisation around the foot of the mountains and out along the Cape Peninsula. The mountains were wild, a nature reserve then and now, with incredibly diverse and unique vegetation, insects and animals.

There are frogs, flowers, and insects that live nowhere else in the world but their tiny patch of mountain. Along a single stream or during an hour’s walk you can pass through several complete habitats, each unique on our planet.

In the Fifties (yeah, I am that old) no-one had heard of ecology. The Great White sharks in the bay were a danger to humans and to the seals, penguins and calving whales. Like the poisonous snakes, no-one hesitated to kill them.

You learn to be aware of everything around when learning to swim in the surf while sharks hunt seals a few hundred yards offshore.

Some had consideration for the impact we had on nature, so there was a serious effort to save the eggs and nesting habitat of the Ridley turtles on the main beach. The town council debated heatedly, but built a low cement wall to stop sand blowing off the beach onto the main shopping street, and that did what people and dogs digging up the eggs had not quite managed.

My love of the natural world came from this time and place. I also gained some understanding of the conflicts involved in interactions between species, including our own, and between individuals. Trust and compromise were as important for survival as threats and fangs.

There was a degree of freedom and security in the community that seems lost to later generations. Aged seven I was old enough to be sent to the store a mile away alone, but with a note for the store lady of what was needed in case I forgot. Once I lost the money en route. She gave me the stuff and told me to come back with the money next day.

We all have hazy memories of a golden place, a timeless time. That was and remains mine.

*****

A big thank you to Phil van Wulven for sharing this guest blog about Fishhoek. To read more of the stories placed in this setting, be sure to click the links above or go to www.swazz7.blogspot.com!

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Dawn Lajeunesse

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Dawn Lajeunesse, author of Autumn Colors.

*****

Autumn Colors

The climb seemed to take forever. Just when it looked like the ridge up ahead had to be the top, another stretch of trail through ever-thinning forest greeted them. They stopped several times to share trail mix and water. At first Kerry refused to eat, thinking of the calories in the M & M, raisin, nuts and coconut combo. She had to fit into her gown, after all. A few hours into the hike, though, that concern evaporated with her fading energy.

They were doing some hand-over-hand climbing then. They emerged from one section into open space and a cold wind blew through them. Tom waited for her to catch up with him. Placing his hand on her shoulder, he pointed to a barren crop of rock up ahead.

“That’s it,” he said, with a tone that was almost spiritual. “Just over that ridge is the peak.”

There already was an impressive view off to one side, but they pushed on for the climax of the trip.

She was exhausted, but the panorama before her was what took her breath away.

They had climbed a mountain together and looked out at the world at their feet. It would be hard to top this.

Kerry sighed happily as she fell into bed that night after Tom brought her home. Her life with Tom kept getting better and better.

*****

I was introduced to the high peak area of the Adirondacks as a young child. My cousins had a rustic camp on Otter Pond outside of Newcomb, and we were invited there many summers. But I fell in love with the Adirondack Mountains – and mountains and forests in general – at the same time I fell for my first real love. He was a man of many talents and interests, brilliant, athletic, sensitive and destined for great things. Unfortunately, an accident took his life when we were only 23. He became the inspiration for the Tom character in my first novel, Autumn Colors.

The bug had bitten, and my love of the Adirondacks and the outdoors lived on and expanded. As I moved forward in life, the man who eventually became my husband had been bitten years before by the same bug. Our earliest “dates” were spent in various Adirondack settings – paddling meandering mountain rivers, camping on the islands of Indian Lake, climbing many of the Adirondack peaks, cross country skiing around Lake Placid and Speculator.  Although we took vacations to more exotic places like the Caribbean and Hawaii, our hearts were in the Adirondacks. I always knew that when I wrote my first novel, the mountains would be there.

As it turned out, they were in Autumn Colors twice, although only identified as the Adirondacks in the scenes with Tom. Later, when main character Kerry and her husband Charles build their dream home, the setting is officially in eastern Vermont, because that’s what fit with the story line. But the scene described of their home is pure Adirondacks:

The property was five wooded acres that included a large, spring-fed pond. Their new home was designed to both blend in with the natural surroundings and allow them to feel like they were immersed in and part of nature. Out of sight and view of the road, they used lots of glass, wood, and stone, and designed the house to embrace the forest around them.

They could sit on their deck or in their great room and watch the wildlife drinking at the pond’s edge and ducks swimming with their babies, occasionally diving for dinner. Fish of various sizes sporadically hurdled out of the water in an arc in pursuit of the insects dancing on the water’s surface, concentric rings radiating at the spot where they returned to the deep. The ducks climbed out onto their dock sometimes and fluffed their feathers to dry in the warm sun.

Thirsty deer were silhouettes against the rising sun and grazed peacefully in the shade of stately pines and spruce most evenings. It wasn’t unusual to look out any window at dusk or dawn and see a black bear foraging, ambling along just beyond the edge of the forest. Raccoons were a frequent source of annoyance and amusement – they kept their garbage in a locked and hopefully impenetrable bin. And of course, squirrels and chipmunks abounded.

While most of our friends gradually got away from hiking and paddling and cross country skiing as the decades progressed, we continue to do as much as our time permits. We refuse to allow aging bodies to stop us, although climbing a high peak takes a bit longer than it once did. We still meet up with one couple several times a year for seasonal outings. But many times it’s just us and our energetic Border Terrier, Nala, who loves the woods and hiking almost more than us, if that’s possible.

My connection with the Adirondacks is almost a spiritual one. From one end of the six million acre Adirondack Park to the other, the terrain and flora change, but the atmosphere, the aura, remain the same. In the late nineties my husband and I bought a camp in anticipation of moving to the Adirondacks (from the Albany NY area) after retirement. We chose a location in the southern Adirondacks to be more accessible to health care and jobs if we needed them. After a few years we converted the camp to a year round home. Thanks to the less than ideal economy, we both still work, but we look forward to more leisure time for enjoying this pristine setting. Meanwhile, I expect our Adirondack living experience will continue to appear in my books.

*****

A big thank you to Dawn for sharing this guest blog about the Adirondacks. To read more of the story placed in this setting, be sure to click the links above or go to www.dawnlajeunesse.com!

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – M. Edward McNally

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by M. Edward McNally, author of The Sable City.

 *****

The Sable City

“For a moment Tilda thought that she would very much like to show Zeb something of her home Islands: The graceful pagodas of the capital with their clinging roper vines, the stretches of white and black sand beaches.  She had very little idea what his own native lands looked like, and thought that she might like to see them, too.  Mostly, for the moment, she just wanted the two of them to see something together.”
– From “Death of a Kingdom” Volume II of the Norothian Cycle

While the Islands of Miilark are a place that only exist in my head, in fairness their origin owes much to my first visit to Hawaii.  Maybe it is owing to being an American, or specifically a Southerner of Irish/Mexican derivation, but I have always been intrigued by the places where different cultures meet, and become something new.  For the Musket-&-Magic/Age-of-Sail fantasy world of the Norothian Cycle, that place is Miilark.

“We are a culture of the sea, Mr. Long.  Islanders whose destiny has always been shaped by the vagaries of the atmosphere.  Miilark is a very special place in that the currents and gales of the ocean have made us the crossroads of continents, and so we have prospered perhaps more than any other people.  But it is not without price, for at sea any wind may bring disaster if a vessel is not in accord.”
– From “The Wind from Miilark” Volume III of the Norothian Cycle

In my world, Miilark exists in the midst of the Interminable Ocean, and it is the central meeting place of cultures originating on four continents.  It is a place where knights rub shoulders with samurai, dwarves may meet dervishes, and a wizard may share a drink with a witchdoctor.  More importantly, it is the place that Matilda Lanai (“Tilda,” to her friends) is from, and like all of us, she is to an extent what her place in the world has made her.  Tilda is something of a ‘tweener herself, owing her heritage to what the Islanders call “Ship People” stock, yet she is Miilarkian to the core.

“To an extent, the foreigners were right.  Miilarkians as a people were warm, and friendly, and yes, fair in their dealings.  But fairness, as any Miilarkian will tell you, cuts both ways.  Of course it means that right is returned.  Honor and justice, fairness demands it.  But equally, it means that a wrong left unanswered is not just disagreeable, or unfortunate.  It is immoral.  For a Miilarkian, a true Miilarkian, to be fair is to be willing to be ruthless.  A balance has no scruples.  It is true, or it is worthless.”
– From “The Sable City” Volume I of the Norothian Cycle

Book I begins with Tilda leaving the Islands that have been her home for all of her young life, and while much of what follows prevents her from returning anytime soon, Tilda is coming to find that it perhaps does not matter as much as she thinks it does.  For the Islands are with her, still.  Tilda’s home remains in her heart, and that comes with her, always.

Thanks, Amy, for the post, and everybody for reading.

Ed McNally

*****

A big thank you to Ed McNally for sharing this guest blog about Miilark, home of his character Tilda. To read more of the story set in this place, be sure to click the links above or go to www.sablecity.com!

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Valerie Douglas

I am excited to begin a weekly feature on my blog called Writers And Their Chosen Settings.

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I will post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Valerie Douglas, author of The Last Resort and Director’s Cut.

*****

 The Last Resort – Thriller

It was getting near sunset, an almost perfect time for the view I wanted him to see.

“Not too much further.” I pointed. “There, see that road. Be careful, it’s mostly dirt and a little bumpy.”

It was a little more than a track. A fire road hacked out of the trees to enable firemen to get to areas it might be otherwise difficult to reach. There were tracks like this throughout the mountains. Hunters used them sometimes as well. The trees opened up and we came to a stop. I didn’t need to tell him to do that, the view was that good.

We got out and leaned back against the warm hood of the car. A trick of geography had set this hill at the perfect spot to see between two higher mountains out at the range of mountains beyond. With the hills and mountains in all their flaming fall colors it was an amazing sight, especially with the warm gold of the setting sun setting all of it aglow. The sunset gave even more color, painting the sky in deep blues, purple, magenta. It filled the soul and gave back peace.

He almost started to move.

“Wait,” I said, and took his wrist.

Drew slid his fingers between mine. I caught my breath but didn’t say anything.

The last touch of the sun slid behind the mountains, Venus sparkle between them. The birds had been singing, twittering. Now, silence. It was as if everything stood still, timeless. I sighed, the only sound except the faintest whisper of breeze. There was still a touch of that amazing light in the sky.

Director’s CutThe Millersburg Quartet – Romance

Millersburg was such a classic small town. That was what had caught Jack’s eye when he’d been trying to find Jay’s condo. It was a quintessential small town tucked away in the mountains of Pennsylvania, with tree-lined streets, hills and mountains surrounding it. The streets were a mind-boggling array of twists, turns, hills that cut up, through, over and around the town, giving it dimensions he hadn’t imagined. The houses were small, neat, the yards wide. It was surprisingly green, even compared to some of the cities he had known.

There was even a Main Street. Literally. He turned onto it and stared.

Shaking his head in amazement, Jack slowed the ‘Vette to a crawl to avoid pedestrians as he eyed the pickup trucks backed up to the curbs on each side of the street and the produce that spilled out of them and the stalls set up on the edge of the sidewalks. This wasn’t something he’d ever experienced, growing up in the city. He didn’t think they still did things like this.

Apparently they did.

A real farmer’s market. Incredible.

Real farmer types in bib overalls stood by some of the stands. A woman who was clearly an old ex-hippie with her graying hair blowing wild around her face had a stall of herbs for sale, both fresh and dried.

It was something that was for sure.

*****

You’ll notice I shared two excerpts. Although they don’t share names – in The Last Resort the town is called Mountaintop, while in Director’s Cut it’s called Millersburg – it’s the same town in essence.

There’s something unique, though, to the kind of town that Mountaintop/Millersburg is. I live near one very similar. It’s the kind of town where people used to know what was happening with their neighbors but with the death of Main Street and the corner store, no longer do. It’s still a pretty good place to raise kids, and for many of them, a place to escape from.

What was unique about the town I knew growing up was the diversity of industry – it was a mountain/vacation area, home to a small university, with little industry. There were several very distinct cultures – the middle class and poor townies, the country people, the farmers to the south, the insular world of the university, and the even more insular world of the resort employees. It was uniquely suited to building a dozen different stories, from hard-boiled detective to a class of cultures, and I could romanticize it somewhat as I did in The Millersburg Quartet series, or show it, warts and all, as I did in The Last Resort. But I could also show the beauty of it, as the excerpt shows.

That town, the one I remember, no longer exists. The once-beautiful mountains are plastered with billboards, condos, housing developments and malls. Traffic is so bad they had to put in stoplights outside of town. It’s grown noisy and rude and so big you can go in the supermarket and not see a single place you know. It does live in my memory though, and it will live on in my stories, and in the ones yet to come.

*****

A big thank you to Valerie Douglas for this guest blog about Millersburg. To read the stories placed in the setting Valerie shared, be sure to follow the links!