Back on the Chain Gang– Certificate of Authenticity

It’s my turn to start the Blog Chain this round, which means it’s my turn to pick the topic! Photobucket Image Hosting

I had another topic in mind, but the recent discussion about the “Realness” of characters got me thinking along a different line. Photobucket Image Hosting

For any novelist, it is important that the story seem real to the reader at some level.  Even the most fanciful of fantasies needs a grounding in reality for people to relate to it.

The previous chain covered the “Who” pretty thoroughly, but what about the “Where” and “When”?

So my question for the group is:

How do you as an author choose or create your story-world  and give that setting authenticity?

I am really interested to see the responses on this with such a wide representation of genres in this chain. Photobucket Image Hosting

For The Edge of Memory, my story was set in the real world, so I had a bit of a head start. But it was sheer authenticity issues that set my story primarily in Nebraska.  Although I’m quite familiar with small Midwestern towns, I’ve never been to Omaha.  So how in heaven’s name did my story end up there?

I Photobucket Image Hostingtrains.  I love the sounds they make, the romance of them.  I love that rhythmic sway that your legs remember for hours after you disembark.  And I love the predestination of the path of the tracks.

When I decided that Beatrice was going to be searching for a place she had no idea where to find, she needed something concrete to lead her there.  So I looked for a passenger railway line that didn’t branch, where if someone knew they needed to find a particular town along the way based on landmarks, that task would be overwhelming, but not impossible.  This line also had to have been operational in 1951.  And I found that in the California Zephyr Line.  It leaves Chicago heading for California and after the branch near Galesburg, IL, there is nothing but a straight shot all the way west through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.

Then, for my backstory, I needed a town near a major river… a river that was large enough to be dangerous. The Mississippi was out, since I was setting the starting point just before the last fork in the Zephyr line (very near the Illinois/Iowa border).  The Missouri River was the next likely option.  And it happened to cross the Zephyr Line at Omaha.  Suddenly I was writing a story set in Nebraska. Photobucket Image Hosting

*I should add here that I was fortunate enough to have several test readers from Nebraska who were later quite surprised to discover I’d never been to Omaha.  That was a major relief!

I used real U.S. cities for most of the novel.  Gladstone is a real small town in central Illinois.  Naturally, Chicago and Omaha are real cities.  But for the town Beatrice is searching for, where all the ugliness goes down, I wanted a fictional location, but I still wanted it to be believable.

Using Google Maps, I found an area of Nebraska close to the Missouri River which appears completely uninhabited by satellite images.  That is where I set my fictional town of Corbeander and the imaginary area near the river where Hawthorne Mill and Clemmons Field are found.

The timing of my novel was also specifically driven by the story itself.  The backstory action ended up set in 1951 for specific reasons.  I needed a time period where an abandoned child in a small town could be adopted without state social services getting involved or a nationwide police action.  I needed local officials to be able to handle the situation at their own discretion.  In Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services was started in 1964, and smaller scale social service programs were in effect before that.  So, the background storyline got pushed back to the 50’s.

Since the story is set a bit in the past, the dates in my story have already happened.  I made efforts to make those aspects as real as possible as well.  My story dates match the days of the week and the historical events and holidays that occured on them.  For some days, I even checked the weather archives.  The Korean War battle that kills Thea’s husband was chosen based on the timing of Stacey’s birth.

In short, my entire setting (both time and place) were chosen by my story for the sake of authenticity.  I never guessed I would be writing a novel set in Omaha in the 50’s and 80’s.  It just turned out that way. Photobucket Image Hosting

So, that’s how it worked for me.  But I bet a lot of other folks chose their settings and worlds first…

There’s only one way to find out though, and that’s to follow the blog chain.

Next up would be the always fabulous Mary Lindsay, if she wasn’t current battling a hurricane.  Photobucket Image Hosting

So the equally fabulous Michelle McLean will be up next instead.  Links to my other fabulous Chain Gang cohorts are in my sidebar. 😉

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14 Responses

  1. Like your style. You might try reading “Goodnight, Nobody” by Michael Knight – based on your comments I think you’d like it.

  2. Thanks, sandysays! I’ll check it out! 😉

  3. Ahhh, excellent topic! Can’t wait to post my blog 😀 especially as I think I am the first historical writer that will be up (and the only one, aside from our lovely Terri) 🙂 It will be very interesting to see how people come up with their settings and time periods! 🙂

  4. Wow, this was a truly fascinating post! I am impressed by the amount of research that you put in, but also by the very rational and methodical way that you approach finding and then applying the information that you need. This is definitely a weakness of mine, so I feel as if I truly learned something important from you today!

  5. I have to agree with Kate. I have rarely thought so much about my setting – the where and when. I liked probing into this part of your brain…mwa, ha, ha! Great topic, great post. 🙂

  6. WOW! Isn’t it GREAT how in doing research, you find such great tidbits?

    I picked my time period in much the same way, based on historical events.

    Gonna have to give some thought about explaining location choice though!

    Great post!

  7. The methodical madness of insanity that is writing! Great research, wonderful post.

  8. For some reason, I always thought Thea’s husband had been killed in WWII. Silly me!

    Good topic! Looking forward to seeing what everyone else says too.

  9. Great post and great follow up to mine about characters. I love that our chain is delving into different levels of the book. I can’t wait to read everyone else’s responses too!

  10. I loved the way you described things developing in part thanks to your love of trains. And what a great description of your research!

  11. I do so love the romance of trains as well! You should drop by St. Louis some time and visit Union Station. You would love it!

  12. Great topic and fascinating post. I’ve never been on a train. Now I MUST do so.

  13. […] started our chain on story worlds discussing how my setting was unexpectedly chosen by Child Protective Services and the route of the […]

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