Monday, June 7, 2010

When Location Becomes A Character

[**EDITED: CONTEST WINNER ANNOUNCED: The numbers have been crunched and the winner is : TracyW who said...
"Karen Marie Moning's Fever series is set in Ireland, but the main character is from Georgia. I have visited both places, so when she talkes about them in the books it makes feel very connected." TracyW, please email me at JocelynnDOTdrakeATgmailDOTcom with your name and address to claim your prize**}


Despite the fact that I’ve been a Cincinnati, Ohio native my entire life, Savannah sings to my heart as a second home due to my research for my Dark Days series. One frequent question that I am asked is why I chose to set Mira’s (my main character) home in Savannah, Georgia of all places? Well, in truth, the series wasn’t originally written in Savannah. It was actually set in Cincinnati, Ohio, because that was my hometown! What better place than the one I had known since I was a small child. I knew its secrets, its little townships, and some of the best hidden landmarks. Unfortunately, by the time that I was being published, there was another well-known author who had already based her series in Cincinnati.

So, my loving editor told me that I had to pick a new home for Mira and her gang. I started the search in the places that I felt most familiar. I was considered a “Southern” girl, so I preferred to remain somewhat in the south with a modest sized city since it was what I knew. Listing out the cities that had been used already, I knew that St. Louis and New Orleans were out, since other series had set up shop in those regions. I scanned the coast considering that my old vampire probably came to the New World via ship. My search caught on Charleston and Savannah. After seeing some pictures and hearing that it was named one of the most haunted cities in the United States, Savannah won.

I’ve never regretted the choice.

In fact, I was surprised when the city started to take on a life of its own as I started working on the fourth book in the Dark Days series (Pray for Dawn). Prior to the fourth book, my characters stayed on the move, traveling to Egypt, England, Italy, Austria, and Peru. But by the fourth book, it was time for Mira to come home and stay there. When I started that book, I had made my first trip to the city and I saw all the reasons as to why my character had chosen to live in Savannah for more than a century.

As I wrote the scenes of the book, I found locations that wrapped around and meshed with the action so that the mood was set by a swaying of the enormous live oak trees that filled the nearly two dozen parks. Shadows stretched over the landscape for enemies to hide in, as well as offering a quiet solace to a character during a rough moment. Victorian and pre-Civil War homes and town houses edged the squares like the ancient society of vampires that inhabited the city, tucking away their secrets behind elegant wrought iron and windows that reflected the night.

And when I needed a place where the darkest secrets of all needed to be revealed I discovered an alley called Factor Walks that was hidden more than a floor below the main streets of Savannah, tucked away in the thick shadows and guarded by massive stone walls and ballast-stone roads. Here, Savannah beckoned dark deeds and shady transactions.

By the time that I had finished Pray for Dawn, the city of Savannah had taken on a life of her own within the series. She provided me with ideal real-life locations for battles, stolen tender moments, and intense conversations. She had opened her arms to my characters and given them a home. And when I wounded the city with fires, fights, and car chases, the impact was felt on Savannah’s heart as if she were a character as well. She responded by showing her dark side.

For me as the author, Savannah has become more than just background or setting to a story. It has stepped up to become a character that responds as much to the action as the “living, breathing” characters within the stories. Her charm has won me over and seduced me like the hypnotic stare of a nightwalker.

So, my question is: Is there any book or series where the location has been just important in the book as the setting has made a huge impact on the story that you’re reading? Which setting touched your mind and heart?

Leave a comment and enter to win a signed copy of the Unbound anthology and a signed copy of Nightwalker: The First Book in the Dark Days Series. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 8.










45 comments:

Angel said...

Sarah Addison Allen's books are always set in these amazing small-towns that make the books so much better!

Also, not in a book, but a TV show. Gilmore Girls would not be as amazing with the quirky small town of Stars Hollow :-)

Tez Miller said...

I do love how Keri Arthur's Riley Jenson series and Erica Hayes's Shadowfae Chronicles are both set in Melbourne. I read a lot of urban fantasy, but very little of it is set in Australia, and I feel so fortunate to have discovered TWO series set in my city...Well, the authors' supernaturally-warped visions of my Melbourne, anyhoo ;-)

van_pham said...

I really enjoy Ilona Andrews and Kelly Gay's location that's set in Atlanta.

Sharon said...

Thanks for the video (loved the necklace) I was born and raised in NC, and haven't traveled to many places and not many books are set in NC . But, I just take what the author describes and says about the setting and visualize in my own frame of reference. I have been to NYC, New Orleans, Charleston, London and Edinburgh and then tons of small towns so I superimpose what I know with the information given in the story. I wouldn't say the setting has much impact on me, but if there are scenes that take place in the NC mountains I do sort of get a feeling of pride . I love the mountains (gut connection when I see them, not sure why) I think it would be neat to live in a town that was a major setting for a book I love. *Y'all authors are invited to NC. I got sweet tea, corn bread, grits and cake .

Terri Garey said...

Loved the video, Jocelyn! I did the same thing - took a trip to Savannah when I was doing research for my second novel, A MATCH MADE IN HELL, which takes place (mostly) in a haunted house known locally as The Blue Dahlia. While we were there, we stayed in an old brownstone in the historic district, and had our own "ghostly encounter" which I'll save for another day's blog!

My Nicki Styx series is set in Atlanta and Savannah, because as a Southern girl, I wanted to give my modern-day ghost stories a bit of a "Southern gothic" feel, so yes, I absolutely agree that location is a vital part of the story.

Did you get a chance to visit Bonaventure Cemetery while you were there? Incredible place!

Cem said...

Ilona Andrews post-apcolyptic Atlanta certainly has a life of its own. And I know this has been mentioned already, and isn't a book, but Gilmore Girls would not be the same (or as brilliant) without the quirky Stars Hollow.

Vicki Pettersson said...

Nice, Joce.
I should do a video tour of my character's Vegas, but yanno. What happens in supernatural Vegas stays in supernatural Vegas. ;-)

ymiris said...

Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series always had a great impact on the story for me. Mostly because we live in Eugene and we know the areas she is talking about. I think any story that talks about something familiar makes that story more real.

With that I also really enjoy the image made of Italy in dayhunter.

Kt said...

I think I would have to pick Keri Arthur's Riley Jensen series. I love the fact that its based in Australia. It just makes it seem more into the "fantasy" world because its set someplace I could really never go.

rachel445 said...

There are two cities that I have really loved to read about in books. First, Vegas in Vicki Pettersson's Zodiac series. I've never been there but I've seen pics and it's cool to read about the casinos and the other flashy places. But there are also these hidden places for the troops hide out, which is cool.
Second is JR Wards Black Dagger Brotherhood series set in Caldwell, NY. I've been to NY so it helps me envision it, but I like it cause it's this dark, edgy city with wars between vampires and lessers occuring at night.

RebeccaM80 said...

Right now I'm reading Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series, I think the Modern Setting of New Orleans helps add something to the book. So this is my pick. =)

Liz said...

Loved the video!

I have to say that I really fall in love with David Eddings, Ilona Andrews, and Jim Butcher's settings. They're all so well thought out (well,at least I think they are!) I'm also seeing a lot of good recommendations here *adds to list*

Pamela Palmer said...

I was in Savannah just before Christmas this past year and took a dozen pictures of Factors Walk! It's an incredibly spooky place, perfect for a good supernatural battle. Even in daylight, it wasn't a place I'd want to walk alone.

Barbara E. said...

Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series is set in rural Bon Tempes, Louisiana, and Shreveport. I think the rural setting has a huge part in the enjoyment of the series, and Sookie's travel to Shreveport and other Louisiana locations really make me feel like I'm there.

Moonsanity said...

*Don't enter me for the books because I have them all:)*

I just finished Underground by Kat Richardson where it takes place in Seattle's underground, which I knew nothing about since I've never visited there. She definately used the location to it's fullest! I'm reading Vanished now,and it's taking place in London, which is also cool.

Her books have really given me some cool ideas for using locations:)

nymfaux said...

Harry Potter could not be any other place than Hogwarts--Hogwarts really felt *alive,* it was secretive and mysterious, but also formidable and protective. And I agree about Forks for Twilight--she needed a place where her kind of vampires could be semi-public and be hidden at the same time(the weather), and also somewhere with ample feeding grounds.

Shalaena said...

I just love Ms. Drake's books! Such a creative and dark world. Her characters are amazing and I can't wait till the end of the month for book 4!

Karyn Gerrard said...

Wow, I really had to think about that one. I can't really say there has been any specific book or series where the location reached out and grabbed me. Though, I thought it cool Gena Showalter's Underworld series started out in Budapest.

evilqueen21 said...

I've always been partial to Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld setting in upstate NY. Having been born & raised there and now despite having relocated to NC I'm still a New Yorker at heart. Every time Syracuse is named, or even the simple mention of the main highway that I used to drive on daily, brings memories of home rushing to the front of my mind! Can't go wrong with that!

Crystal said...

For me I really love how Vicki's Zodiac series is in Las Vegas, and it totally fits. I don't think that story could happen anywhere else! But I've never been to Vegas and have always wanted to go so I get to kind of live vicariously through Jo. Vicki has just the right touch so you know the feel/atmosphere of the city and can place yourself there too.

I also like the Sookie Stackhouse series set in Bon Tempes (Shreveport and a bit of New Orleans too), Louisiana. I just love that area for some reason and love the history.

And it's not supernatural but I like Kat Martin's historical romances placed in England. She puts you back in that time period and I have actually learned quite a lot about it from her books.

Looking forward to more Mira and Danaus!

Raonaid Luckwell said...

I have to agree with the person who mentioned Kim Harrison's Hollow's book. I'm Ohioan born and bred (though I live across the Ohio River in West Virginia now) so I was tickled pink to see a series take place in my home state. Most of the books I have read took place elsewhere and I just never seen one take place in Ohio (at the time).

Cinncy is four hours away from me. I grew up on the other side of Ohio closer to Pennslyvania.

Whenever I hear Cincy I always think "Rachel Morgan" LOL.

Like with Vegas, I always think "Oh that's Joanna from Vicki Pettersson's city."

Jackie said...

I have a couple books where the setting is just as important as the characters! I think some other people have mentioned it, but Vicki Pettersson's Zodiac series is set in Vegas and I just can't see it being as good anywhere else! :) Reading her books makes me want to go to Vegas! :)

The other books are from the Allie Beckstrom series. They are set in portland,OR (my home state) so I can recognize places in her books and really imaging myself there with her! Makes the books a little bit more personal :)

Cathy M said...

Definitely Vicki's series in Vegas is a perfect fit, plus the Mayan ruins for Jessica Andersen's Nightwalker series, Bon Temp for Sookie, St Louis for Anita Blake series, and the make believe town of Petal, Georgia for Lauren Dane's Chase Brothers series.


caity_mack at yahoo dot com

Melissa said...

I think it depends on the series, however, the FIRST book series that the location became character for me was Ann Rice's Vampire series. What would that series be w/o New Orleans?

Jacqueline C. said...

In my opinion, all of the best books have great settings that contribute a lot to the overall story. The most recent location that's stood out in my reading is Kresley Cole's New Orleans in her Immortals After Dark series, particularly in Dark Needs at Night's Edge. The history and culture combined with the gloomy, swamp landscape not only creates atmosphere for the story, but also helps the plot along.

cindy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lavendersbluegreen said...

Most any well written / developed series...
I admit to being really touched by the local tales I have a connection to because I know the area. Okay, so there are more because I've lived a buncha places... but we'll stick with the PNW; Briggs, Meyers, Emerson, Galenorn, Jance, MacAlister, Macomber; have all written series here... and that's just off the top of my head!

Lauren said...

I can think of SO many good settings in books, but I'm from New Orleans so I like to see books set in my city. Like Paula Morriss Ruined and Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter's series. There are more of course, and I hope even more come along.

Helen Lowe said...

Hey Jocelynn,

I know that Kate, my editor at Eos, reckons that my "Wall" world is as much a character as the characters in my forthcoming book, The Heir of Night. Unfortunately, since it's an alternate world I can't send back the video--although Peter Jackson managed the 3 movies with Middle Earth.

Jessica said...

A setting that I have really enjoyed was Maria Snyder's imaginary world of Ixia and Sitia. Creating these territories from the ground up and giving them a somewhat complicated system in regards to magic. I always get lost in this world despite it being totally fictional! I've really come to enjoy it. Even her new YA world in a place that I can't really describe b/c of spoiler reasons, but it was still amazing. You totally leave reality behind!

TracyW said...

Karen Marie Moning's Fever series is set in Ireland, but the main character is from Georgia. I have visited both places, so when she talkes about them in the books it makes feel very connected.

mariska said...

My favorite setting in a book, Harry potter in Hogwarts ! When i read the books, it really makes me 'picture' the beautiful scenery and Great school :)

Bethany C. said...

Does it have to be a real place? Because I love the other world Richelle Mead has created in her Dark Swan series.

Tracey O'Hara said...

Apart from your series I agree with the Readers on Vicki Pettersson's Las Vegas setting for the Zodiac Series and with Keri Arthur's Melbourne for the Riley Jenson series - both are have become som much a part of the stories that they feel like another character.

Cleverly Inked said...

SO Cool! I so enjoyed this video.

Renata said...

Great post! Never thought of it by this pov! I'm writing a book and it takes place in Rio de Janeiro, because that's where I live... Guess I'll start searching places to see if something fits better!

John said...

The setting in Stacia Kane's Unholy Ghosts makes a huge impact in her story. If it was set anywhere else it would change the whole tone. Vicki Pettersson's books and Seanan McGuire's are like that as well.

It's not supernatural, but one of my favorite settings that has always spoken to me is Elmwood Springs, Missouri in Fannie Flagg's books. Becky Cochrane has also written two books set in the fictional town of Coventry, TX (A Coventry Christmas, and A Coventry Wedding) that make me long for Coventry, TX to really exist so I can move there!

Sylvie said...

I've never really considered how important a location can be to a story or series. But a few days ago there was some news out of Shreveport, LA, and I immediately said to myself, "Oh, that's where Fangtasia is!"
Since I rarely travel, I enjoy seeing other locations through the eyes of my favorite characters. That's why I enjoy visiting with Sookie in Bon Temps, as well as Jack Fleming in Chicago (P.N. Elrod), the Black Dagger Brothers in Caldwell (J.R. Ward) and the Midnight Breed boys in Boston (Lara Adrian), to name only a few.

Cassie said...

I don't think Harry potter would be the same if it wasn't set in the uk

Cassie c

Bella said...

I'm not usually one who's terribly interested in setting, especially when it's described in lengthy paragraphs (:o), but I loved Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, which is set in Dublin, Ireland. The setting is so important to the story, and is described so incredibly well, that I can almost close my eyes and picture myself there, watching the story unfold! It's perfect ... and the covers only serve to enhance what is already a beautiful setting ... they give a glimpse into the world, that the descriptions build upon ... seriously, I feel as though I've been familiar with the Temple Bar District my entire life, although I've never set foot in Ireland.

Charchelar said...

I love the settings in Tamora Pierce's books. They are made-up but they are so imaginative. Tortal is my particular favorite. I love them!

Stephanie G said...

In Alexis Morgan's books the locations are very important. It's part of the whole 'why' of the series I believe. I live in California about 45 minutes from San Francisco so any time I see a book set in California it makes me like it just a little more because I know exactly were it is taking place and it makes me feel a little connected to the book and characters.

Starlit Rogue said...

Sadly there has only been a few books I've read where the setting has made an impact.

1. Vicki's books: I'm currently living in Vegas so I thought that part was cool.

2. Brigg's Books: I'm from Washington so <3 In the middle of moving back.

3. Brian Keene's Zombie Books: I love how in those books the setting helps make the novels.

Milagros said...

great video!!

nymfaux said...

yea winner!