Do you ever wonder how a novelist chooses a setting? Me, too. Really. Because the entire world is open to us, and sometimes all those choices can be daunting.
When the time came two years ago to begin planning a new series, I had all the usual options.
Should I use a real town (like Toms Brook, Virginia, in my Shenandoah Album series) or a fictional town (like Palmetto Grove, Florida, in my Happiness Key novels.) Sometimes, of course, what I decide hardly matters. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen Whiskey Island (of my book with the same title) referred to as a fictional peninsula in Lake Erie. For the record, it’s real.
Should I write about a city I know well, or one that would require constant research? Not as easy as it sounds. Someone well acquainted with a place may not notice how fascinating the details he or she takes for granted might be to readers.
Should I write about a place so colorful it almost becomes a character in my novel, or a place that recedes into the background?
Should I choose a place with many different kinds of people, or one whose characters will come from a similar background and outlook?
As you can imagine, I gave this a lot of thought. One of my brainstorming friends suggested Asheville, North Carolina, and I tussled with myself. I know Asheville fairly well, but not perfectly. I have a son there, own a house there, visit there regularly. I’ve spent many summers in Highlands, not far away, and understand much about mountain culture from those years and an earlier year as a VISTA volunteer in the Arkansas Ozarks.
On the minus side? Asheville is so rich in its own unique culture, that I’ll never quite be an insider. On the plus side, what I witness, I pay close attention to, because it’s new to me, and absorbing because it is.
On the minus side again? Asheville is easily recognizable. As a novelist I’ll be forced to change things to suit myself. Real restaurants will rub up against fictional ones, for instance. If I need a park with certain playground equipment, I’ll need to make it up. And when we mix fact with fiction, readers sometimes confuse fiction with mistakes.
In the end, though, how could I resist? If you need convincing, too, just watch the irresistible video above. The Spirit of Asheville, produced by exploreasheville.com, says it all. I think you’ll see the rich potential for background that I did, and beginning in August, I hope you’ll be glad to share and explore with me, this unusual, vibrant city in the heart of the Blue Ridge.