Location Settings: Tallahassee Florida’s College Avenue
“‘Pray with me behind the church, sweet girl.’ There stood Nick. He was smaller and thinner than Jesus, drained of blood and pale, he must have cut across dark lawns to arrive there at the crisscross of College and Bronough close enough to lie as though dead on the cold brick of the road and look up my dress without a bookshelf to impede his view.” — from “The Seeker” (Coming in March 2013)
Why I Used The Setting
The brief excerpt above comes from a scene on a dark, lonely night in which a college girl leaves the hustle and bustle of the nearby business district where she’s just seen a movie with friends and is now walking back to the campus on a typical route.
Unfortunately, somebody is stalking her. I like the location because, first, it’s an innocent and well-traveled street that suddenly became frightening and ominous. At the beginning of here walk, there were shoppers and other movie-goers about: it all seemed safe enough. Also, having grown up in Tallahassee, I knew what was on that street at the time when the novel was set.
The situation provided several paradoxes. Many of the stores on College were lighted up inside, but closed. The window displays attracted other people, but no real safety if one felt followed. There’s a major church along the way. It was locked up, too. I wanted my character to have a vague suspicion that somebody was watching her, though possibly even a friend trying to catch her attention, in the busy part of the street, and then become more concerned as she got into the darker section of older homes.
Since the street dead ends into the college, now a more restrictive entry than it was then, it had far less nighttime traffic that other streets. This made it a normal, but a suddenly very lonely place, that suited the ambiance of the scene.
This is a pivotal seen in The Seeker, and what happens there has ramifications for the two other books coming out later this year in the Garden of Heaven Trilogy.
Thinking of Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock loved putting everyday people in to horrific and dangerous circumstances. Since they were not police, spies, black ops specialist or magicians, they were more out of their element in a crisis than, say, the characters in a Die Hard, James Bond, or a Rambo movie.
I’ve always liked placing magic very close to everyday reality. In the same manner, I like finding the potential dark sides of busy streets, cozy city parks, and popular mountain trails. If The Seeker were made into a movie, we would not be playing any scary background music when Anne Hill started walking down college avenue. I’d prefer not tipping people off that the street—at this moment—is not what it seems to be.
This contemporary photo looks innocent enough, doesn’t it? Just below the sky in the distance, you can see the university’s Westcott Plaza. It’s not a long walk, really it isn’t. There are cars around. The shops are open. What can possibly go wrong here?
Yet, my character Anne Hill will see it differently: “Life went on across the city, Davey. I could hear it faintly beneath the song, the endless song, ‘in my heart, in my heart.’ Up close, alone with my soul, we were the objects of the dark streets’ affection, in their hearts, loving and holy. There wasn’t a car to be seen north along Bronough, nor south past the newspaper office. Down College, from Bronough to Boulevard to Macomb to Copeland there are few stores. Dark homes, dark rooming houses, dark lawns down the dark hill.”
Passion is, I think, an important consideration in choosing location settings. As a child, I saw College Avenue as a safe street leading to the university where my father taught, where I went to plays and concerts, where I took music lessons, and ultimately where I went to school. But with passion, we can create a very different effect out of such locations and draw readers into a normal place where normal doesn’t always happen.
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