Traveling to the Florida Panhandle today.
These “On Location” posts show my rationale for choosing various place settings for my books. They’re not gospel! They might not even be viable rationale. But, I post them anyway as indirect tips for other writers to consider as they decide how to choose place settings for their stories.
I used Liberty County in my books Eulalie and Washerwoman, Conjure Woman’s Cat, The Land Between the Rivers, and Mountain Song. It’s Florida’s least populous county with easy access to the Apalachicola River, the forbidding Tate’s Hell Swamp, the Gulf Coast, and Florida’s “Garden of Eden” trail, along with many square miles of swamp land and forests.
Why I chose the county
I grew up in the adjacent Leon County (Tallahassee) and spent many hours of Boy Scout camping and family day trips at sites in or near the county. I was not only writing about what I know, but about a very diverse and unique landscape with rare trees, rare wildlife, and an environment that’s off the beaten trail of the kind of development and tourism found in the peninsula section of the state.
- My two conjure woman books lent themselves to a small-town environment in the part of the state known as “wire grass country.” That is, it was more natural to place a conjure woman in a far-away piney woods part of the state than a more populous area. The area also had a variety of legends, remnants of Indian settlements and their recurring cultural influence, and a small-town, insular world view.
- My old friend, the late Gloria Jahoda wrote a book about this part of the state called The Other Florida. For my purposes of telling a magical realism story, I wanted an area that was about as “other” as one can find. Her book also included legends that I grew up with, making them a lot easier to refer to in the story than the legends of a place I’d never visited with legends that would have been quite foreign to me. To some extent, magical realism uses legends and tall tales about a place as though they are real. These not only add ambiance to the book, but give readers from Florida bits and pieces of information they’re already familiar with.
- Florida, in years past, had a very strong KKK presence, a presence more pervasive in outlying areas. Since both of my conjure woman books pit a woman of magic against the Klan, this made the location a viable and historically accurate place for such a story even though I created a fictionalized small town to avoid any hard feelings (or law suits) with the residents and governments of an actual town. I named my town Torreya, after Florida’s unique and highly endangered tree that grows in this area and nowhere else.
- While my conjure books were set in the 1950s, The Land Between the Rivers at the dawn of time, and Mountain Song in the 1960s, the area–when compared with major tourist destinations and development–is still remote. This helps an author do research because many of the attributes of the place in years gone by still exist today.
I consider a story’s place setting to be a very integral part of the fiction I write. If you like strong place settings, perhaps you will go through some of the same thought processes as I did when you choose the country, state, or town for your novel or short story.