As a horror/fantasy writer, I have the option of creating my own worlds. Sometimes, though, I find the need to juxtapose fantasy with reality and during those times I want a real setting, in a real place.
My first creative writing teacher drilled into my head that I should set my stories in places I know. I grew up in a small town nestled between the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River in New York. There is a lot of history there: Revolutionary War battle sites, Washington’s temporary headquarters occupied a building that is now a hotel. It was also the site of the most grievous treason of the early years of the United States. During the night of September 21–22, 1780, the English emissary, Major John Andre met with Benedict Arnold in a nearby area, but, the negotiations to sell the plans to West Point were not completed by dawn, and Arnold and André traveled to the Belmont House, on the grounds of what is now a hospital. The house has since been known as the Treason House. The Native American tribes that made up the famous Iroquois Confederacy lived in my little town, you can still find Indian artifacts in the mountains. You would think my imagination would have been fired up by my surroundings, but no…
Teacher: Your story takes place in Australia?
Me: Yes, ma’am.
Teacher: Have you ever been to Australia?
Me: No, ma’am.
Teacher: How do you intend to portray Australia accurately to your readers?
Me: I’ll read about it in the library.
It wouldn’t be until the 90’s and a few years later that the Worldwide Web came into existence and readily available to me, so at that time reading would have been the only way to research how I was going to make Australia come alive for my readers.
I have traveled a bit since then, but ironically, my soon to be published novel is set right smack dab in the middle of where I grew up. I love Savannah, Georgia and someday hope to write a novel set there. New Orleans, would also be a consideration. Yes, I love the atmospheric “haunted” places.
There are other parts of the world I have never visited I would love to write about. My work in progress is also set in the Hudson Valley, but the second book in the series takes place in Orkney, Scotland. Nope, never been there. I can however go online and find tons of videos, pictures and descriptions of everything down to the sidewalk colors on a particular street. No travel hassles or huge expense, just my monthly Spectrum bill.
How did that writing assignment turn out?
Teacher: I thought your story was going to be set in Australia?
Me: I changed my mind.
Teacher: So you made the setting the graveyard behind your house?
Me: Yes, ma’am, I am very familiar with it.
I wrote my first horror story, and I haven’t looked back since.