Creating believable places in my fiction
The old farmhouse where Megan discovers the antique phone in my novel, “The Time Telephone,” was modeled after a real place. Its interior and exterior are exactly as I remember my great grandparents’ rural Georgia home – the home I used to run through with my cousins, where the front “parlor” was only used for company and the porch had a wooden porch swing. The description of the kitchen with its floral “linoleum rug,” the ice box and round oak table with a Lazy Susan in the middle, is exactly as I remember it when we visited Monnie and Grandy. So when I wanted to create a fictional farmhouse where a good bit of the action takes place, I tapped into my memories and added a few flourishes, including the wisteria and pink dogwoods out front.
The duplex apartment where Jenna lives in Charlotte for a while in “VisionSight: a Novel,” is a cross between a duplex apartment I lived in years ago in North Carolina and an apartment in Clarksville, Tennessee. I described the exterior based on the NC duplex and the interior based on the Tennessee apartment. I could see both very clearly in my mind and it helped me make that little apartment more real in my novel.
I got the idea for the home where Neave grew up in “The Shade Ring” from a house just down the street from where I lived in Atlanta back in the 1980s. The house on Belle Isle Circle was built in the fifties, very small, unassuming. It looked tiny from the front. But it was much larger than it seemed because the house was very deep. The owners had added a lot of extra rooms onto the back. But you couldn’t see them from the front because of the trees and bushes. So when I designed the house where Neave grew up in Atlanta in the 22nd century, I made it a house that looked modest from the front, but which included a number of underground rooms that nobody could see from the front. In the novel, it’s an adobe home like those in Phoenix or Tucson – suitable for the much warmer climate of 2117 – with a yard of colored rocks, common in suburban landscaping of the southwest.
But I also use my imagination as I create environments and locations in my fiction. The rotating skyscrapers in “The Shade Ring Trilogy” are based on videos I found online. Architects had already come up with those designs a decade ago. I found it fascinating and just had to include a couple of rotating skyscrapers.
There are lots of my own experiences that show up in my novels. Like the delicate little crab that scurries across the sand early in “The Shade Ring.” I saw just such a crab on the Outer Banks in 1979. Like the “green screen” during Megan’s tour of “the network” in “The Time Telephone.” I saw the exact same scene play out on a CNN tour. And like the high school in a novel I’ll be publishing next year – it’s based on the junior high school I attended many moons ago in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Imagination plays a huge role in fiction. But real life, real people and real places show up in bits and pieces, blended together like a TV chef mixes ingredients for a tasty dish. My hope is that my novels are that “tasty dish” that readers will enjoy.
The house in the picture is actually my great grandparents' home with my mother, Bobbie, and her Aunt Kawie mugging for the camera way back in the early 1940s.