Since this is the first installment of “Behind the Book” I’ll give you a brief idea of what to expect from this and other posts in the series.
Behind the Book posts will be about what went on in the process of writing the book I’m talking about. Where did the setting come from? Where did I find the inspiration for my characters? How did I keep all the ideas organized? How did I develop the magic system? Or the rules for the different paranormal races? Or whatever new and interesting thing I had to create for that novel?
This first one is going to talk about where the setting for Strong Fort Spathí came from and how it grew into what it is now.
Strong Fort Spathí is set in Fort Madison, IA. This is actually a real town, but I use it fictionally. To explain how I got to the finalized version of the fictionalized Fort Madison, we’ll have to go through a couple different works in progress (WIP). I first developed the setting for a NaNoWriMo project about a character named Catherine.
I spent a ton of time in October world building for this story. I created vocabulary to go with the vampires and shape shifters and even the witches and the fae. I figured out how all the magic systems worked and invented a new timeline for the world that started back in the 1920s. Then I started plotting out the physical setting.
I wanted a place that was near St. Louis because of some plans for that story about Catherine, but I didn’t want it set in the city proper, so I got on Google Maps and hunted around for the right size city in the area I wanted. I found Fort Madison, IA.
For that original story, I saved screen shots of the maps from Google and started adding in buildings and places of my own. There was Victorian Circle and the Zoo Quarter where the vampires and zooanthropes were known to be found, and I planned out where the university I had created would go.
I was very excited, and then November 1 rolled around and I got to writing. And then I decided I didn’t like the direction, and started over. And then I did it again. None of the three starts I made that November went anywhere. They still haven’t. But I still had this rich world I’d created around Fort Madison, and Black Ashe University that I’d built there in my October planning.
So when a new idea came around for a character named Jordan and his missing best friend Sinikka, I had a wonderfully rich world to set it in, complete with existing maps and vocabulary lists.
I fine-tuned a few things. Victorian Circle doesn’t exist yet, but I might be able to create it in the course of the series. I backed off on the idea of the Zoo Quarter, since the zooanthropes in my new story weren’t as out and proud as my last set, but it’s an idea I can go back to later on. I did keep Black Ashe University. Even if it’s not overtly mentioned in Strong Fort Spathí, it’s definitely still there, and will play a role in later books.
So for this story, my setting started with a real place, and grew with the alternate history I developed for my paranormal world. The process is organic. There are things I have written down that haven’t made it into a story yet, so they can still grow and change as the stories develop. Being adaptable with the background information that hasn’t come up in the stories yet is something I’ve had to learn over the years, but it’s an immeasurably valuable skill to have when writing a longer series of stories. You have the facts that are set in stone, because you told your readers, but the rest are still flexible. I’m looking forward to seeing how the setting continues to grow and change, as well as expand, as I continue the Swords and Shields series.
If you’re a fellow writer, where do you find inspiration for your settings?
For everyone else (and probably the writers too), what do you think about authors using real places for their setting versus completely fictionalized settings? What about the “New Amsterdam” type of setting, where we all know it’s NYC but the author calls it something else?