Read Around the Rainbow is a blogging project featuring yours truly, A.L. Lester, Ofelia Gränd, Holly Day, K.L. Noone, Amy Spector, Addison Albright, Fiona Glass, Lilian Francis, and Ellie Thomas. Every month, we pick a topic and then we blog about it. Check the other blog posts by clicking the RAtR widget in the sidebar, or the links at the bottom of this post.
The RAtR topic for June is “Do you set your books in the place you live (or have lived) in?”
In the early nineties, I read The Witching Hour by Anne Rice and I read it in the way that only a Deep Thinking Broody Teenager™️ could, i.e. I devoured it with my entire being, fell head over heels in love with it, and wanted to live out my life in the world created by the author. I wanted to be a witch, I wanted to be the main character Rowan Mayfair, and I desperately wanted to live in New Orleans where the book is set, especially in the First Street mansion the characters own, and the surrounding neighborhood. When refreshing my memory for this blogpost (the early nineties is a long time ago), I learned that Anne Rice actually modeled the Mayfair residence on her own First Street mansion, so she clearly sets her stories in the place where she lives.
I remember falling so deeply in love with New Orleans that I actively sought out other stories set in the same area, but nothing ever grabbed me the way the setting in The Witching Hour did. And nothing really has since then.
I mean, I love a general setting description as much as the next person. Reading my dear friend A.L. Lester’s Very British Books™️ makes me want to go to Britain, sit by a wood stove and look out on a farm while sipping tea, reading about a cowboy makes me want to move to a farm and learn to ride horses and wrangle cows, or reading about a character strolling the streets of Paris makes me want to return, find that nice sidewalk bar again, that was located next to the golden statue and the ancient merry-go-round, where the husband and I spent a glorious afternoon sipping wine and enjoying life back in 2009.
But, and here’s a big but, the setting can’t be too detailed, it can’t take over the story! I don’t want to know the name of the street in Paris where the imaginary character is walking, I don’t want every building described, I don’t want to know about every crack in the sidewalk, I don’t want to read about the old lady that always walks her dog at the same time every morning and never picks up its poop. Or the smell of garbage on a hot summer day.
One or two of those details is fine, it sets the scene and ignites my imagination. Too much makes me bored, uninterested, and prone to DNF:ing the story (I’m looking at you The Fellowship of the Ring). And with the exception of Anne Rice’s New Orleans, I’ve never fallen in love with a city, a province, or a country based on the descriptions in the story. I’ve read stories where the setting is almost like a character in the story, and that’s not really what I’m looking for.
And of course my attitude towards settings influences my own writing, so to circle back to the topic of today’s blog post; no. In general, I don’t set my stories where I live. I keep my locations vague on purpose. People live in Sweden (where I live, does that make me a liar? 😀 ) but they live “in the south” or “up north.” They live in “a tiny shitty town” or “close to the forest” or “at the end of the street.” I only include enough details to tickle the reader’s imagination, to let them fill in the blanks themselves. That’s what I prefer to read, so that’s what I write.
Also: there’s one more – very pragmatic – reason. If I set my story in a vague location, no one can ever get mad at me or give me a bad review because I got their hometown wrong. 😆
But, there are exceptions to every rule, of course, and I’m no exception 😀 So my story Resolutions for an Arbitrary Holiday is set in a very real location, that I describe in the book: Ale’s Stones in Skåne county, Sweden, where I live. At least the stones themselves are accurate, but I’ve taken liberties with the tiny village at the foot of the hill where the stones are located. Ale’s Stones is an iron-age stone ship, and the hubby and I went to see them a couple years ago. I was completely in awe of them, and when a fellow writer suggested I include them in a story, I thought “hmmmm…I just might.”
And I came up with Resolutions for an Arbitrary Holiday.
Two strangers, a twisted ankle, an ancient stone ship, and a New Year’s Eve they’ll never forget
Petter sneaks out of the New Year’s party he didn’t want to go to and treks to an old burial site he’s dying to see. Alone. Without telling anyone on a freezing December night. Without cell service…a huge problem when he twists his ankle.
Someone passes by Isak’s house on the path leading to the stone ship. When the person never returns, Isak worries and sets off to investigate. What he finds is Petter, a pack of sparklers, and an instant connection.
Under a starry sky, they learn they have a lot in common. Will the attraction burn hot and fizzle out like the fireworks going off over their heads when they return to the real world? Or will it deepen, grow, and turn into something real? Something everlasting like the stone ship?
M/M Contemporary / 20851 words
Don’t forget to check out the other posts on the topic. It’s always so interesting to read what my fellow writers come up with and I love that the same topic creates so wildly different content. I can’t wait to read what they’ve written.
Unfortunately, there won’t be a post from A.L. Lester this months, because she’s in hospital, recovering from surgery, so if you follow Ally on SM, make sure to stop by and send her some love.