Jessie: Wondering if typing whilst wearing insulated gloves is something I could actually manage?
All of the Wickeds write books set in New England. We’ve all live here or have lived here and are trying to make it back. We love this patch of the planet and I believe it shows in our work. What we wanted to chat about today was how you give your places the flavor of New England? How do you make the setting ring true? Do you base your fictional towns on real places? Do you use any real places in your fiction?
Edith: My Local Foods mysteries are set in a lightly fictionalized West Newbury, the town near here where I lived when I was an organic farmer myself more than twenty years ago. I changed the name to Westbury (isn’t that creative, now?) so I could add a fictional road where Cam’s farm is, add other fictional farms and Albert’s assisted living residence, and not upset locals if a new business pops up in the town center or, say, someone gets killed in a public place. But I include some very real landmarks: the Food Mart, Mill Pond, the Rocks Village Bridge. I use the real city of Newburyport, too, and the Merrimac River.
For the historical series, it’s set in actual Amesbury, where I now live. I have maps from the late 1800s and have done a lot of research about what buildings were standing at that time but are no longer here, and vice versa. I love that the Friends Meetinghouse that I walk to every Sunday morning has not changed in appearance since it was built in 1855.
Liz: Around the same time I began having conversations about Pawsitively Organic with
our agent, I had been taking the dogs walking out on the Lebanon Town Green, which is the town next to mine. This is one of the coolest town greens in the area. It’s a mile-long loop, it’s still used in agricultural practices and it has events all the time, from fireworks on the 4th of July to farmers’ markets to concerts. It just seemed like the place where Everything Happened, and I knew immediately it would be the place around which I would set the series. It’s got that true New England feel in the sense of the picturesque setting, the big white church with the steeple, and the reality that more business is conducted here than at Town Hall. It’s absolutely perfect – so I put Stan’s house right on it. For the record, she loves it.
Barb: Busman’s Harbor in the Maine Clambake Mysteries is a highly, highly fictionalized version of Boothbay Harbor, Maine and the Snowden Family Clambake Company is an even more highly fictionalized version of the Cabbage Island Clambakes. I like fictionalizing a real place. World-creating is the most fun part of writing fiction for me. The real part saves me untold amounts of time and stress. If I need to know things like: What time does the sun rise on a certain date in August? When is high tide? or How far is it from Busman’s Harbor to Portland?, the answer is at my finger tips. In every book, Julia also goes on a trip to a real place in Maine–Bath in Clammed Up, the blueberry fields of Down East in Boiled Over, and Round Pond and Damariscotta in Musseled Out.
Jessie: I write about two different contemporary fictional towns in New Hampshire. I think they feel real because of the enjoyable sorts of people who inhabit them and because of the way the seasons and the lay of the land influence the characters. Weather, distance, the rural, close-knit nature of the villages flavor both New Hampshire series. Visits to the local dump, standing orders for Italian sandwiches at the general store and chats with neighbors at the post office are all part of real life here and my characters experience these things too.
My new series is a historical and it is set in the real town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine in 1898. Researching real hotels, events and people requires a somewhat different skill set than creating an entirely fictional town. Both ways of crafting settings are tremendously fun and I hope will be equally engrossing for the readers.
Julie: My series is based in the Berkshires, in a fictional town called Orchard. I have been to the Berkshires several times, both on vacation and to go to Tanglewood, Williamstown, and other arts related locations. But my “what does it look like” inspiration came when I was driving back from Double Edge on summer night, right after I’d signed the contract for my series. My GPS took me another way, and I went with it. All of a sudden I came upon a town, Willamsburg, MA. Not technically in the Berkshires, but a terrific setting for cozy series. The Williamsburg General Store is a great place to visit, and helped inspire the Cog & Sprocket.
Sherry: I fell in love with New England when we lived there for five years. So when I had the opportunity to write the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series I decided to set in a fictional version of Bedford, Massachusetts and on a fictional version of Hanscom Air Force Base. Both were wonderful places to live and it makes me happy to write about them. It also gives me an excellent reason to go back and visit — in the name of research.
I also think it’s interesting that even with in New England there are differences. Liz calls it a town green but in Bedford it’s the town common. Whatever they are called I miss them!
Readers, have you ever been to New England? Ever lived here? What makes a book’s setting feel real to you?