The Road to "My Compass Home": Finding Home Base

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Every story needs a setting, obviously.  It needs a tangible world that the reader can comprehend and see in their mind's eye -- otherwise, the characters are just existing...somewhere.  This can also make or break a story, especially depending on your genre. 

No pressure, right?

When I began writing this series, I researched homelessness rates by state before anything else, seeing as Spencer would be entering the picture as such.  New York came up fairly high on the lists I saw on numerous websites, so that narrowed down my search criteria for the home base considerably.  The actual town was inspired by something purely awkward.

Who knew a trip to the orthodontist could spark a series?

I only went to that orthodontist once, for the initial consultation that promised straight teeth if I shaved the existing ones down and also if I yanked the ones I couldn't see out.  (Or had someone do it for me, rather.  I don't think you have many options for removing wisdom teeth.)  That paired with the doctor's fascination with my eyes scared me off, and I kept my wonky teeth and something else: the mental blueprint of their office. 

A lot of the dental offices in the area surrounding my hometown inhabit old Victorian houses.  There's just something about them -- the towering roof, the endearing little towers sprouting off of the sides, and the gorgeous woodwork accompanying most.  I absolutely love them, and sitting in that orthodontist's office waiting for my appointment told me that Lucy would adore living in a Victorian house.  I sat there mapping out her house, what wall colors she'd have, where she'd put her paintings and how Spencer would view the place for the first time.  It helped me in so many ways -- honestly!  The book was written within a month and a half of that visit, and that included downtime for the extraction of my wisdom teeth, which I unfortunately had to do, braces or not. 

But another thing struck me as I was writing: most Victorian houses, at least in the towns within driving distance of my home, come in clusters.  I knew I'd have to find a place in New York where Victorian homes have been preserved through the years, which was a little bit of a challenge.  I had to keep in mind the logical pathway Spencer may have taken on the job search, the confines that the Victorian must-have put on location, the New York requirement, and the surrounding area, which would account for Barnes' Books and the diner (for example, small businesses had to be popular rather than towering skyscrapers and corporate offices).  I also had to account for the darker matters of my antagonist and where they might hang out at (and why). 

One little gem jumped out at me: Cortland.  It's a town in New York with a very strong Victorian-style influence on the homes, with many original Victorian houses surviving. The town also seemed welcoming to small businesses and storefronts, without a skyscraper to be seen on the photos I saw on Google.  Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a city influence on Cortland, but from what I saw, it was a perfect little place for Lucy and the gang. 

I suppose if there's something to be learned from this: keep your eyes open wherever you go.  You never know where inspiration may strike or where your next major story will originate from. Look at the ordinary with fresh eyes and you might just see what your characters --and readers-- could.  Don't be afraid to take pictures or surf the Internet for random houses and landscape photographs: creating a database of photos and locations might actually come in handy!  It certainly helped me, and I hope it inspires you to do the same!