I used to not think too much about setting, about how a strongly anchored setting—and an author’s personal connection to a setting—could contribute to a story. Sure, there were isolated examples of writers who are so strongly linked to a setting that their writing has come to define a place and time: Dickens’ Victorian London, for example. But since I grew up as an Air Force brat, I had a pretty rootless childhood, never identifying very strongly with any one place. I figured that aspect of writing would never really be available to me.
Turned out I was wrong. In 2002, I lost two relatives—my grandfather and my great aunt Rose—from different sides of the family within a week of each other. I learned a lot about my family that year. We visited the house in rural Alabama where my paternal grandfather grew up, and later that summer I asked my maternal grandmother to take me on a tour of the very small town in Colorado where she and her four siblings spent their childhoods in the 1930’s. I heard many family stories for the first time and was able to picture my grandparents as children, with grandparents of their own, and so on, stretching back through time. And I discovered that I do have roots—in rural America, in turn-of-the century farmsteads and clapboard houses. My family photo album is filled with pictures of men in overalls and women in cotton prairie dresses standing on front porches, squinting into the sun, wind blowing hair into their faces. This discovery of a family heritage, however unassuming, formed the seed that became Discord’s Apple, in which my main character Evie returns home to rural Colorado and uncovers something magical.
Setting ended up playing an unexpected part in the Kitty novels as well. I set the first book in Denver because that was the big city I knew best. However, it turned out to be a perfect place to base a series of novels about werewolves. Some of the most famous pictures of Denver feature skyscrapers against a backdrop of towering, snow-capped mountains. That’s a hell of an image, and very telling. Denver has a little bit of a split personality. It started as a cow town and a silver-rush boom town, and it’s still fiercely proud of that western pioneer heritage. It’s within sight of the Rocky Mountains and lays claim to that wild, rugged world. But it’s also a real, genuine, urban center—with world-class universities, museums, restaurants, sports, concerts, and so on—longing to take its place among the country’s great cities (ranked number 24 in the U.S. by population, between Milwaukee and Seattle). But some visitors seem vaguely surprised to discover that Denver has paved streets and sidewalks. What better place to set a story about a supernatural creature caught between her wild wolf nature and her urban lifestyle?
So, despite my nomadic childhood, I’ve learned to embrace setting. And I’ve discovered that I have roots after all, and I’m very happy to be able to celebrate that in my stories.
From the Tor/Forge July newsletter. To receive our newsletter via email, sign up here.
More from our July newsletter:
- Frederik Pohl’s best friends in SF give back in Gateways! by Elizabeth Hull
- Why another vampire book? by Alex Bledsoe
- Not the Contents, Just the Box by Lee Carroll (Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky)
- Space Cadets and Starship Troopers by Stacy Hague-Hill, Your Captain for this Journey
- Become a fan of Kitty Norville on Facebook
- The Big Idea: Carrie Vaughn
- Timeline of a Trend by Carrie Vaughn
- Kitty Norville Playlists on Last.fm and Blip.fm
- Paty’s Fantasy Hotlist: Guest Blog: Carrie Vaughn
- Chapter previews: Discord’s Apple & Kitty Goes to War
- Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy: Vampires! Werewolves! Unicorns! (Guest: Carrie Vaughn)
- Odyssey Podcasts: Carrie Vaughn