I was just reading Roz’s blog about location, location, location. I use a mixture of real places and made up spots, but spots that are close enough to the real thing that I feel familiar in them and hope I can make them seem familiar to my readers as well. I live on a farm (very small) outside of Memphis, Tennessee. I haven’t found many books that are set in this area.
Location informs characters. Around here we sound different. Mid-southerners don’t sound like Georgians or South Carolinians. We don’t use the same catch phrases as northerners. For example, not many New Yorkers would understand if a male friend said, “Sugar, come on over here and hug my neck.”
When I had to listen to audition tapes for one of my books, I found that all the readers sounded straight out of Savannah and not a bit like us west Tennesseeans. Their drawls were too soft, and they said ‘anythin’. We may say “anythang,”but never anythin’. Our drawls have a slightly rough quality like us. And I’m afraid we cuss a lot, not that my characters can cuss in Heartwarming.
I love the fact that it is impossible to tell in a restaurant whether the guy who walks in wearing beat up bib overalls and muddy engineer boots is a multi-millionaire or living in his truck. Of course, if you follow him out to the parking lot, you’ll find out. If he’s driving a shiny new diesel crew crab dually that cost as much as my barn, he probably farms a thousand acres. I discovered when I moved to the country—I was born and raised in Memphis—that there are two questions that you can’t ever ask. How much land do you have and how many cattle do you have? That’s like asking a stockbroker how much commission he made last year. Obvious to people who grew up around here. I had to have it explained to me.
For each book I have to figure out when the jonquils bloom (late January), and when the leaves fall (late November). I recently read a book set in the deep south in which wisteria was blooming in late June. No, it wasn’t. Around here wisteria has bloomed and gone by May 15.
The thing is that if I don’t know when wisteria blooms, some of my readers definitely do, and they’ll tell me about it. As they should. We all want to give our readers the flavor of the place and the people in our books. No matter how hard I word, I suspect I’ll never be as good as Roz.