Today I’ll be talking about the research I did to bring Kilmer to life in HELL FIRE. Kilmer is the archetypal spooky small Southern town, hiding dark secrets and terrifying magic. Here are some descriptive bits to give you some idea how I went about it:
We passed the wood that encircled the town. Sometimes, as a kid, it had seemed to me that someone simply burned a patch out of the forbidding forest, and there, Kilmer had been built. Over long years, the trees grew back in around it, overhanging the rutted road.
With the windows open, I smelled dank vegetation heavy in the air, and pallid sunlight filtering through the canopy overhead threw a sickly green glow over the car as Chance drove.
My intestines coiled into knots over the idea of losing the light out here within a stone’s throw of those dark trees. The whorls on the bark looked like nothing so much as demonic sigils in the wicked half-light, and the long, skeletal limbs stirred in the breeze in a way I simply couldn’t like.
I shook my head absently, taking in the familiar sights. It was bizarre. The road into town hadn’t changed at all. Ma’s Kitchen, an old white clapboard restaurant, still sat just outside the city limits. The shopping plaza on the left had been given a facelift, fresh paint and new lines in the tiny parking lot, but the general store, the dry cleaners, the Kilmer bank, and a coffee shop still occupied it. The names on the dry cleaner’s and coffee shop had changed, but otherwise, the town seemed just as I’d left it.
If we stayed on this street, we’d wind up in the town square, where the old courthouse reigned like an aging duchess who refused to admit her day had passed. The clock on the tower hadn’t worked since before I moved away, and I couldn’t imagine, given the faded air, that they’d come into the money to fix it since. The ‘historical’ district simply contained the oldest houses; most hadn’t been restored.
But Kilmer retained a certain turn of the century charm, if you didn’t know what lurked beneath its exterior. I recognized Federal inspired houses with their rectangular structure and slim, delicate iron railings; those stately old dames mingled freely with Georgian homes with hipped roofs and quoins on the corners.
You see how I use description to build a mood? Fortunately, I do have some personal experience in the south. I’ve spent a number of school vacations there, gone to funerals and visited relatives. See, while I was not born there myself, my people come from there. So I grew up listening to the rhythms and absorbing the customs as an observer. But that wasn’t quite enough to set a book there in present day. I did a lot of internet research. Read a lot of articles. I looked a lots of pictures and slideshows. I also studied maps of the terrain and learned about the natural habitats.
To enrich the facts I’d gathered, I also asked a lot of questions of friends and acquaintances who live in the South, so I could be sure what I remembered still applied. Naturally, given the paranormal trappings, I could take certain liberties. I did also attend one convention wherein I drove through Georgia and Alabama. On that trip, I took careful notes on what I saw and snapped some of my own pictures to aid in creating my own town later.
What tricks and techniques do you use to create your settings?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Dave Young / dcysurfer