Local color serves a variety of purposes in novels and short stories:
- Paints a picture of the location and its history
- Provides careers, hobbies, road trips for the characters
- Resonates with readers who know the area
- Helps move the plot forward
- Adds depth to the story
My four Florida Folk Magic novels are set in the state’s panhandle near the Apalachicola River. This was once a land of cotton that is far different from the cities and tourist attractions of the peninsula that tourists flock to every year. It’s dominated by pine forests, small towns, small farms, commercial and sports fishing, and a relatively low profile nationally.
St. Joe Paper Company
The St. Joe Paper Company in the 1950s when my novels are set, had a massive influence in the panhandle: paper mill, landholdings, a railroad called the Apalachicola Northern that carried wood products from the coastal mill to Quincy, Florida for transfer to mainline railroads. The paper company, part of a trust established by the du Pont family, still exists but focuses on commercial and residential real estate. The railroad, named the Apalachicola Northern, was referred to as the Port St. Joe Route. (It still exists as part of a conglomerate.)
In my novels, I call my fictional the town Torreya (after a rare Florida tree) and place it near the town of Telogia as shown on this AN railroad map:
I mention the railroad a lot, fudging its route to include my fictional town because it, and the local sawmill, are important to the local economy; inasmuch as “crossings” is a vital word in conjure, railroad crossings also provide ambiance and figure into a plot which includes bulkhead flat cars carrying wood products:
Unfortunately, most of the online pictures of this railroad are copyrighted, including its old Electro-Motive (General Motors) SW9 switch engines.
If you’re a railfan, you can learn more about the railroad here:
What’s the Major Attraction or Industry?
What draws people to the location you’re writing about. If I’d set the novels in current times, I might have mentioned Apalachicola’s commercial oyster industry and/or the fight between Florida and Georgia for rights to the Apalachicola River’s water. If I’d set my novels in Tallahassee, the state government and two state universities there add plot opportunities. Of course, almost anywhere you go in the state provides fishing, kayaking, swimming, and other river/gulf/ocean recreation.
I chose pine forests and railroads because they fit the realities of the times in the Florida Panhandle of the 1950s. Needless to say, if you grow up or live in the area you’re writing about, you have an edge over authors from the far side of the country. You may not be a walking encyclopedia for the locale, but you know where to look.
Book four in the Florida Folk Magic Series, “Fate’s Arrows,” was released by Thomas-Jacob Publishing last month in paperback and e-book.