First rule: love your stories’ locations

This is a book that packs a lot into its 166 pages. Despite this bleak subject matter the book is beautifully written, allowing this Brit a vision of a place which the author knows well and clearly loves. The contrast of the natural beauty highlights the ugliness of human behaviour. – Zoe Brooks review of “Conjure Woman’s Cat”

One of the greatest compliments a writer can receive from a reader or a reviewer is an acknowledgment of his or her love for the novel or short story’s place setting. To love a place unconditionally means accepting its beauty along with its flaws. When I think of a place, I think first about the land whether it’s swamps and marshes or glacier-carved mountains and pristine blue lakes.

Pitcher plants in Florida’s Tate’s Hell Forest

Experience helps supplement an author’s research. I lived in the Florida panhandle from the first grade through college. Family day trips, Scout camping trips, and recreation in various places shows an author what the guide books and maps miss: your perspective through first-hand research.

Quite often, this first-hand experience teaches you about the land’s history, myths, ghost stories, and folklore, all of which become a part of you and your view of life in that place which is much more real than picking a place on the map and then looking up its myths and folklore on Wikipedia or Amazon.

As people say, a map is not the territory. Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, said that riding through the countryside and seeing it through your car windows was pretty much like watching TV. You’re in your car, maybe on an Interstate racing toward your destination at 75 mph. Suffice it to say, you’re not really at any of the locations alongside the road. To know the location, you have to live there or explore it on one or more extended vacations. This way, you come to know and love the land–or you decide it’s not your kind of place.

If you love the land, it takes part in shaping you just as surely as a spouse. If you don’t love the land, then you’re either unhappy in that place or you try to ruin the land to suit your needs. If the land has, in part, made you who you are, this fact will be obvious to the readers of your work and–like you–the characters in your work who live there.

Good fiction, I believe, depends on recognizing the importance of the land on your plot, characters, and theme.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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