Thursday, August 27, 2009

Snowy Hills and Deserts

It looks like I’m a little different than the rest of The Novel Girls so far when it comes to setting. I’m sort of obsessed with it. Setting is a huge deal for me in my books, and I don’t necessarily mean where each particular scene is set –although that’s important, too -- but the overall locale where the story takes place always has a big impact on my stories.

Perhaps one of the reasons setting seems like such a big deal to me is that the backdrops of the pieces of my own life have been vastly different. I grew up in a suburb in Pennsylvania, with cold snowy winters and green lush landscapes. Most of my adult life has been in Arizona, amidst the desert, dry air, and sometimes, unbearable heat. Maybe this is also why I think about weather and landscape a lot in my books because my own history has shown me such vast opposites.

I recently did an interview with a Philadelphia newspaper where the reporter asked me why I chose to set The September Sisters near Philadelphia even though I'd already moved to Arizona when I wrote it. I had a hard time answering that question, but then it occurred to me that I've been switching back and forth for setting -- every other book I write is alternately set in Philadelphia or Arizona. For example, my next book, The Life of Glass, is set in Arizona. Then my third book, The Transformation of Things, is set in a fake suburb of Philadelphia. And the book I just finished working on is very, very crucially set in the desert of Arizona. I guess like Lisa said, when it comes to setting, I write what I know.

But what I really love about setting is the way it can mean so many things to a book -- in my suburban Philadelphia set books snow and cold weather and the suburban mentality help shape the story, and conversely, in my Arizona set books heat and dry air, monsoon storms, scorpions, and mountains become a part of the story. I can't imagine The September Sisters without Abby and Tommy sledding down a snowy hill or holding hands in the snow, or existing in a world that isn’t frozen, and in The Life of Glass, Melissa and her best friend Ryan have a habit of riding their bikes in a desert wash, which becomes integral to the book.

I guess for me, setting really is a character in the story – where the characters live, what the weather’s like, what the world around them is like, is absolutely key. A city, a part of the country, a landscape – all of these things give the book and the characters a particular feel, and without them, I’m not sure I’d even know where to begin.

PS. I'm having a contest over at my own blog to win an ARC of The Life of Glass. To find out how to enter, click here.

1 comment:

Lisa Patton said...

She's our resident MA!! Let me know when you're ready to start teaching, Jill. I'm so there.