Where in the World
“’How still the plains of waters be,” a musing, sugary voice quoted softly from behind him. “’The tide is in his ecstasy. The tide is at his highest height: and it is night.’ The Marshes of Glynn by Sidney Lanier.”
Corrine Watts came around to the front of the desk, gazing at the painting with him. “It was my daddy’s favorite poem. He made all us kids memorize the whole damn thing.”
--excerpt from UNFIXABLE, Blood River Series Book #1
So now you know where my next mystery series is set!-- not literally in the marshes of Glynn County, Georgia, but in its fictional south Georgia equivalent, a moody, atmospheric place thick with history, swamp gnats and secrets.
It took months for me to settle on the location of what has now become the Blood River Mystery Series. The plot for UNFIXABLE was set in my head, as were the characters, who have been relocated from my favorite (and I hope yours!) Raine Stockton Dog Mystery series. But I was unable to start the book because setting, in my opinion, is the most important character of all.
I understood the Smoky Mountains because I've lived there, and was able to make them an integral part of Raine Stockton's story because she had the mountains in her blood, like I do. I was able to create Dogleg Island and make it come alive for Flash, Aggie and Grady because I lived, for ten winters or more, on a small barrier island in Florida. These were places I loved and knew intimately. Until I could find a locale that was equally as evocative for the new book, I was stumped.
I set about finding the location for my new series in the same way a pioneer might look for a place to homestead. I asked myself: What are the access points-- the highways, waterways, airports, railways? What kind of people travel here? How does the population makes its living? What are the major employers? How do people discover this place? What is its ethnicity, population, history, culture?
By this time I had a pretty idea of the kind of town I wanted to create, but I still wasn't sure where it was. I thought I'd do well with a body of water to anchor my town, so I started asking the sportsmen I knew what their favorite fishing spots were. It wasn't until my brother mentioned the Suwanee River that the idea gelled. It turns out the Suwanee River was his least favorite spot because, as he said, "It's a blackwater river and you can't see what's beneath the surface. It creeps me out."
Oh yeah, thought I. That's the place.
The fictional Blood River is a tributary of the Suwanee, which is the headwater of the Okefenokee Swamp. Plenty of room for creepiness there. Lots of time to spend peering beneath the surface, trying to guess what lies below. A setting was born. And it was a setting that would play as much of a role in the book as any of the human characters.
As it happens, The Marshes of Glynn was my daddy's favorite poem too. Although he fervently opposed my ambition to write novels for a living and did everything in his power to discourage me, he also gave me the one piece of advice that, more than anything, shaped my style as a writer. "A good writer," he said , "makes people feel the place he's writing about, just like Sydney Lanier and the Marshes of Glynn. Now when you can do that, you can call yourself a writer."
Well, all right, then.