here.) Forgiven is the companion novel, and takes place two years later in San Francisco. You can click here to read my review, and read on to hear from Janet about how she constructs the settings of her novels!
I’m a very visual person. When I write, I see pictures playing in my head like a movie. Setting is the one aspect of writing that I don’t struggle with so much – it seems to come out naturally, because my characters are already there, in my head, with the scenery intact around them. (Believe me, I struggle with other aspects of writing, but I’ll save that for another time.) Having said that, I do pick and choose my setting’s details carefully.
When I began to write Faithful, I actually wrote the story for the setting. I know that seems weird, but I love the Greater Yellowstone region and the Park so much that I felt I had to craft a novel in that setting. It took me a while after that to find the right story, one that would fit the place, and the right time period. I wanted to set it in the past, and I chose 1904 because that was the year that the Old Faithful Inn was finished and open for business; it was also a period of dynamic social change. My research consisted of lots of trips into Yellowstone Park. (I know; it was a terrible hardship.) Park history is well known and researched and documented, so my research was easy. I attended lectures in the Park, and visited the Research Center. I traced the route that the old coaches took through the Park, noting what would have been there in 1904 and what was gone, but knowing that the landscape – the most compelling aspect of my setting – was basically unchanged. And easy to describe because it is so marvelous, so wondrous.
When I began Forgiven I knew that I wanted to send Kula out of Yellowstone (for reasons of character), and I chose San Francisco because I’d read about the great earthquake and fires of 1906. I don’t know San Francisco so well as I do Yellowstone, but I have been there. There is a virtual museum of the city with a trove of old photographs, videos, letters, newspaper articles, and other documents, and I spent hours reading and studying those files, and reading other books about the city and the time. There were some things I had to invent, because large portions of the city were destroyed by the earthquake and fires. But I gathered the descriptions of that terrible event of April 1906 from eyewitness accounts and then reinterpreted them from Kula’s point of view.
I think this latter aspect is most important when I construct setting – what does the setting reflect about the character? We each see things in our own way. One person sees graffiti; another sees wall art. Maggie sees Yellowstone first as a threat (dangerous animals, deadly hot springs) but comes to see its beauty over time. Setting is background, yes; but it’s also a window into the soul of my character. I paint the details of my setting to reflect that soul.
Thanks so much, Janet!