The setting of my story is near a place near where I grew up, and in the book, this is how the protagonist describes her hometown:
Middlebury, Indiana, like many towns in our surrounding latitude, was mostly farmland. During the warmer months, when the fields were alive with activity—planting, blossoming, growing, and harvesting—it was beautiful…almost beautiful enough to make me forget that there wasn't actually anything to do there. But then came late fall when the last of its life and color were reaped away, leaving the decaying, leftover shards of cornstalks to freeze solid in the ground like someone had stabbed the fields to their empty, naked deaths.
I could usually stomach the barrenness of my surroundings through about Christmas, but once the distraction of the holidays had passed, I hated it. In some backward, claustrophobic way, I found the openness of the stripped land suffocating, and I couldn't wait for spring when new green life would sprout up from the ground and somehow make me feel a little less insignificant.
While I can definitely relate to the sentiment behind my character's fictional description of what it's like to live in a part of the world primarily composed of cornfields, I can't say that her perspective is my own entirely.
When I left the Hoosier state for one of the country's largest metropolitan areas, it wasn't because I hated my lot in life. Rather, it was because I loved my husband more than I liked the comfort of the only home I'd ever known. But in these years away, I feel as though I've gained a different appreciation for "back home."
Middlebury wasn't my first choice for my book's settings--which sounds strange, I know since I'm the author and it's not like I have to ask a town's Chamber of Commerce for permission before imagining something takes place there--but after a long afternoon spent driving through neighborhoods and their surrounding (literally) farms, I knew that it was the right backdrop for the story I would tell.
This place is beautiful. Though, in defense of my narrator, when I chose it I was viewing it during the fall and not during the winter after it's been murdered in the nude.
Middlebury is the quintessential small town. It's green lawns and family-owned restaurants. It's pristine homes that are still lived in and loved on by the descendants of those who built them. It's faded paint on the side of old barns and dirt on the work boots of the customers at the farm supply store. It's character, earned and well-deserved.
And I love it.
Part of my research for my book included a pretty extensive* "casting" process. In addition to casting my characters (the details of which I'll save for another own post), I also scouted locations for places that were important to the lives of the people in the story. Their houses, their hangouts, their school.
I have taken photos of these places (that's not illegal, right?), eaten in the restaurants, and blended in my own coming-of-age with that of my leading lady's so much that when I visit Middlebury now, I have secret hopes of running into her eating pizza at Rulli's, proudly adorned in her boyfriend's letter jacket.
Of course this small town isn't the story's only setting. And while I have fallen more in love with Middlebury, Indiana over the course of writing Songs Eight Six, there are other places my character goes in the book that I would like to visit more it, if only they were real enough and I were eligible to do so.
*see also, neurotic