When Settings Attack by JD Horn
One of the main difficulties with using actual locations as settings for urban fantasy is that occasionally the urban refuses to stand still for the fantasy. While my novel The Line—coming January 2014 from 47North—was still in its inchoate state, I toyed with the idea of creating a town named “Taylor’s Ferry.” It would have been a bit of a backwoods Brigadoon, hidden by a strong witch’s magic so that although a visitor might stumble across it, the town would never appear on a Georgia map. As romantic as the idea at first sounded to me, I soon realized that it was too antiseptic a setting for Mercy Taylor, my heroine, and her family to take root. After many false starts, it finally hit me that there was no need to invent a romantic, haunting (and haunted) southern locale, when beautiful Savannah was already there.
In The Line Savannah itself grew into a character in its own right, its Historic District, not merely acting as a backdrop, but playing an integral role in the story’s events. I felt safe choosing Savannah as the setting for what has grown into the “Witching Savannah” series, as it is a city notoriously adverse to change. The Line makes heavy use of old Candler Hospital, a Savannah landmark that had been deserted for nigh on 30 years. The building, known originally as “Savannah Hospital,” is not only Georgia’s first hospital, but served through the Civil War and plagues of yellow fever. To prevent public panic during these yellow fever epidemics, officials used the still extant tunnels that run from beneath the hospital to under Forsyth Park as a hiding place for the bodies of plague victims. These same tunnels were allegedly used for both once illegal dissections and still unthinkable vivisections. Old Candler also endured several years’ use as an insane asylum. Widely considered to be haunted, when I first saw old Candler, the building was in such a state of poor repair that a tetanus shot would have been advisable before even letting one’s eye run over the building’s rusted ironwork. In other words, I had struck setting gold.
Of course the day I typed the final period, old Candler was sold and is now being renovated to become the Savannah Law School. Rumor has it that city leaders were forced to stand up to the new owners who wanted to cut down the historic Candler Oak, a 300 year old live oak and beloved city landmark, to make room for more parking. Yes, I had fallen in love with the tree and used it to full advantage at a major turning point in Mercy Taylor’s life. But even with these slight blips, Savannah gave so much, not only to the story, but to the character of Mercy. She is a creature of this southern liberal oasis, with her own love/hate relationship to the city. One of my favorite developments during the writing process came when Mercy began to lead her own “Liar’s Tour” of Savannah, where she makes up the most outlandish stories about her beloved hometown. Savannah is a part of Mercy; I can no longer imagine her coming from any other place. Nor will I ever again be able to walk the city’s live oak lined streets without seeing Mercy there.
JD Horn was raised in rural Tennessee, and has since carried a bit of its red clay in him while travelling the world, from Hollywood, to Paris, to Tokyo. He studied comparative literature as an undergrad, focusing on French and Russian in particular. He also holds an MBA in international business and worked as a financial analyst before becoming a novelist. When not writing he is likely running, and he has race bibs from two full marathons and about thirty half marathons. He and his spouse, Rich, and their three pets split their time between Portland, Oregon and San Francisco. The Line, the first book in the “Witching Savannah” series, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com.
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