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Monday, September 16, 2013

SOME YA BOOT KICKING IN THE LONE STAR STATE: WRITING TEXAS



Mall Culture Heaven: French Fry Heaven!
So here’s the story: One day recently, it occurred to authors Tricia (PJ) Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Mary Lindsey and I that we all had new YA novels set in Texas. This is perhaps not surprising since we all live here in the Lone Star State – Mary and I here in Houston and Mari and Tricia in Austin. But the more we brainstormed, the more we realized that we really had a lot to say about not only why we set our stories here as well as the process involved in the specifics of a Lone Star state setting. Thus was born a panel presentation that we’ll be doing all over Texas this fall at a variety of regional library conferences. Sometimes it will be all four of us; sometimes it will be two. But it’s been both fun and eye-opening to look at the various aspects of setting a novel in Texas and what inspired each of us as well as what Texas elements play key roles.

To catch you up to speed: PJ Hoover’s SOLSTICE is a morph of dystopian and mythology, set in a slightly future Austin where global warming has changed a great deal. Plus two hot guys and one girl who is not quite who she thinks she is!  Mari Mancusi’s brand new SCORCHED uses a West Texas setting to begin a story that is best described as Game of Thrones meets Terminator and has—yup—2 hot guys (twins!) and girl and a dragon egg and a potential dragon apocalypse! Mary Lindsey’s SHATTERED SOULS series has—yup!—two hot guys and a girl who can help lost souls. Right here in Galveston. And finally, my SWEET DEAD LIFE series is about a girl whose brother returns from a fatal car accident as her less than angelic guardian angel, setting in motion a vast family mystery with huge global consequences. Also a cute guy who appears in book 1 for the beginning of a love story that will wind its way through the series. Just 1 guy. At least for now. And set – right here in Houston, with a few Austin road trips.

(Plus all our title start with 's'--something I just noticed)

For some stories, setting is an aspect, but it’s not crucial to the story telling. Certain romances, for example. The story is so much about the couple that the setting feels secondary. But imagine Twilight set in Miami? Uh, no. Even something like Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall is deeply intertwined to the specificity of a certain economic class in a certain type of suburban CT high school. At least as I see it.

So setting. For those of you who haven’t thought about setting since your 10th grade English teacher asked you to draw a map of Maycomb Alabama or whatever, there’s more to it than just a geographic location. Setting is everything: time period, social milieu, climate; time of year; physical and political environment and more. Here’s a quick Writer’s Digest article if you really haven’t thought about it in a while:  http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/discover-the-basic-elements-of-setting-in-a-story

When my Soho Press editor first suggested the basic idea for the TSDL series, I remember being a bit nervous when I sent him an email saying that I would love to write this series but that I envisioned it set in suburban Houston. I figured he would say, ‘uh no,’ or perhaps, ‘hell no’ or perhaps wtf are you thinking, Prebs?’ But instead, he said, YES!

So why Texas? Well first of all, I live here. So the small societal details come easily to me because I live them every day. I mean let’s face it, there is a stunning specificity to the ‘wasteland’ of the northern Houston ‘burbs’ : Breakfast tacos and kolaches and mall culture and Olive Gardens and strip centers and stuff like how here in the more affluent suburb where I live, they’ve built us a town center that looks like a small town’s downtown, with stores built into old brick buildings. Only it’s just a façade. The buildings aren’t old at all, just a few years old, really. So in essence – a FAKE town center that everyone raves about. Stuff like that sticks in your head, you know?

So when my brain went whirring about where I would set a story about a 14 year old girl who’s older brother came back as a guardian angel, I thought WHAT BETTER PLACE than in the middle of giant high school football stadiums and Crocs kiosks and FAKE TOWN CENTERS, and western wear and cowboy boots devoid of actual farm work, and churches so enormous that they have a Starbucks inside (yes really) and a societal culture that often professes to have a pipeline to all the answers about faith and salvation and things of that nature. So, my brain said, what if the stoner dude (formerly a football star but down on his luck  and failing his classes because he’s been supporting the family since his dad disappeared and his mom went all depressed) in one of those ordinary suburban houses actually came back as his sassy sister's guardian angel? Right before Christmas. When the next door neighbors were putting out their lights and lawn angels? And became the most unlikely hero ever? And what if there was a big global mystery that could change life as we know it and its center was the Houston Medical Center? And the newly minted Texas boy angel and his narrator sister were at the epicenter of it all?

You see what I mean? Houston Texas was the PERFECT setting for this novel—for not only the main story but also much of the subtext. In fact, the setting works as a character of sorts. I can’t imagine this novel taking place anywhere else.

So what novels have you read where the setting plays a huge role in the story?





1 comment:

Hannah J said...

Why, Dreaming Anastasia of course! I really liked how Anne and Ethan both came from cold places -- her Chicago, him Russia -- although that said, I did find it funny when she mentions their "ridiculous winters" in AF. He's a Russian peasant, Anne. I think he knows cold more than you do. And I really did love that IHOP scene. You had me craving pancakes for weeks