A guest post by author Michael Hiebert about dreaming up a fictional town in Alabama for his first novel.
My book, “Dream With Little Angels,” takes place in a town called Alvin, Alabama.
Funny thing about Alvin. It doesn’t really exist. I made it up, which, on the surface, would make one think my job was easier. In fact, I think it made my job a little tougher.
When I first started writing the book, I knew I would probably need to go to the South for research, and so I chose to set the mythical town of Alvin in the same place as Auburn, Alabama – because I have a friend who lives there. As I wrote, I used reference materials, and I bounced ideas off of other friends – writer friends – who used to live in the South, all to make sure I kept things accurate. I also began working on a map, building my “town.”
When it finally came time to go to Auburn, although I was able to get a real exposure to the language and culture of the South, I still had to rely on reference materials for a lot of the setting. Even still I think it worked out well. I got to spend Thanksgiving down there, and let me tell you what—Thanksgiving in the South is something else!
Upon getting to Alabama, one thing I realized right away was that I hadn’t set my town deep enough into the South. Auburn doesn’t have any swamps! So I did make a bunch of trips to parts of Alabama that did have swamps.
While writing, the toughest part came when I had to remember all the details of the town. I not only had story components to juggle, I also had to remember things like what went where and which roads were placed in which places and which buildings belonged to which street corners.
Early on in the process, I realized I needed a way to keep track of everything. So I came up with my Story Bible, which, in reality, was an Encyclopedia of the Book. Every important detail, every little item, however small, was recorded in my ever-growing volume of story information that helped me manage to keep everything straight.
Although Alvin is a small town, there’s a lot going on. It has a Main Street full of shops and people, and I needed to keep track of them while I wrote. My Story Bible allowed me to do that.
Having a digital version of the town allowed me to overlay the streets, rivers and lakes with their names. This really useful tool helped me along as I developed the story. Then, for any of the major buildings in the story, I actually drafted them almost the way an architect would.
All of this work up front turned out to be worth its weight in gold when it came to telling the story. And when Kensington asked me to write a sequel to “Dream With Little Angels” (a book called “Close To The Broken Hearted” that should be out next summer), my Story Bible was even more valuable. Since I still had all the original material from the first book available to me, all I needed to do was add to my map and develop new characters.
Michael Hiebert lives in Canada and is an award-winning author of novels and short stories. He won the prestigious Surrey International Writer’s Conference Storyteller’s Award twice in a row and has had his work published in The Best American Mystery Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. His writing often contains elements of mystery and the fantastic, as he tries to find the redemption in the horrific, the surviving heart still left beating among all the sorrow, the beautiful lost somewhere in all the ugliness of the world.
“Dream With Little Angels” is one of our Summer Reading List picks for 2013. Enter to win a copy during Literary Friday tomorrow!