When I read, I really enjoy a clear sense of time and place. This goes for all genres. If your ghost story is set in a lonely mansion on the coast of Maine during WWII — make sure I believe the setting is truthful and I’ll believe that the ghost is real, too.
I’ve recently read fiction by two new authors — new friends from blogging, Twitter & LinkedIn — and I’m pleased to report that these two entirely different writers have both produced settings that were vivid and so real that the characters actions ring true.
As I don’t review books on this blog and don’t want to start. I’m not going to do full out reviews of “Such is Life” and “Vokhtah.” I will simply use both of these new books as examples of the best use of distinctive settings.
In her science fiction book “Vokhtah” A. C. Flory invites the reader to a hostile planet “peopled” with creatures best described as winged sociopaths with Machiavellian motivations, a fully-realized cultural mythology, a hierarchic society and an unusual manner for procreation. Vokhtah is a brutal planet and survival of the fittest (shrewdest, most devious & cunning) code underpins all the characters interactions.
The sense of place is so clear and finely drawn that the actions of the characters flow as a consequence of where they are in geography and the rigid caste system of the planet. A less complete environment might have made the creatures a bit comical or, worse, two dimensional. A.C. Flory’s achievement is in creating a credible, incredible world.
Jeri Walker-Bickett didn’t have to create her lonely landscape — she found it in various locations here in the United States. Her hyper-realistic short story collection “Such is Life” is set in a range of places — a suffocating small town in Montana, New Orleans, a suburban community determined to protect their children from outside influences, etc. It’s America today.
In each story, the sense of time and place anchors the story. The story “Leaving Big Sky” begins in a laundromat. The protagonist is watching laundry tumble in a dryer because, unlike the laundromats in Butte, this one has no TV, magazines and coffee to keep people entertained. The sense of abject loneliness is so much a part of the environment that the author doesn’t have to tell the reader what John is feeling. We feel it with him. The squeaky clean town in the story entitled “Not Terribly Important” hides a cruel streak of bigotry beneath its family friendly veneer. For a moment I wanted to shake the protagonist’s shoulders and tell her that the writing was on the wall.
By inviting the reader into specific and coherent environments, both of these authors give their characters real places to come to life.