Writing a Book with a Strong Sense of Location or Place
Karen Cushman asked Barbara O’Connor, “My newest book, War and Millie McGonigle, started with a place: South Mission Beach, San Diego, where my husband grew up. You, too, have written books set in a place alive and rich. Will you share some insights into place in your story, Wish?”
Q: Did you choose the setting first, before characters and plot? Did the story grow from the place or did the place grow from the story?
O’Connor: The story grew from the place. That’s the first time that has ever happened for me. I always set my stories in the South and that setting is always ever present. But those beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains are particularly special to me. I knew that’s where my story would be set … even before I had a story.
Q: How/where did you find the details that brought your place to life?
O’Connor: I grew up near the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains and spent a lot of time there. I went to summer camp in those mountains as a child. I remember so vividly the cool nights, the smoky haze in the mornings, the ferns and moss … all of it. After college, I moved far away, first to California, then to Boston. Seven years ago, I returned to those mountains so my memories have become my reality.
Q: Did the place enrich the story, or did it create limitations? Did you have to change details about the place?
O’Connor: Yes, I think the place enriched the story … and, no limitations. I didn’t change any details about the place. I confess I did have to research to find the names of some of the trees and shrubs, but everything stayed true to my experience.
Q: What would you like us to know about the place you chose for your book?
O’Connor: I’d like you to know that these glorious mountains are beautiful and lush and good for your soul. You can find waterfalls and ferns and blackberries and black bears and maybe a stray dog. (Reference to Wish … so you’ll have to read the book. haha)
Thank you to Barbara O’Connor for bringing us closer to the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains.
Learn more about Barbara O’Connor.
Learn more about Wish, including a video interview with Barbara.