It’s no surprise that I have a bit of an obsession with old-fashioned architecture and furniture. I was the kid who wrote an angry letter to the city when I was maybe nine years old, telling them not to tear down one of the buildings in downtown Stockton. I don’t remember if I sent it, but I definitely wrote it. Most of the buildings are very old, and very beautiful – dilapidated, maybe, and in need of some improvement, but beautiful nonetheless.
I’m the kid who loved visiting Ye Olde Hoosier Inn for breakfast, because there was a whole “red parlor” full of 1800s – style chairs, tables, chandeliers, postcards, and more. It was also draped in red wallpaper, and the entire restaurant featured bulbous glass lamps, silky window treatments, and Bible verses painted in yellow calligraphy on the rafters. I wanted to cry when I found out that it closed and was being torn down. Most of the people who live in Stockton didn’t even know it was closing until after it had.
I’m also the person who used the setting of one of the oldest schools in town as the headquarters for the criminal organization in my previous novel. It’s been used as a building for the school district, but is currently standing empty.
So you can imagine that it would only make sense that the moment I rode into Aetna Springs Resort on a job site visit, that it immediately appealed to me, right?
The resort was a booming place in the late 1800s – early 1900s, and in recent years has been falling into disrepair. When I arrived on-site to meet with the construction company that will be spearheading the historic renovation of the property, I was immediately enamored with the sad state of the place, although some of its hold was with how beaten down it was.
There was a building where almost the entire ceiling had fallen in, and glass paned doors opened into a sunlit common area that just happened to have a collapsed roof in it. Another had a red door that stood ajar, and you could just see some old appliances and fixtures within. Others were in better shape, such as the dining hall, which had an architecture inside that reminded me of an organ, and old wood grain flooring.
The whole property is overgrown with tall, brown grass and weeds, and apparently has a lot of snakes, which was part of the reason I didn’t venture into the buildings or too far toward the creek on the other side. However, seeing it made me itch for my Rolleiflex. How perfect would it be, to come and photograph this place with the kind of camera that would do justice to its age and splendor?
The connection to making it a setting, however, is not exactly to my credit. As my coworker and I walked the property, he said offhandedly that it would make a great setting for a novel. I just shook my head and laughed, still mostly visualizing the photographs I’d take, but here I am a few weeks later, and I am thinking about my NaNoWriMo novel for 2013, and suddenly, as if I got hit in the head, the idea took shape. What happened there, why it was in disrepair, why no one had come to stay there for years upon years. The resort’s golf course has been open nonstop since 1893, but the “hotel” portion of it has not. Why? That’s for me to discover within a fictional perspective.
These kinds of finds are gems to me, pockets of history that are interesting and fun to discover. Taking the next step and dropping it into a novel is even more fun, and building upon my imagination to discover the story within.
When you write fiction, how do you come up with your setting? Do you draw upon places you’ve been, or do you rely on your imagination to do the work? Let me know in the comments!
Other NaNoWriMo preparation posts: