Recently, I asked my Facebook friends about their favorite novel settings. The answers were awesome, and varied, with people mentioning everything from the graveyards of New Orleans to the Deep South and the streets of New York City to San Francisco.
There’s no doubt that a novel’s setting, when done well, improves a reader’s experience. For example, I can’t imagine Greg Iles’ Natchez Burning in anywhere other than small town Mississippi. Gone Girl needed a suburban nouveau-riche feel. And Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) does a brilliant job describing the busy London cityscape in The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm.
When I first began writing Center of Gravity, I’d already decided to locate the novel in a fictional town south of Nashville, Tennessee. I invented neighborhoods, a school, a college, and a coffee shop—one so cozy that I wanted to spend my days there!
As I live and work in the Deep South, the overall feeling from my editors was that Center of Gravity should be set along the Gulf Coast—specifically, in Mobile, Alabama.
In many ways, Mobile ended up being ideal for Center of Gravity. Founded in 1702 as the capital of colonial French Louisiana, Mobile offers a rich culture rooted in tradition. The city boasts lovely antebellum architecture, city parks, museums, and a lively arts community. As in many Southern cities, Mobile is a place where people greet strangers on the street like old friends, where children are still expected to address their elders with “sir” and “ma’am,” and manners and church attendance are still held in high esteem.
Here’s a quick look at Center of Gravity’s setting:
Sights & Smells: Mobile is home to lush, lovely flowering plants and trees. As Center of Gravity is set in March and April, azaleas are in full bloom, dogwoods are covered with white blossoms, and camellias are opening their pink buds to the sky.
In the evenings, with cicadas chirping, the air seems to be scented with honeysuckle and wisteria.
In the summer, especially, it’s common to encounter neighborhood barbeques, crawfish and shrimp boils, as well as Sunday dinners after church with crispy fried chicken, okra, collard greens, and sweet cornbread. Yum!
Mobile is just thirty minutes from snow-white Gulf of Mexico beaches, but is also traditionally known one of the wettest cities in the nation, so rainstorms and hurricanes aren’t uncommon!
Landmarks: In Center of Gravity, the gorgeous grounds of Springport College (this one is fictional!) play a major role in the story’s action, as does Miss Beulah’s coffee shop—a favorite gathering place, and Mobile Prep, one of the city’s elite private schools.
This photo (left) is of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, where I based the look and feel of Springport College.
I hope this gives you a taste of what Mobile, Ala. is all about! Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about making the city the setting for Center of Gravity. Though there’s always intense pressure to get the setting of a novel just right, there’s even more pressure when the location of my novel is my adopted hometown!
What are your thoughts on settings? What makes them unforgettable?