Location, Location, Location!

15 Dec

Anyone who’s ever had anything to do with real estate has this saying engraved on their brain! It’s hammered at you every day. Location determines selling price, asking price, and eventually buying price. And all three of these may be different numbers. Anyway, this relates to books as well.

You can’t just say a book takes place in a certain setting without knowing for sure that your story could indeed live there.  You can try, of course, but it’ll probably come back to bite you in the end. Of course, if it’s a historical tale, the proper location becomes even more important.

In the summer of 1997, our local paper featured a travel piece about Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. In addition to the historical aspect, to many people, its greatest claim to fame (and rightly so) is the Shaw Festival, renowned throughout the world for absolutely first-class productions of plays by George Bernard Shaw, and his contemporary compatriots. (Is that redundant?)

Otherwise, however, NotL was an important factor in the War of 1812, as it’s just across the Niagara River from Youngstown New York, close enough for a strong swimmer to cross over. The Falls are downstream about twenty miles, and until the birth of the Welland Canal (in 1824, although the current incarnation came about in the early 1920s) there was no way to get by water from the eastern end of Canada (Toronto, Montreal, etc.) to the rest of the Great Lakes area. Lake Ontario is 365 feet lower than Lake Erie, where it ends.

What so intrigued me about all this, however, was this brief note: “The Angel at Niagara-on-the-Lake, claims to be older (than 200 years old). The Union Jack flies perpetually outside because, if it doesn’t, the ghost of a British captain, killed in the War of 1812, is said to appear.”

Well! What self-respecting writer wouldn’t feel some kind of twinge at reading that? Immediately, the thought popped into my head ‘there’s a book in there!’  Of course, it took years to germinate, and finally about 5 years later, maybe, the story popped into my head. But . . . there was this wee little problem of my never having been to NotL, and having absolutely no notion of the geography, etc.  I’d spent a fair amount of time in Northern Michigan wandering around Mackinac  Island and the tip of the mainland at Fort Michilimackinac and Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario inspecting other sites of battles from that war.

But this was different. I just couldn’t picture it. Move ahead to 2007, and there I was, standing in front of the Olde Angel Inn! I was so thrilled. Sure enough the Union Jack was aloft, fluttering slightly in the gentle evening breeze. My companion and I went in and after a great pub meal, were given some info about the place and the ghost, Captain Colin Swayze by name. I was ready to write!

And I did. I managed to write two whole pages of prologue, when my heroine played a trick on me! I had decided she’d buy an old house and renovate it into a Bed n Breakfast Inn. Darned if the house she chose wasn’t an octagon house. Really? I was totally stymied. Once upon a time, this was a fairly popular architectural style, but they’ve sort of fallen out of favor. I remembered there was one near where I grew up (Washington, Michigan) but I’d never been in it. I had to find out more. That little project took me nearly three years!

I’d never have managed all this without Google, I have to say. I found several sites devoted to Octagon houses, and discovered a few within visiting distance. I’ve been able to visit two of them, and take lots of pictures, so I had a general notion of the layout, etc. There’s a book about the house by the man who popularized them in the US—Orson Scott Fowler. (Although Thomas Jefferson was there first – as usual. After he retired from being president, he built an Octagon house in the mountains for his summer house. It’s called Poplar Forest, and is even now being renovated in Lynchburg, Virginia.

So, from there, I was able (with help from another friend and his grandson) to configure the floor plan to a more suitable size. Each of my house’s 8 walls are 24 feet instead of the original builder’s 32 feet! What a massive house that must have been. Then I stumbled over one photo of a faded pink brick house with a Mansard roof and fell totally in love with it. Unfortunately, that house in Windsor, Ontario, burned some 20 or so years ago during renovation, and was damaged so badly it had to be torn down. But I have that photo for inspiration.

But still, there was one slight problem! Just where, in NotL was this house to be located? It’s a contemporary story, with flashbacks to accommodate the ghost, but I desperately wanted it to be on the water. I had an image in my head of the land itself, but no good idea where that might be. Or if it was even reasonable to dream about it!

So, off to NotL I went. With friend. It was rather cold, and windy, but the weather was so invigorating! We walked all over, taking literally hundreds of photos. Each time I’d see what I thought might be a logical spot, we’d inspect it carefully, and I’d say, “I think this could work” but then we’d go on. And I’d find yet another ‘possible’ site.

But then. Ohhhhh! There it was. Perfect! Right on the lake, but up on a slight rise sat a big white house with trees nearby but not too close. There is a small municipal park to the west, with a few benches for watching the lake, before the land curves around to the south and eventually over to the Welland Canal, some few miles away. Of course, most of the lakeshore in that direction is given to wineries. Bunches of them!

And to the east of my chosen spot is a small inlet or creek, which I saw in my mind as I was creating all this. My heroine has a degree of isolation, but not total. She can easily walk along the road in front of her house to visit a neighbor or just cross the road to the quite a few houses over there.

I’m so thrilled! I can easily picture (in my mind, that is) that gorgeous pink brick octagon house sitting on that little bluff looking out over tempestuous or tranquil Lake Ontario. On a clear day, one can see Toronto!

Now to write it.  Saint’s Harbour is about to come to life. Wish me luck, please?

If you want to visit the Olde Angel Inn, I can heartily recommend their ‘bangers and mash’ for a great pub dinner! Otherwise, you can visit them here, as well: http://www.angel-inn.com/index.php


6 Responses to “Location, Location, Location!”

  1. Steve Szilagyi December 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    I’m impressed by the pains that you’re taking to establish the location and house for “Saint’s Harbour”. It reminds me of these notes by Vladimir Nabokov, where he goes back through “Anna Karenina” and “Ulysses” and makes precise maps and floor plans of their locations — seeing location as crucial to the meaning of the works in question. I guess great minds think alike.

    • bookmechanic December 15, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

      Wow! Thank you so much. I’m pleased to be anywhere near that category of author, believe me!


  2. Cathy Jo December 15, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    Kelly, What a wonderful blog. Your writing is so engaging, I hated for it to end. You’ve got me wanting to take a trip to NotL. I wish you much success in the writing of Saint’s Harbour. What a treat to be a part of the birthing process of a novel.

    Cathy Jo

  3. Charles December 17, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    Thank goodness, you and your Blog, for inspiring so much creativity. Forgiving, tenacity and a super vivid imagination makes for a wonderful foundation for your work. Very Inspiring!

    • Charles December 17, 2010 at 2:56 am #

      Thank goodness, you and your Blog, for inspiring so much creativity. Forgiving, tenacity and a super vivid imagination makes for a wonderful foundation for your work. Very Inspiring!

      p.s.URL address corrected.


  1. House Plans » Blog Archive » House project 9898 - December 15, 2010

    […] you can check out this related blog post: https://bookmechanic.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/location-location-location/ Posted in Luxury […]

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