I chose the Outer Banks of North Carolina as the setting of my new novel Sparkle Days, a paranormal mystery, because of the islands’ remote location, beaches and dangers of the surrounding ocean. I only hope that the residents have a sense of humor.
When a writer contemplates the setting for a novel, the most important factor is whether that setting complements the plot and assists the interaction of the characters. Choosing to create a fictitious setting enables the author to manipulate the setting and avoid liability issues, which can be especially problematic for murder mystery authors. The other approach, using a real place, limits how much the author can manipulate the setting, but can enhance the story because readers who know the area can relate to it and others unfamiliar with the area can learn something about it. Each approach has pitfalls.
The Outer Banks (OBX), a popular spot for East Coast vacationers, is composed of Bodie (pronounced Bow-dee) Island, the most northern, Hatteras Island, Ocracoke Island, and Cape Lookout National Seashore, at the most southern end, which is composed of Portsmouth Island, the Core Banks and the Shackleford Banks. These last three are uninhabited. The first book in the Sparkle Days series features only Bodie and Hatteras Islands.
Buxton, the farthest point off shore on Hatteras Island, is over 30 miles from the mainland. Access to the Ocracoke Island and the other, more southern islands necessitates water or air travel. The State of North Carolina operates a ferry system for public use. Most of the ferries run free of charge or with a small charge to help fund the operation.
Between the mainland and the Outer Banks are brackish sounds. From the north to south the sounds are, Currituck, Ablemarle, Pamlico, and Core. The islands are also located in four counties each having laws that vary, which complicate a writer’s use of real places as the setting.
For example, in a short story I recently wrote, one of my critique partners questioned why I moved characters from Ocracoke to Hatteras Island. He thought the change unnecessary and overly involved. I realized that the change of islands was due to the very real differences in the liquor laws between the two. Had I kept the characters on the Hatteras Island, where the murder took place, the main characters could not have enjoyed a cocktail in a restaurant and met their waitress, who turned out to be the murderous antagonist, because Hatteras Island prohibits sales of mixed drinks in those establishments. Readers would have pointed out that the situation I created was unauthentic and proved I had not done my research.
There are over six hundred shipwrecks in the ocean surrounding the Outer Banks, called the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Diamond Shoals, shallow sandbanks underneath the ocean, are dangerous to ships and extend out from Cape Point in Buxton. The southern waters of the Gulf Stream meet the arctic Labrador Current, running down from the north, and form the deadly sandbanks that ground ships. The shoals are treacherous for all navigators because the banks move reshaping channels. Storms create new inlets and move sand, building the islands and transforming their shape.
During WWII, German U Boats cruised the area destroying merchant marine vessels that supplied the Allied War effort, earning the area the moniker Torpedo Junction and adding to the Graveyard of the Atlantic’s lore.
The area is rich is historical lore that include nomadic Native American culture, island ponies left by Spanish explorers, pirates such as Blackbeard, lighthouses and the birth of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Next week, I’ll explore Bodie Island in more detail.
WWK Blogger Paula Gail Benson has two short stories running in Kings River Life Magazine this weekend, "Pelican Spring" and "The Mama Factor." Both are Mother's Day short stories. You can read them by going to: http://kingsriverlife.com/category/kings-river-reviewers/terrific-tales/
Linda Rodriguez is a finalist in two categories for the International Latino Book Awards (given out at BEA the end of May)--one for Every Last Secret and one for editing Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriquena Poets Look at Their American Lives (with Gloria Vando, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell). Congratulations, Linda!
The second SinC Guppy anthology, Fish Nets, has been released by Wildside Press. WWK authors, Gloria Alden, Warren Bull, Kara Cerise and E. B. Davis have short stories in this volume, which can be bought at Wildside Press, the usual retailers and will be available at the Malice Domestic Conference. Look for "the story behind the stories" on May 1 here!
Upcoming Salad Bowl Saturdays include authors Carolyn Mulford on 5/25 and Liz Mugavero on 6/1. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, send a message to Jim Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.