This is a repost of one from February 13, 2012 for those just beginning the Rockland Chronicles.
Rockland first appeared in Noble Pursuits. I set Grace in an established neighborhood– the one she’d grown up in as a child–in the smaller suburb of Brunswick. Rockland developed as the story did. I needed a city–a metropolis really–and yet I don’t know any midwesterny cities. I know LA. That’s fine and dandy, but the book wasn’t set in California and I didn’t want it to be set there.
Another problem with any city I did know (I’m a little familiar with Lubbock, Texas) is that things change so swiftly in cities. I knew that unless I was a frequent visitor to any place, I’d get things wrong. I’d put streets where there were no longer streets or not have a street where there should be. Parks, malls, stores… it’d all end up a jumbled mess, and how annoying would that be for people who were currently familiar? Not an option.
So, I created my own city. I don’t even say what state it’s in. It’s just about a 4-6 hour drive to Chicago. That’s all anyone needs to know. The only reason I put that much information about the city in the book was to settle it within driving distance of the mid-west and to help dictate the “flavor” of the area I wanted.
Grace and Nolan spent little time there– just enough to make it “real” in my mind.
Around that time, I settled Aggie’s sister in Rockland, but I moved Aggie away from there rather quickly. I wanted more country life for her, so I put her near Brunswick and Grace but in a little rural town. The cities and towns around the loop began to emerge. I’d mentioned the loop, an idea I stole from Lubbock (yes I know other cities have them but I am familiar with Lubbock’s!), and so I began situating towns around it as I had need to.
Another series, the Hartfield Mysteries, created not only my favorite character of all time, but also my favorite town around the Rockland loop– Fairbury. Alexa Hartfield writes mysteries that border on horror. She writes the gritty novels that explore the worst of mankind and satisfies that part of us, created in our Creator’s image, that craves justice. Oh, and she does it while wearing period clothing from almost any era. For the record, she’s not a big fan of the late eighteenth century (before the Grecian inspiration of the Regency) styles. She might walk to the store wearing a 1930’s walking suit, come home and put on jeans and a newsboy cap to rake the yard, and then two days later, half-recline on her sofa with her laptop while wearing something that looked designed for an Austen adaptation.
I fell in love with Fairbury. I love its quiet lifestyle– how it clings desperately to the feeling of innocence we associate with small towns of the mid-twentieth century. The funny thing is, I’d never live within the town/city limits. For it to exist as it does, it’d have to be a planned community with lots of regulations about what you can do and how and where. All the things I’d never choose to live with. It’s hilarious.
Hope refused to live in any of the established towns. She created Marshfield and with it, a whole new realm of interestingness. Even though she didn’t spend much time in Rockland, I did manage to get a good feel for the area simply because of her. From there Lane jumped on the scene. I couldn’t keep her long in Montana. All I knew of it was from one trip through and the stories that a friend told me of living there. I did so much research for that book. It probably took as much time to research it as it did to write it. In that book, I became intimately acquainted with Rockland. I learned about its “inner city” and its “fine arts” areas. Restaurants and stores emerged. Little blocks of things that you might find in an old established city like “mine.”
Westbury, Ferndale, New Cheltenham, Marshfield, Brant’s Corners, Fairbury, Brunswick, Hillsdale… they are all a nice little piece of my imaginary world.
I’ve had people ask how “real” Rockland is to me, and it’s a difficult question to answer. I mean, sometimes people say that and mean, “Can you see it in your mind? Do you know what is on what street etc.?” The answer is absolutely. I could come upon a full scale model of the area and get to wherever I wanted to go. I know where the subway stations are in Rockland and which line they go to. I can tell you where to find Boutique Row and the Bridal Aisle. I have a straight shot to the Towers and I know exactly which apartment belongs to Curtis and which is Matt’s. I know where to find the road to Fairbury and how to circumvent the town or go through it. I know Alexa’s old house and her new one. I know every inch of Willow’s farm, Brant’s Corners, New Cheltenham, and how to get there.
However, some people mean, “Do you live there in your imagination and is it just as real to you as that little hamlet in the middle of the desert?” The answer is no. It’s not that real to me. The desert has not scrambled and then fried my brains on the sidewalks of my imagination. Yet.