I'm a native Floridian, old enough to remember my dad shooting a gator in our front yard in what is now an extremely urban south Florida. When I decided to write a Florida-set series, I wanted to place it somewhere like the wilder state I knew as a child. My husband and I have a little piece of property in middle Florida, a spot to escape the stresses of too much noise, too many cars, and too many people. I chose that untamed part of the state -- north of Lake Okeechobee and south of Orlando -- for my setting.
I know this, because I was the city slicker gift recipient. Hey, I’ve gotten sweaters I liked a lot less.
One of the most striking differences between my south Florida home and my characters' home is the unique way each place stirs my senses. When I give classes on fiction-writing, students always want to know what's missing from their stories. Often, it's the full array of the senses. We're all pretty good at describing how a scene looks. But what about what we hear, or smell? How does the texture -- the touch -- of a thing feel?
My characters experience a completely different environment in Himmarshee than I do at my home in Fort Lauderdale. I spend time in that part of the state so I can describe the sensation of life in Himmarhsee. I grew up on the coast, as distinct from Florida's interior as a seagull is from a Sandhill crane. When I think of the beach, I smell the fruit-stand scent of suntan lotion. I hear the tck-tck-tck of palm fronds rustling together in a light breeze. I feel the crunch of broken shells beneath bare feet as I walk along the shoreline.Fictional Himmarshee sits just north of the big lake, in Florida's real-life cattle belt. When my main character, the tomboyish Mace Bauer, is outside, she notes the sweet smell of orange blossoms in citrus groves, tinged with the faint odor of manure. At dusk, she hears a chorus of croaking frogs and the steady hum of insects. She feels the sharp sting of a mosquito. The wind blows off the lake, drying the sweat on her skin.
These two different parts of Florida stir my senses in different ways. The contrasts help me create a unique setting for my characters. Writers have to be aware of all the senses. The eyes should be open, of course. But so should the ears, and even the pores of the skin. Like alligators in Lake Okeechobee, inspiration is abundant in Florida. Writers have to be receptive. Be ready to sense it.
What's it like where you are? What does it smell like? How does it sound? What can you touch?