Okay, so, apparently I have a thing for Ohio, and I didn’t realize it. The three books I’ve written thus far, as well as the nine more I have planned, are all set in Ohio.
I didn’t think that was weird until one of my New Orleans friends asked me why I didn’t set my books someplace “more interesting, like New Orleans.” For the record, I lived in New Orleans for eleven years and still consider it home for so many reasons. And as an author of supernatural fiction, you’d think I’d take advantage of my intimate knowledge of the Crescent City. It is, after all, a dark literary place ripe for tales of ghosts, vampires and other creepy crawly creatures of the night.
Yet I never have, and so far don’t intend to, write a story based in New Orleans. Ohio is my spot. Yeah. I know. That sounds weird. Because people think of Ohio and think, well, nothing. Half of my New Orleans friends think I live in Iowa–that other state with lots of vowels– because in their mind it’s all just one flat, uninterrupted field of corn between New York City and the Rocky Mountains. (Seriously, Nola pals, I love y’all, but stop calling to ask if I’m safe when you see tornadoes and floods in Iowa and Missouri on the Weather Channel. Geography, people!)
I choose to set my stories in Ohio in part because it’s my home state, but foremost because Ohio is legitimately special. There are so many beautiful, magical places here.
Most of the Guardians of Salt Creek trilogy is set near Sugar Grove. And okay, yes, the town of Salt Creek isn’t technically real, but the places I describe in it are based on actual places in rural Fairfield, Hocking, and Wayne counties. Jess and Billy’s houses, the school, the ravine in the woods where much of the action happens– those are totes real. You can hike to Whispering Falls, you can drive down the road I describe and see the house Jess’ house is based on. It may be fiction, but it’s real, people!
Don’t buy it? Here’s the ravine, with waterfall, where the showdown in book 1 takes place. Here’s the stone stairway Jess walks through in Chapter 22 of Jess, Rising. Both are located in the Hocking Hills. The first is Ash Cave, the second is on the path to Old Man’s Cave. The photos really don’t do these places justice. They’re so much more epic in real life. (And look. No corn!)
And the No. 2 reason I set my stories in Ohio: Because so many parts of it aren’t extraordinary. Hear me out. Ohio is so typical American Midwest, and so mainstream, small-town and suburban America that we, Columbus in particular, are a test market for new concepts in restaurant and retail chains. The thinking goes if it flies in Columbus, it’ll be popular everywhere. Because we’re that typical America.
So for me, that boring sameness makes it extra fun to write about something fantastic and supernatural and high stakes happening in a place that is so prototypical plain-vanilla ‘Merica and apple pie. (Not everything earth-shattering can happen in NYC, people.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not all starry eyed and immune to Ohio’s problems. I didn’t always feel good about Ohio. I grew up as an artistic weirdo goth girl feeling alone and misunderstood in a tiny rural farming town. I moved away at eighteen, thinking I would never come back. I lived in Chicago, Portland, and New Orleans (my adopted home town, which I only left because of Hurricane Katrina.) When I moved back as an adult, I saw Ohio with fresh eyes. I appreciated it much much more. (You haven’t lived until you’ve gone to Grandpa’s Cheesebarn.) You definitely don’t appreciate home until you leave it!
Which is why I’m super amped that the Columbus ‘burbs are about to be hell-on-earth ground zero, with some zombies, vampires, demons, and balls-to-the-wall Lovecraftian old ones sprinkled on top for good measure in my latest Super Top Secret Work in Progress (All three books due out on Halloween! Squee!)
In the meantime, I leave you with a photo of this field of three-foot-tall concrete corn cobs in Dublin, Ohio. (Don’t ask why it exists. It just does.)