By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
I knew early on in The Healing Wars series that I wanted it to be set in a tropical locale. This was an easy choice for me, because I grew up in South Florida, and I was quite familiar with heat and humidity. It was also a setting I hadn’t seen much of in the fantasy worlds I’d read. And you know what they say, “Write what you know.” The nature of my childhood played a large role in my fantasy world.
Although South Florida isn’t an island, it is mostly surrounded by water, and had lots of canals, so it was easy to imagine myself in my book’s city of Geveg. It might have been inspired by Venice, but when I pictured the canals, I pictured the Las Olas area in Fort Lauderdale. The white, curving bridges over the water, the palm trees, the balmy ocean breezes. The way the boats thumped against the docks and the wood creaked. Water and boats have always been a part of my life, so setting a world there made it even more real to me. Which hopefully made it real to readers.
I knew what it was like to have a friend live right across the canal, but you had to travel half a mile just to get to them. Unless, of course, you had a dinghy to cross the canal with, and your mom would let you do it. It wasn’t the same type of hardship my protagonist, Nya, faces, but it was enough to make me think about how navigation might affect her in the story. It also helped me figure out the dangers of her world, because seeing the stubbly ridges of an alligator in the canal out back wasn’t unusual.
My childhood also helped me picture day-to-day life in Geveg. As an island city, fishing is a critical part of their economy. My house was on a canal that connected to the ocean. We had a boat docked out back, and my family went fishing on a regular basis: up at 4am, shuffle out to the boat, be on the ocean by sunrise and watch the sun come up over the water. Then we’d fish all day, take some breaks to dive in and cool ourselves off, and head home. Cleaning the boat and unloading the fishing gear usually fell on me (I was the youngest), so unloading fishing boats was a job I could easily have Nya do.
I don’t think anyone would look at Geveg and think, “hey, that’s Florida,” but I’d like to think readers feel a sense of the heat and the stickiness of the humidity. They believe that distinctive growl and splash of something dangerous in the water. They feel the relief when night falls and the temperature drops even a few degrees. All the things that I grew up with, and later used to imagine a world with a similar tropical climate.
Write what you know. And then take it someplace new.
Originally posted during the Blue Fire blog tour at Walden 3.0.