Today my guest is Layla M. Wier! I’m especially excited to host her, because her novella is set in one of my favorite places on earth—Upstate New York—and features sheep. I love sheep because without them i wouldn’t have nearly as much fun.
I knit. But you go ahead and think whatever you want. 😉
Thank you, Charley, for hosting me here! Today I’ll talk about my novella Homespun (available now from Dreamspinner Press!) and the ever-fun writer’s game of location scouting. Before I get into that, though, I wanted to mention that during my blog tour (which runs ’til Oct. 8) I’m giving away a handmade scarf, knit or crocheted by me specially for you, in a style and yarn color that you get to pick! (This would also be a great holiday gift for someone else!) More details here: http://laylawier.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/scarf-giveaway/ – you just need to comment on any of the posts in the Homespun blog tour to be entered.
Anyway – location scouting! When you write a story, one of the first things to figure out is where it’s going to be set: a small town or a big city, somewhere familiar that you’ve lived all your life or somewhere on the other side of the world that will require tons of research? The plot, to some extent, determines the location, and that’s just as true of Homespun as it is of any other story. Homespun is about a couple struggling with changes to their relationship that come about after same-sex marriage is legalized in their state. I also planned to set it on a farm, so this limited my locations to a handful of possible states. I ended up going with New York for a pretty simple reason: not only did it fit my plot, but my sister lives there, so I could sneakily combine a research tour with a visit to see her.
(“I am totally here to visit you, sister dear, and for no other purpose. Never mind those times when I sneak off for hours without explanation …”)
Actually, my sister has always been very supportive of my writing, and she also loves to explore and was delighted by an opportunity to jump in the car and drive around a bit. Once I settled on New York, I started researching sheep farms online, and it seemed that most of the real-life ones I’d been looking at were in the central and west part of the state. My sister lives near Ithaca, which made the Syracuse area a natural choice, since it was right in her backyard (more or less).
As we drove around, I found that the rolling farmland between Syracuse and Utica had the perfect feeling I wanted for Homespun. It also had a ton of seemingly interchangeable small towns, which was quite useful for my purposes! The area right around Syracuse, where I’d originally planned to set it, was really too built up, and the geography was too varied. It really mattered a lot if you were going to be, say, a bit north of Syracuse, or a bit south of it; one way there’s a lake, and the other way there’s not! I’d have to pin down the location in more detail than I really wanted to. If I located the farm over near Utica, though, I could be a lot more vague about geography and still be plausible.
And it’s a lovely area, full of farms and old barns and tiny towns on country highways. We happened to drive through around sunset on our way back from a trip to Vermont, and it was simply amazing.
(Unfortunately most of my pictures from that evening are blurry because I was trying to take them from a moving car under poor lighting conditions. This is one that turned out clear.)
So I’d found my location. I looked over a New York road atlas to get a feel for the general style of town names in the area, and gave Homespun’s fictional small town the equally fictional name of Clayton.
Fast forward eight months or so, to this summer when I got the first round of edits on Homespun. This included a note from my editor that they were confused about the geography. There’s a scene in which I describe Owen driving from Clayton to Ohio, and it doesn’t quite work out as described, my editor said.
“But,” I thought, “Clayton is fictional … oh crud.”
Yes, it turns out there is actually a Clayton, NY. Why I didn’t think to Google it, I can’t even imagine. I’m just glad beyond words that my editor caught it before the book went to press, because the real Clayton is located in ENTIRELY the wrong part of New York for my purposes. It’s way up in the northern part of the state, near Lake Ontario.
So I had to rename the town.
I would like to pause here for a moment and register my annoyance at the sheer number of small towns, villages, and hamlets with vaguely British-sounding names in New York state. Everything I could come up with that sounded like a plausible small New York town … already WAS a small New York town.
I eventually settled on Hazel, which had the benefit of being short and easy to spell (since I have some vague idea of writing other stories set here), but does not actually exist in reality. That I can find, anyway.
And just in case you were wondering how obsessive I can get about planning out my fictional locations, here is my description of Hazel (formerly Clayton) from the plot notes that I wrote while I was working on the novella last fall. I’d like to point out that Hazel doesn’t even appear in the story (which takes place entirely at the farm; Hazel is merely mentioned) and none of these other places are mentioned at all.
Hazel is the nearby hamlet, about 2 miles from the farm. It’s located between Syracuse and Utica (probably closer to Utica).
Hazel is a tiny town, probably about 200 people. Its only businesses are a drive-up ice-cream place (called Snowball’s; also serves hot dogs, cold drinks) and the auto shop where Owen works (Brady Auto Repair, which is located in an old converted barn).
The nearest actual town (well, technically a village or maybe a hamlet) is Johnson Mills, pop. about 1200, 8 miles away. There is an elementary school, but high school students are bused over to Brookline High. There’s a 2-pump gas station/small convenience store, where most people go if they don’t want to drive over to Brookline, and the local post office.
Other amenities in Johnson Mills:
Bar/pub-style restaurant called The Ice House
Volunteer fire department
Brookline is the nearest town that’s big enough to have a grocery store, high school, library, etc. It has about 4000 people and is about 35 miles from Hazel (somewhat closer than Utica). It services all the little towns in the area: Hazel, Johnson Mills, Rosalie, Towhanie, etc.”
NONE of this made it into the final novella, except for a brief mention that one of my protagonists, Owen Fortescue, works part-time as an auto mechanic in Hazel. But who knows? Maybe if I do write something else set in the area, this will come in handy. And since I already have this worked out in advance, at least I know I won’t contradict myself!
by Layla M. Wier
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: Novella/104 pages
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2013
For twenty years, Owen Fortescue, a down-to-earth farmer in upstate New York, has had an on-again, off-again relationship with volatile New York City artist Kerry Ruehling. Now that same-sex marriage is recognized in New York, Owen wants to tie the knot. But Kerry responds to the proposal with instant, angry withdrawal. Owen resolves to prove to Kerry that, regardless of the way his family of origin has treated him, family ties don’t necessarily tie a man down. With help from his grown daughter, Laura, who loves them both, Owen hopes to convince Kerry that his marriage proposal isn’t a trap, but a chance at real love.
Buy at Dreamspinner Press:
(Charley here—you can read the opening section by clicking the link above!)
Layla M. Wier is the romance pen name of artist and writer Layla Lawlor. She was born in a log cabin in rural Alaska and grew up thirty miles from towns, roads, electricity, and cars. These days, she lives in Fox, a gold-rush mining town on the highway north of Fairbanks, Alaska, with her husband, dogs, and the occasional farm animal. Their house is a log cabin in a birch and aspen forest. Wolves, moose, and foxes wander through the front yard. During the short, bright Arctic summer, Layla enjoys gardening and hiking, and in the winter, she writes, paints, and draws.
Where to find Layla:
Stops and topics on the Homespun blog tour (Sept. 16-Oct. 8):
Monday, Sept. 16: Zahra Owens (http://zahraowens.com/) – autumn
Tuesday, Sept. 17: Tali Spencer (http://talismania-brilliantdisguise.blogspot.com/) – sharing passions
Wednesday, Sept. 18: RELEASE DAY! Party at the Dreamspinner Press blog!
Thursday, Sept. 19: Charley Descoteaux (https://cdescoteauxwrites.com/) – location scouting in central New York
Friday, Sept. 20: Chris T. Kat (http://christikat.blogspot.com/) – interview
Monday, Sept. 23: Charlie Cochet’s Purple Rose Tea House (http://purpleroseteahouse.charliecochet.com/) – doing research
Tuesday, Sept. 24: Helen Pattskyn (http://www.helenpattskyn.com/) – bisexuality in Homespun
Wednesday, Sept. 25: Garrett Leigh (http://garrettleigh.com/) – interview
Thursday, Sept. 26: Skylar Cates (http://skylarmcates.wordpress.com/) – rural life
Friday, Sept. 27: Madison Parker (http://madisonparklove.com/blog/) – interview + review
Monday, Sept. 30: Jessica Davies (http://jessicaskyedavies.blogspot.com/) – learning to spin, part 1
Tuesday, Oct. 1: Anne Barwell (http://anne-barwell.livejournal.com/) – learning to spin, part 2
Thursday, Oct. 3: Michael Rupured (http://rupured.com/) – writing respectfully from outside a subculture
Friday, Oct. 4: Jana Denardo (http://jana-denardo.livejournal.com/) – invading characters’ privacy
Monday, Oct. 7: SL Huang (http://slhuang.com/) – interview
Tuesday, Oct. 8: PD Singer (http://pdsinger.com/) – central NY photo tour