Sunday, September 18, 2011

Setting: Your Own Back Yard

copyright 2011 aaron paul lazar

Enroute to my booksigning yesterday in the Finger Lakes region of Western New York, I had the weirdest experience. For a good fifteen minutes, a burning scent filled the car. Acrid. Disgusting. But I couldn't see any source of it - either on the roadside or ahead of me. I kept checking my temperature gauge, concerned that somehow something was going wrong beneath the hood of my one year old Camry. But no smoke rose nor did any weird noises or flames erupt.

Puzzled, I zoomed south on Route 390, driving over the undulating hills with isolated touches of red or bronze flashing in the woods and fields. Fall hasn't come to our region yet, although we've had a few cold mornings lately. It was gorgeous, as always, but I still smelled that strong odor. Could there be a forest fire? Why didn't I see smoke?

I was really getting worried until I flew around a curve and saw the culprit. There, before me, was a giant truck spewing an acrid plume - and I mean PLUME - of gray smoke, so thick that when I approached I could barely see the road.

Fear gripped me, and A headline popped into my head. AUTHOR DIES IN EXPLOSION PASSING BURNING TRUCK. With renewed determination, I carefully passed him, wondering why he wasn't stopping. It was at that point that I saw flames leaping out of the open topped trailer.

How could he not know something was wrong?

I flashed my lights, beeped my horn, got by him, and promptly called 911. He didn't slow down, kept chugging along. With a prayer for his safety, I kept going after the police promised to track him down.

I have no idea what happened and whether or not the cops were able to locate him and stop him before his vehicle blew up, but man, was it scary.

Fortunately, it wasn't an omen of my day to come. On the way to the event, I started to relax again, loving the way the heavy pinot noir grapes hung on the vines in fields by the road, rejoicing in the sparkling aquamarine water of the narrow lake and the quaint cottages dotting the shore.

The booksigning at Heron Hill Winery overlooking Keuka Lake was lovely, especially after the sun came out just in time for us to witness the annual parade of the seaplanes flying low over the lake. I love this place, and I love the people who run it. They are so welcoming, it's like greeting old friends each time I visit.

The pictures above were taken outside the tent where I signed books - also where an annual Harvest Wine Tour took place. The winery is perched high on the western bluff overlooking the lake.

I had lovely conversations with wine and book lovers from all parts of the country, connecting with them in the way only readers and writers can - sharing the love of favorite authors, talking about plots and characters in the sun while sipping wine. It was pure joy.

But one resounding theme kept coming back to me. So many folks love reading about a specific setting or locale. Whether they'd attended school at Geneseo in the Genesee Valley, lived in Rochester, summer camped on the lake, or simply adored this part of the country, they all perked up when they discovered my books were based in the Finger Lakes and Genesee Valley region of New York. 

Of course, how can I blame them? There's so much beauty here, it stuns me time and time again, in spite of the fact that I live here!

A friend who suprised me with a visit yesterday said it best, actually. Paul had moved from our region a year ago to the Albany area, headed for a super job, but had to leave his home of many years. He popped into the signing with a big smile. Of course, he had to endure several bear hugs from me.

While we drank the new 2009 dry Riesling and looked over the vineyards and lake below, he mused about someday moving here. On the drive down, he said he was so overtaken by the beauty of the area, it took his breath away and made his heart swell.

I loved hearing him speak about it, because it mirrored my own passion for the area.

My characters do have excursions to Maine and Europe, and will probably tour new parts of the world in the future, but I'm glad I chose to base my books right here in my own back yard. I'm blessed to live here, and thank God every day for the beauty that surrounds me.

Where do your characters live? What settings have you chosen for your scenes? Share below in the comments section, and remember to write like the wind!

Aaron Paul Lazar

P.S. We had my daughter's wedding last month in the same region, overlooking Keuka Lake. So beautiful! Above is a family photo.


The Daring Novelist said...

The characters in my W.I.P. live in a place much like where I grew up. It really does spur my imagination to use details that evoke memories.

And even though some of my other stories take place in a world which only exists in my head, I still build them out of details from real things I know.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Daring Novelist. ;o) Yes, I know exactly what you mean. It's those childhood memories that really get me going - especially on the shore of the lake in Maine, where I set Tremolo: cry of the loon. I think they are the most vivid settings of all. Thanks for stopping by and come back again.

Kim Smith said...

My Shannon Wallace books are set in a place that is actually fictional but loosely based on the town where I live and a neighboring town. Glad your experience with that truck didn't turn out to be a headline Aaron!

Dorothy James said...

Great piece. The burning truck experience sounded just like Gus Legarde. You live in a beautiful part of the country, and you bring it to your readers in your novels. I tend to set things in European cities. Why? Why not in Brooklyn where I live? Now there's a question for the psychiatrist's couch!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Kim! Well, I figured the lovely southern town you describe as Shannon Wallace's home had to be based on either a place you lived or loved, you did it so well! You remember how much I loved the porch scene. ;o) And Shannon's aunts' house? Was that a real place in your past?

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Dorothy! Yeah, I may have to incorporate that truck scene into a Gus chapter soon - you never know when these things will crop up in my books! Speaking of couches, pretty soon I'll be laying on yours when we do our interview for your blog! Maybe we'll have to turn the tables and have you let me interview you so your readers can get inside YOUR head!

Ron Adams said...

As you know, Aaron I chose to set my Joe Banks novels here in the glamour capital of the northeast, Buffalo, NY. and done well, and in the hands of a storyteller like yourself, the character's setting can be a character unto itself. Just as an aside, I've never been to Heron Hill, but I have spent some time at Keuka Lake at the local colleg, and along with Canandaigua Lake it is one of the hidden jewels of upstate NY. And I'll be disappointed if the whole flaming truck episode doesn't work it's way into a story.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Ha, Ron, love your comment! My daughter Allison went to Keuka College for several years - we LOVED that, 'cause we had lots of excuses to get down to the lake. Hmmm. Thinking about that truck episode now. But it can't end as easily as the real life one did! Right?