The Pleasures of Backstory

It's all done but the shouting. I've finished the first three chapters of The Coldwater Warm Hearts Club. I've introduced my characters, set up the conflicts, and generally given my readers the nickle tour of Coldwater, Oklahoma. The town has a personality all its own.

Wanna know how I know so much about this fictitious place?

My friend and I took an afternoon and drew the whole thing out on my dining room table. (Yes, I have a real life friend who doesn't mind playing with imaginary people and places. And yes, I guess you could say we're both a little weird that way.)

But now I know that Lake Jewel forms the eastern boundary of the town. Tiny, well-endowed Bates College, where students graduate in disciplines about as useful as Underwater Basket Weaving, graces its southwestern shore. The Marina is on the north end of the lake and a public park with a gazebo where the town band plays on sultry summer nights occupies the rest of the western lakefront. The other side of the water is home to summer cabin in the hills of the Winding Stair range.

A gem of a Victorian courthouse occupies the center of the town square. It's ringed with thriving businesses, including Gewgaws & Gizzwickies (my heroine's mother's favorite junk shop!) and the Green Apple Grill, Jake Tyler's place. There's an old Opera House circa 1890. The town fathers like to claim that Jenny Lind, the Swedish nightingale, sang there when she was traveling with PT Barnum.

Since that tour took place in 1850-1852, I have my doubts. Guess some folks think there's still one born every minute.

The well-heeled part of town is on the northwest side. Lacy's parents live there in their elegant colonial that's jammed to the rafters with her mom's collectibles and enough furniture to fill two houses of similar size. Lacy's dad is a retired lawyer. He made his career doing taxes for the local businesses and civil litigation over water rights and land contracts. But he secretly wanted to be a trial lawyer and is fascinated with organized crime in the same way some men obsess over football.

Jake's family arrived in Coldwater by accident. His grandparents thought they were retiring to the little town they had honeymooned in some fifty years previously. His grandmother had been big on architecture and fell in love with the ultra modern (at the time!) art deco court house. After they bought their new home, she wanted to take a stroll to the square and bask in the clean lines and geometric embellishments of the government building. Instead she was met by a frilly Victorian in gray limestone.

"Where the h*** are we?" she demanded.

It was the only time she ever swore in her whole life. Turns out, they had honeymooned in Colson, a little town about 80 miles closer to the Texas border, but since the art deco courthouse there had been destroyed in a tornado that very year, Jake's grandmother decided it was fate that had lead them to Coldwater instead.

All these little tidbits are what's known as backstory. Will they all make it into the final book? Probably not. But I need to know them because these details make the town of Coldwater and people in it breathe for me.

Have you ever read about a fictional place that seems so real you almost want to book a trip there? That's what I'm trying to do with Coldwater. If you have a minute, check out the first chapter and let me know if you think I'm succeeding. Thanks!