When I first began writing Snowbound, I knew I wanted to set the story in a town in Vermont, but I didn’t want to set it in a real town. Too often, when you set a story in a “real” place, you feel too confined by where things are actually located. You forget that, as a writer, you can take liberties. And when you forget that you can create your own world, you get a bit muddled. In creating Mia & Jake’s story, I didn’t want to feel bogged down by physical reality. Instead of researching specific Vermont towns, I looked for pictures that inspired me. I avoided looking at too many maps. I knew I wanted Hunters Grove to be nestled in the hills with the mountains visible in the distance. I also wanted it to be the sort of town that would be voted the most picturesque town in New England.
I let this image of a Vermont town inspire me as I wrote. I tried to imagine how Mia would have felt as a young girl, spending so many of her summers there with her grandparents, how this town would become more of a home to her than the cities where she eventually moved with her mother. Hunters Grove became the place where Mia would feel grounded, it would be the place she would return to whenever she felt lost. It was important for me to really get a feel for this town. It helped that last winter was very snowy. I could walk in Haga Park and imagine I was on the back roads of Hunters Grove, taking the shortcut to town from Sugarloaf Road. Sometimes I imagined the buildings I passed during my walks were the Cudahy house or Ruth Carter’s house.
So I drew a map of the town, plotted where her grandparents’ house would be, where the Federalist style houses on Groton Lane would be. Even which Aunty Mo’s Diner would occupy. It was a rough sketch that inevitably ended up in the recycling bin–an accident during one of my desk-cleaning sprees. But instead of redrawing it, I told myself I knew the town well enough that I could envision everything in my head.
I continued collecting pictures on my Pinterest board, searching for images of buildings and structures I’d decided would definitely be in Hunters Grove, like the bandstand at the centre of the village green. I’m pretty sure a teenaged Mia kissed Owen Cudahy in the bandstand that summer when he finally worked up the courage to ask her out. Maybe her grandparents met there on their first date too.
As the town grew, the cast of characters took on lives of their own. I knew the backstory of all the townspeople. I knew which ones I liked most. I even knew which ones I wanted to see again.
The more I wrote, the more Hunters Grove grew in my mind. After a year of writing, tweaking, imagining, I finished Snowbound, but I didn’t want to leave Hunters Grove behind. I ended up making it the setting of another book, Playing House, which I hope to release in 2014. I’m also using it as the setting for another novel, which has the working title Near Enough to Hold. Some of the characters from Snowbound will make appearances–like Mia & Jake, Ruth Carter and Horance Lundgren. A few new characters will be introduced too, like Nick Lundgren, Horace’s nephew, and Asha Taylor, the one who got away.
I’ll keep writing. Who knows how many other stories will be set there? All I know is that Hunters Grove is in my heart. And it’s a nice place to escape—and judging by some of the messages I’ve received, I think some of you agree too. 🙂