“Setting” is a key word on Mostly Mystery this month, and the setting of my upcoming novel, Three May Keep a Secret, is the small town of Endurance, Illinois. Because I’ve lived in the Midwest—specifically Illinois—most of my life, I wanted to write about a place with which I’m familiar. I realize people on the East and West Coasts feel like the middle of the country is a boring place to fly over, but I find a great deal of pleasure living in this part of America in a small town.
I chose the name “Endurance” because I wanted to acknowledge both the past and present of my little town. Hardy Presbyterian stock settled this small town by traveling through all kinds of hazards and difficult terrain. Despite the tiny origins of the town in the 1830s, more and more settlers arrived and endured harsh winters and the usual difficulties with starting a new life.
“Endurance” also describes the strong heroine of my novel. Grace Kimball has survived some terrible life experiences that have only made her stronger. A fire in college killed her roommates and left a scar on her hand to remind her, but she survived. Her husband died in his thirties of an unexpected heart attack, leaving her to raise three children alone. But she survived and endured.
The town has institutions that—typical of the Midwest—arise from its name. We see the Endurance Historical Society, Endurance High School, the Endurance Public Library, Endurance College, the First National Bank of Endurance, and the town’s newspaper, the Endurance Register.
Next, it is important to populate the town with various stores and places well known to Endurance’s residents. I chose some of the street names because of their sounds. Grace and Roger’s home is on Sweetbriar Court. Another street name I liked that I heard on the news is Tanglefoot Road. That is on my “must” list, along with Main Street.
I came up with various names for businesses in Endurance. Many of the scenes take place at a local sports bar named “Tully’s.” Bill Tully owns the restaurant/bar and named it for himself for a number of reasons that become obvious in the plot. Other names I chose because of their sounds. These would include Patsy’s Pub and Dirty Dave’s (a bar where a main character works.) Downtown you’ll visit the Café on the Square, Little People’s Day Care Center, Gimble’s Paint and Wallpaper Store, and Harlow’s Book Store. I did have a bit of fun with the last stop for most people: The Homestretch Funeral Home. The cemetery outside town, where many of the early founders are buried, is called the Shady Meadows Cemetery. It needs to have a welcoming name.
At one point in Three May Keep a Secret, I needed to come up with some place names for Indianapolis, Indiana. Grace Kimball grew up there and went to college in her home town. I needed a name for the college and the street Grace lived on. So I researched the history of Indianapolis and discovered Benjamin Harrison, grandson of William Henry Harrison, became president in 1889. Grace’s college became Benjamin Harrison College (BHC). During Indiana’s territorial days, General Anthony Wayne was an Indian fighter. So I named Grace’s street Wayne Avenue. I also found the name of a small town in Indiana and a small town in Illinois that were the homes of Grace’s roommates in college. I envisioned them coming from small towns.
Endurance is a small town (population 15,000) but I created other towns in the surrounding area. The largest town is Woodbury and many of Endurance’s inhabitants go there for additional shopping and services they can’t find in Endurance. Other small towns in the area include Charlotte and Lexington, towns with fire departments who have reciprocal agreements with Endurance.
Currently, I’m working on a second book in the Endurance series. I have even more work with this book because, besides creating Endurance in the current day, I also am going back in time to the town in 1893. It takes a great deal of research to figure out where buildings and train tracks and institutions would have been back then, and what they have turned into in the present day. Going back and forth between plots will be made easier by the setting because some of the places in the town will be mentioned in each plot. In the present day, for example, the train depot no longer exists except in photographs. But in 1893, it was a beautiful piece of architecture that my character describes as she gets on a train for the Chicago World’s Fair.
Setting is extremely important in my books. All of these places exist only in my imagination, but they are important factors in the lives of my characters and the plots of my novels.