Jeanne: Sitting with Your Setting

Animal figures carved on steleSettings play a huge role in my demon novels. All of the books spend some time in my take on Hell, which is a cross between the fire-and-brimstone Hell described by the terrifying Baptist preachers of my childhood and the equally terrifying large corporations I worked for during my career as a software engineer, but each of them also has a more mundane setting here Aboveworld.

The first book, The Demon Always Wins, is set in northern Florida, near the ocean along the Georgia border. My eldest sister lives there, so I’ve spent several vacations in that area over the years. Much of the book takes place in a free clinic staffed by paid staff and volunteer doctors, similar to one I worked in as the office manager for eighteen months.

The second book, The Demon’s in the Details is set in Sedona, AZ. I’ve never had the joy of living in that beautiful place, but I did spend a wonderful week there in January, 2016, getting the lay of the land and soaking up atmosphere, before setting pen to paper (or fingertips to keys).

From this, you can deduce that I like to actually visit and spend time in the settings where my books are going to take place. I like to know, before I start writing, how the light looks (crystal clear, like Sedona? or a little smudged with humidity, like Florida?), what the place smells like (ocean? rotting vegetation? cooking spices?), the ambient noises.

Recently I’ve been doing research for the setting for The Demon Wore Stilettos. After brainstorming with Eight Lady Jilly and poking around on Google, I came across a place I think will be perfect: Gobekli Tepe, in southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border.

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Gobleki Tepe, which means “potbelly hill,” is the site of an archaeological dig of what is believed to be the oldest religious site in the world. Diggers have uncovered a series of layers of carved stone pillars, some ten meters high, set in circles. There are three main circles, which in turn form the points of an equilateral triangle. Based on carbon dating, it was originally built around 9600 B.C., making it six thousand years older than Stonehenge.

Let that sink in for a moment–it is twice as old as Stonehenge. It was built before there was written language, before metallurgy, before the invention of agriculture, before there were cities.

One of the reasons archaeologists have identified Gobekli Tepe as a religious site is that no signs of day to day life, like cooking implements, have been discovered there. The hunter gatherers who built it weren’t there just living their everyday lives. They came there for the specific purpose of building a temple.

The area around Gobleki Tepe is also believed by some Biblical scholars to be the site of the Garden of Eden. Where, as you may know, Lilith first came into existence. (If you’re interested in a free short story about Lilith’s origin, you can get it by signing up for my newsletter, The Gehenna Gazette, over on my website.)

The nearest city is Sanliurfa (aka Urfa).

 

 

So how do you immerse yourself in a setting you can’t actually visit?

  • Google
  • YouTube
  • Visit Turkish (in this case) restaurants
  • Talk to a former work colleague who emigrated from Turkey

Other suggestions?

 

7 thoughts on “Jeanne: Sitting with Your Setting

  1. I can’t believe that I never heard of Gobekli Tepe before. It looks spectacular, and I love the idea that it might be the original site of the Garden of Eden.

    Other ideas for researching settings in general–read books written by people who lived there, check out art created by local artists, music written and made by local musicians, buy a cookbook and try creating some dishes for yourself. There must be lots of other tips and tricks–looking forward to reading other comments!

  2. I have to say that I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the juxtaposition of “stilettos” and “9600 BC.”

    That said—I was reminded of the ancient city of Ephesus, founded around that time or perhaps earlier (11th century BC, according to history.com). It was a big city, a thriving port, a “hotbed of Christian evangelism” (again, history.com), and a trading crossroads. It changed hands many times in its history, from the Greeks to the Romans, Persians, Egyptians, and Lydians (think King Croesus), among others.

    Not that I want to throw any cold water on your research, but just saying that Ephesus is well documented and from a similar time period. It might have other similarities to Gobekli Tepe. And if you want to visit, it’s a lot easier to get to (it’s located on the southwest coast of Turkey; boats leave regularly from Greece).

    Otherwise, everything Jilly said. 🙂

  3. When I lived in Minnesota, I attended a church for a couple of years where the minister did a verse from Ephesians each week. For two years.

    Even so, I think I’ll pass on the visit, at least until Covid-19 is in our rearview mirror.

    Good point about the disconnect between the title and the setting. I’ll have to give that further thought.

    How would you feel about Urfa or Ephesus and “The Demon’s Secret Baby”?

  4. Oh, how very cool! I don’t know much about this site; it looks like a great deep dive.

    Books would be a good place to research, too! Not just contemporary travel books like Fodor’s or Lonely Planet, but also maybe books by early English adventurers. Another good thing to look for is translations of histories about the place.

    One of my Place Holder pictures for Hadiz was Tarkan, a Turkish pop singer. When I was working on that story, I got an album. All the songs were in Turkish, but so poppy and fun! I remember a song called Kiss Kiss which had a big ol’ smacking sound in the chorus. Tarkan on YouTube would be worth a visit, I think.

    Also, you probably know this, but you can google stuff in Turkish, and copy-paste keywords into YouTube to get Turkish sources.

    You might also read some older bestsellers by women writers who never visited the places they wrote about. The names are escaping me right now, but as a writer, you might recognize some handy tricks they used for creating settings from imagination.

    Happy writing!

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