Lovecraft, a city in my novel The Iron Thorn, was not the first fictional city I created. (It also, I found out later, shares a name with the small town in Joe Hill's fantastic graphic novel series Locke & Key. Sorry, Joe!)(And if you like my books, you'll love the series, and should go pick it up.)(Okay, Shameless Plug App. deactivated.)
I'd created a city before, for my very first novel, and I learned a few things the hard way—keep track of what goes where. Make a map so you don't have any crazy geography screwups. But in a deeper sense, and more importantly, you have to understand how cities evolve, how neighborhoods come to be. You have to know your history, and when you create a city out of whole cloth—all of that history comes from you.
Scary proposition. So when it came time to create Lovecraft, I knew I needed some touchstones with the real world, both so my readers could connect with this creepy, dark, steam-driven metropolis and so that I had a baseline for how my city had evolved.
My other city had been based on my then-home of Seattle, with overtones of San Francisco. Lots of hills, trees, pocket neighborhoods, and fog—a very noir kind of city, for a very noir kind of story. Lovecraft, I knew, had to be different. It had to be dark, the kind of place where monsters could come out of the darkness, the kind of place with a network of underground tunnels, the sort of place where you could rub elbows with air pirates as easily as genius professors and their magic-powered machines. I went back to my roots, picking a colonial city on the East Coast for my footprint—anyone who looks at the map of Lovecraft in the front of The Iron Thorn will recognize the shadow of Boston. I took my history back to the inciting events of the novel, which occurred some 70-80 years before the start of the novel. I decided where the bad parts of town were, where you could find entrances to an underground city populated by ghouls, where the steam-driven engine that powers the entire city would reside. I decided what bits of real history I could crib to use in the alternate history that The Iron Thorn is built around. I drew a lot of maps. A lot of maps.
So how do you create a city? Spend a lot of time on the details. Get everything right. But more than drawing maps on graph paper (which delights the former D&D nerd who still lives inside me) and deciding on the timeline of your history, you have to make your city alive. You must be able to imagine the smells, the sounds, the feel of brick under your feet and the fog on your face. If your city isn't alive, you story set there will suffer. Don't be afraid to spend time in your city—ie, write material that won't make it into the book, but will help you achieve that spark, that life, that helps make unreal cities seem the realest of all.
THE IRON THORN by Caitlin Kittredge
Pub. Date: February 2011
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Format: Hardcover , 512pp
Age Range: Young Adult Series: Iron Codex Series
In the city of Lovecraft, the Proctors rule and a great Engine turns below the streets, grinding any resistance to their order to dust. The necrovirus is blamed for Lovecraft's epidemic of madness, for the strange and eldritch creatures that roam the streets after dark, and for everything that the city leaders deem Heretical—born of the belief in magic and witchcraft. And for Aoife Grayson, her time is growing shorter by the day.
Aoife Grayson's family is unique, in the worst way—every one of them, including her mother and her elder brother Conrad, has gone mad on their 16th birthday. And now, a ward of the state, and one of the only female students at the School of Engines, she is trying to pretend that her fate can be different.
The next stop on THE IRON THORN Blog Tour is Confessions of a Bookaholic—Saturday, April 16th