I’ve always loved reading about people who visit exotic places and can do really cool things. Superheroes, spacefarers, and mages (or wizards) are always on my list of favorite characters. Growing up in a small, sleepy town, I enjoyed losing myself in Gotham City and Metropolis with their hustle and bustle.
Yet my paranormal romantic suspense series, The Protectors, ended up being set in and near a small, sleepy town. I didn’t set out with that plan, but the world sort of evolved that way. The hero of the first book, Renegade, is Griffin Dare, a fugitive who tops the mage world’s Most Wanted list. While I love lone wolf heroes, I didn’t want Griff to be totally isolated. So I gave him a home in a small town, where he lived under an alias and concealed his powers, and some friends and allies.
After all, I know small towns. I grew up in one, went to college there, and worked in a slightly larger one. They may be quiet, even sleepy, but there’s a sense of community I truly love. I drew on that when I created the town of Wayfarer, Georgia.
Wayfarer sits very near the Okefenokee Swamp. Many of my friends wrinkled their noses and said, “A swamp? In a romance? Seriously?”
I couldn’t really blame them. Swamps are associated with images of mud, bugs, and stinky air. The Okefenokee isn’t like that, though. A blackwater peat bog, it has no stink and not much mud. Most of the time, you’re either on land or on the water.
My mages’ powers are nature-based, so a rural setting works better for them than an urban one. I picked the swamp because I wanted to incorporate a setting that hadn’t been used a lot in paranormal romance, and I remembered the name Okefenokee from a trip there with my parents many years ago. We didn’t have time then to go back, but I could do the research I needed online since the swamp plays only a minimal role in Renegade.
After the series sold, my husband and our son and I visited there again. Most of the swamp lies inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/okefenokee). As we drove into the refuge, I turned to my guys and said, “I hope this is as cool as I think it is because I’m stuck with it now.”
I am so Not Nature Girl, but I fell totally and absolutely in love with the Okefenokee. My husband and I have been back twice, most recently a couple of weeks ago. I’m even thinking of taking lessons in canoeing so we can visit parts of the swamp a motorboat can’t reach.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m drawn to this place. I think it’s maybe because it’s so very different, so other, from what I’m accustomed to. It’s beautiful and wild, with a hint of danger from alligators, bears, and snakes. Being there is kind of like visiting a fantasy world. So even though I usually prefer my surroundings tidy and any wildlife safely distant, the Okefenokee calls to me.
Its fantasy world would evolve into a hardwood forest if not for wildfires that periodically burn chunks of it. The Honey Prairie fire in 2011 burned almost three quarters of the 400,000 or so acres in the swamp. It also provided the inspiration for my latest release and first novella, Protector. Reading about the fire online, I learned a lot about wildland firefighting and have tremendous admiration for those who do it. I’ve never been in a helicopter or on a fire line, but a couple of firefighters and a forester helped me with the novella.
The mage hero of Protector, Josh Campbell, is a combat helicopter pilot for the southeastern mages. He flies them into battle against their enemies, the ghouls, users of dark magic whose talons can suck magic or life energy and who kidnap mages and normal, or Mundane, humans for breeding purposes.
Before Josh flew for the mages, he served in the army. After that, he made water drops via helicopter as part of a wildland firefighting crew. There, he met firefighter Edie Lang, who’s also a mage. They were attracted, but Josh backed away. Now ghouls have caused a fire in the Okefenokee, and fighting it reunites Edie and Josh as ghoul magic threatens their lives.
Both of them can do really cool things I can’t, so I get to live vicariously through them. That’s part of the joy of writing. I can sit in my familiar house and immerse myself in strange, new experiences through research. Writing The Protectors gives me the best of both worlds, the familiarity of a small town and the strangeness of the swamp, with a bonus in the expanding horizons of research. That makes me feel really lucky.
What about you? Do you like small towns and rural settings, or do you prefer cities? If you could have a paranormal or magical ability, what would you pick?
I’ll give one commenter today a choice of a signed Renegade or Protector ARC.
Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy and YA romance. A sucker for fast action and wrenching emotion, Nancy combines the romance and high stakes she loves in The Protectors, her new contemporary mage series from Grand Central Forever Yours.
Her debut novel, Renegade, received a starred review from Library Journal. The reviewer called it “genre writing at its best.” Nancy is a three-time RWA Golden Heart finalist and has won the Maggie, the Molly, the Emerald City Opener, and Put Your Heart in a Book.
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