In what may turn out to be a terrible idea, I’ve decided to set my second novel, Walls Ascending, in a place that I’ve never been. I have a good reason for doing so, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to pull it off.
Walls Ascending is the sequel to Vulcan Rising, a contemporary dark fantasy novel that verges on horror at times. This second book is looking like it’s going to follow suit.
What I looked for and (thought I) found was a sleepy, little town in the Black Forest of Germany. I did a little bit of searching and landed in Hornberg. Then I started writing.
The setting in Vulcan Rising is Birmingham, Alabama, and there are times that it becomes nearly a character of its own. I want Hornberg to be that for Walls Ascending despite my not having set foot there. This meant that I needed to do more research. Fortunately, my training as a historian and a lawyer has instilled in me a deep appreciation for the treasure that can be uncovered with diligent research.
As I dug into Hornberg’s past, it didn’t take me long to strike gold. I learned that in 1959 a serial killer named Heinrich Pommerenke went on a killing spree, and over the course of 3 1/2 months he committed the following atrocities before being captured: “65 crimes, including four murders, seven other attempted murders, two completed and 25 attempted rapes, six robberies, ten break-ins and six simple thefts” (Wikipedia).
As soon as I read it, I knew that was going to making it into the dark fantasy story I’m writing. How could it not? It seemed like immediate affirmation that the sleepy, little German town with an insidious past was the perfect setting for Walls Ascending.
But I wouldn’t have had that extra element of specificity and authenticity, if I hadn’t put in the time and effort to conduct extra research for my novel. It’s not the first time that researching for a novel has paid off. And I expect it won’t be the last.