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    Rooted In Reality – Setting a Fantasy Novel In a Real City

    aka: What parts of Baltimore are fiction in your novel, Christiane?

    Using a real city as the setting for In Sleep You Know was a fun challenge! I am a firm believer in building off of what I know when it comes to writing – even if it’s Fantasy that I’m crafting. I also believe that Baltimore is a treasure trove of undiscovered magic, often overshadowed by its reputation. [Ask me how I feel about The Wire. I have opinions.]

    There was no question in my mind that I would be using Baltimore as the backdrop for where my Fae, the Eleriannan and Gwyliannan, lived. But trying to decide on what version of the city I would build from? That took a bit more thought. When I started writing about these characters originally, it was the late 90s, and the way I saw the city in the story was built on my memories from the 80s and 90s. Looking over the story as the platform for In Sleep You Know, I realized that I needed to unmoor the tale a bit from a specific time in order to give it the feel I wanted. It also meant that I could blend experiences, fashions, music from different eras and have it feel cohesive and timeless.

    Some of the places mentioned in the story are based specifically on real-life analogues – the nightclub is definitely based on a well-known club that caters to specific subcultures in Baltimore [one that I DJed at for a while, shhh] – but it also draws from some other clubs with which I’m intimately familiar. I wanted that feeling of familiarity for readers who have haunted those sorts of clubs. Same for the Frisky Bean – if you’ve been to this sort of non-corporate community coffee shop, the kind with comfy chairs and bookshelves piled with tattered paperbacks to read and board games, you will picture it in your mind right away. The Frisky is also built on the memories and experiences of so many coffee shops like it, in Baltimore and other places I’ve lived in and visited.

    Photo by Henry Guan on Unsplash

    There are other places featured in the book In Sleep You Know that are actual locations, but may not quite resemble the Baltimore of this consensual reality. I talk about the Gwynns Falls area, for example, but I paint the scene with a bit of a muted brush, leaving the exact location unidentifiable. It is absolutely based on a few houses hidden away there, but none specifically. Maithe House is indeed exactly as advertised, but only on the outside. I have a lot of tidbits about The Maithe, but I’m saving them for a future blog post. 😉

    The first place we go in ISYK is a party at a big house. Traveling outside of the city, down Falls Rd – which runs from close to where Club Marcada is located in Midtown, almost to the Pennsylvania border – it’s obvious that the house isn’t a place one can just stumble upon, it is off the beaten path. I’ve again softened the border between our reality and book reality when it comes to exact location and the ease of getting there without a vehicle. If you’re in the know and driving around the Greenspring Station to Ruxton Road area, you might find yourself traveling the road that Merrick takes to crash a party.

    Both Merrick’s apartment and Lucee’s place are based on places where friends lived, in the Mt Vernon neighborhood. Sousa’s place isn’t too far from there. The pic above shows a little of what that area looks like. It is a great neighborhood for artsy types, though perhaps a little more affordable in the fictional version of Baltimore!

    Using a real-life place, even one I’m familiar with, gave me some things to think about before I proceeded. I’ve seen it done really well, and also not quite as well. It can be easy to let the setting overwhelm the story by putting the city’s character and descriptions too far forward. For me, Baltimore is an important part of the tale, but not the most forward part. I wanted it to lurk in the background in some ways – interesting but ignorable in detail until the right time. And of course, it is all about timing!

    I can’t wait until you travel to my version of Baltimore, and you get to meet the folks that live there.

    Keep tuned for more In Sleep You Know news, coming soon!