I’ve always known that my grandparents farm played a key role in my life. My earliest memories were going to granddad and grandmom’s farm in Michigan. My parents regularly visited their place for the one summertime family vacation every year. But even before it became our regular family vacation, it was the place my parents shipped me off to, every time a new brother or sister was being born. I am the oldest of seven children, so that meant I got to spend the most time on the farm.
The memories of sitting in the front yard there and watching the earth movers come in and change the one lane dirt road into a two-lane paved highway, would forever shape my curiosity about the construction industry. God’s providence would permit me to spend most of my vocation years in the construction industry.
Other memories, of the teeth chattering cold water artisan well fountain, that sat in the courtyard between the Quonset hut and the main house, the vegetable garden on the other side of the Quonset hut, the chicken coop where Uncle George’s fighting cock took exception to my harvesting of the eggs, and the smell of the freshly harvested oak/wheat grains as I road in the back of the tractor cart shoveling the grain away from the conveyor spout attached to the thresher, are indelibly engrained in my memories and became the soil from which much of the settings in my books sprang to life.
I learned of the need to plow the ground, exposing the many stones, that seemed to be birthed every spring at the plowing. My grandfather wasted nothing, as even those bothersome stones were collected in the cart being pulled by the cleat tractor. I was charged with walking behind the cart and picking up the exposed stones for future reclamation into the cart.
I spent hours smelling the freshly plowed soil and experienced first-hand the truth in the parables that Christ used so often to prick the minds of his audience. The small spring behind the barn, often watered what would become the award-winning tallest corn stalks displayed at the yearly country fair. The watermelons, grown beside the septic tank, when cooled by the artisan fountain, were one of the sweetest experiences of my life.
And then there was their sunroom, just off the kitchen, with the trumpet bushes outside the windows that would draw the many hummingbirds that would dart among the blooms, that became my entertainment many evenings before bed. Their seeming stationary flight, with wings moving so fast as to be invisible, yet allowing a precision in motion that was beyond memorizing. They knew I was watching, but they seemed unconcerned by my observation, as if they understood the curiosity of one called steward by the creator.
It was no surprise to me, that when I started to write, that the farm and the experiences I had there, became the setting for two of my books. Both Damaged Goods and Homecoming share memories of that farm. It was easier for me to place the activity in an area that I knew and loved well.
In my book Intervention, much of the setting takes place in Baltimore, Maryland, where my family lived for most of my life. I had always wanted to go to John Hopkins University but instead went to Towson State College (now University) because I could not afford the tuition at Hopkins. However, downtown Baltimore, the Sandtown area and the work by Alan Tibbels and the Habitat for Humanity chapter he founded are all important parts of that book. Even my brief memories of John Hopkins served as a portion of the setting of the book.
I learned early on that it was easier for me to write stories, based on areas I had visited or lived in. Somehow those settings seemed easier to describe and far more realistic in my portrayal of the locations.
Picking the setting for my latest novel, Eyewitness – Tears of the Saints, was both easier and more difficult. The blind man found in John 9 is placed in the village of Bethany, about two miles outside of Jerusalem The scripture clearly defines the location of the events recorded. So, there was never any doubt where a significant part of that story would take place. The fact that Lazarus, Mary and Martha were also inhabitants of that same village was an amazing tidbit of information that gave me much freedom in the development of the relationship between the blind man and Mary.
But I have never been to Bethany. How was I going to develop what it must have been like to reside in that village? Fortunately, we live in the time of the internet, and an amazing amount of photographic experience was available for me to explore that location. In that exploration I came across the pictures of the pool of Salome where the blind man went to wash away the mud created from Christ’s spit and the earth of the ground, that resulted in the man receiving eyeballs where none had existed before.
Those pictures became the setting for the artist and friend I hired to create the cover of the book. Still, much of the experience was not as personal for me, as in the earlier books, when I used my own experience of the location to aid in the narrative.
As I begin work on the next book in the Eyewitness series, I look forward to another experience that may become available to my wife and I. The church I attend regularly plans trips to Israel and the area where much of the events that will be the foundation of the next book take place. I long to walk the pathways of Bethany, and to look upon the tomb where Lazarus was laid the first time he died, as he rested waiting for the Christ to raise him.
It is no wonder that so many authors with the money to afford research travel include in their writing plans visits to the various areas in the world that will be the basis of their stories. So many writers have already learned the value of knowing personally the area that is the setting for their novels. Many authors, like myself, use areas they are personally aware of. Nicholas Sparks, comes to mind with so many of his novels taking place on the coast of North Carolina where he lives. And still others, like CS Lewis, use their hometowns, ( in Lewis’s case, London), as the backdrop of their stories.
You can find out more about my books, and explore the settings of those stories at either www.charlesadeandrade.com or www.scribblersweb.com.
In my next blog I will discuss the development of some of the characters in my stories. I often get asked whether the characters represent actual people, or if they are totally made up individuals. I will be exploring the answer to that question in December’s posting.
Grace and Peace,
Charles A de Andrade