Wicked New England-Our Towns

Jessie: Wondering if typing whilst wearing insulated gloves is something I could actually manage?

All of the Wickeds write books set in New England. We’ve all live here or have lived here and are trying to make it back. We love this patch of the planet and I believe it shows in our work. What we wanted to chat about today was how you give your places the flavor of  New England? How do you make the setting ring true? Do you base your fictional towns on real places? Do you use any real places in your fiction?

Rocks Village Bridge
Rocks Village Bridge over the Merrimac River

Edith: My Local Foods mysteries are set in a lightly fictionalized West Newbury, the town near here where I lived when I was an organic farmer myself more than twenty years ago. I changed the name to Westbury (isn’t that creative, now?) so I could add a fictional road where Cam’s farm is, add other fictional farms and Albert’s assisted living residence, and not upset locals if a new business pops up in the town center or, say, someone gets killed in a public place. But I include some very real landmarks: the Food Mart, Mill Pond, the Rocks Village Bridge. I use the real city of Newburyport, too, and the Merrimac River.

Photograph of Amesbury Friends Meetinghouse by Edward Gerrish Mair.

For the historical series, it’s set in actual Amesbury, where I now live. I have maps from the late 1800s and have done a lot of research about what buildings were standing at that time but are no longer here, and vice versa. I love that the Friends Meetinghouse that I walk to every Sunday morning has not changed in appearance since it was built in 1855.


Liz: Around the same time I began having conversations about Pawsitively Organic with

The dogs walking the path on the Lebanon Town Green.
The dogs walking the path on the Lebanon Town Green.

our agent, I had been taking the dogs walking out on the Lebanon Town Green, which is the town next to mine. This is one of the coolest town greens in the area. It’s a mile-long loop, it’s still used in agricultural practices and it has events all the time, from fireworks on the 4th of July to farmers’ markets to concerts. It just seemed like the place where Everything Happened, and I knew immediately it would be the place around which I would set the series. It’s got that true New England feel in the sense of the picturesque setting, the big white church with the steeple, and the reality that more business is conducted here than at Town Hall. It’s absolutely perfect – so I put Stan’s house right on it. For the record, she loves it.

A real clambake on Cabbage Island in Boothbay Harbor, Maine
A real clambake on Cabbage Island in Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Barb: Busman’s Harbor in the Maine Clambake Mysteries is a highly, highly fictionalized version of Boothbay Harbor, Maine and the Snowden Family Clambake Company is an even more highly fictionalized version of the Cabbage Island Clambakes. I like fictionalizing a real place. World-creating is the most fun part of writing fiction for me. The real part saves me untold amounts of time and stress. If I need to know things like: What time does the sun rise on a certain date in August? When is high tide? or How far is it from Busman’s Harbor to Portland?, the answer is at my finger tips. In every book, Julia also goes on a trip to a real place in Maine–Bath in Clammed Up, the blueberry fields of Down East in Boiled Over, and Round Pond and Damariscotta in Musseled Out.

Jessie: I write about two different contemporary fictional towns in New Hampshire. I think photothey feel real because of the enjoyable sorts of people who inhabit them and because of the way the seasons and the lay of the land influence the characters. Weather, distance, the rural, close-knit nature of the villages flavor both New Hampshire series. Visits to the local dump,  standing orders for Italian sandwiches at the general store and chats with neighbors at the post office are all part of real life here and my characters experience these things too.

My new series is a historical and it is set in the real town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine in 1898. Researching real hotels, events and people requires a somewhat different skill set than creating an entirely fictional town. Both ways of crafting settings are tremendously fun and I hope will be equally engrossing for the readers.

Julie: My series is based in the Berkshires, in a fictional town called Orchard. I have been to the Berkshires several times, both on vacation and to go to Tanglewood, Williamstown, and other arts related locations. But my “what does it look like” inspiration came when I was driving back from Double Edge on summer night, right after I’d signed the contract for my series. My GPS took me another way, and I went with it. All of a sudden I came upon a town, Willamsburg, MA. Not technically in the Berkshires, but a terrific setting for cozy series. The Williamsburg General Store is a great place to visit, and helped inspire the Cog & Sprocket.

One of many parties held in the courtyard I lived on at Hanscom.
One of many parties held in the courtyard I lived on at Hanscom.

Sherry: I fell in love with New England when we lived there for five years. So when I had the opportunity to write the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series I decided to set in a fictional version of Bedford, Massachusetts and on a fictional version of Hanscom Air Force Base. Both were wonderful places to live and it makes me happy to write about them. It also gives me an excellent reason to go back and visit — in the name of research.

Bedford, MA town common
Bedford, MA town common

I also think it’s interesting that even with in New England there are differences. Liz calls it a town green but in Bedford it’s the town common. Whatever they are called I miss them!

Readers, have you ever been to New England? Ever lived here? What makes a book’s setting feel real to you?

18 Thoughts

  1. I have lived in New England for all my life, and that is a considerable time. I love reading your books and trying to match fictional to real places.

  2. I have a “town square” in my fictional Moosetookalook, Maine, loosely based on the one in Farmington but with a dashes of Wilton, Phillips, and Farmington Falls in the buildings around it, since the population of Moosetookalook is only 1007. There are clapboard Victorian era houses, the red brick municipal building from the town where I grew up in New York State in the 1960s, and a one story post office loosely based on the one in North Jay. Since this is in the western Maine mountains and nowhere near the ocean, there are no Down East accents, but folks do occasionally say something is wicked good! Farmington, by the way, is disguised as Fallstown, where the University of Maine at Fallstown is located, and Lewiston/Auburn is Three Cities, home of Anisetab College (hint: spell it backwards and translate the Latin).

  3. I fell in love with New England before I ever saw it. My Orchard Mysteries are set in Granford in western Massachusetts–it’s a thinly veiled version of Granby, and the local residents know it and are happy with it. It’s a typical old New England town (established 1769), with the green in the center, ringed by trees; the big white church on the hill overlooking it; and lots of houses that were built before 1800. One of them belonged to my 7xgreat-grandfather. I stumbled over it when I was looking for a local B&B (which it was at the time), and the series was born. Like Edith, I can tell you who lived in which house in 1800–and I’m related to half of them. I always say that my ancestors are calling to me in New England.

  4. I’m a New England transplant (grew up in rural New York State) and I love it here! I’m inland now but I’d love to move to a coastal village once my son graduates. (Well, I live near the Connecticut River, but I’d rather be on the ocean or sound) My ancestors on my mother’s side lived in Plymouth until the early nineteenth century, when my 3x great grandparents moved into New York State, following the building of the Erie Canal. So I’ve sort of come full circle by moving back. My Greek series is not set in New England, but the new series debuting in December is set in a classic (fictional) Connecticut village, complete with white, steepled church, town green, and plenty of secrets. New England never goes out of style, IMHO.

  5. I love all these comments. I am, of course, a reverse transplant – I’m a fourth-generation Californian! Maybe my next series will be set in Santa Barbara or somewhere equally lovely to visit for research.

  6. I lived in the Boston area for two years and commuted from NY another year whilst I completed my MBA at BU. My protagonist, Seamus McCree grew up in Boston and my own Boston roots go back to 1635 when the first Jackson immigrated, probably under an assumed name! I’ve visited his grave in Cambridge (and a side note: he gave some of the land on which Harvard was founded.)

    In my mysteries I used real places but only ones I have lived in or visited enough to describe well. As a reader, I love to read about places I know and I’ve found many readers are the same. ~ Jim

      1. Mine was a John Jackson. My father was the genealogist of the family. I have all the records on an old computer, but with the change to Windows 8, they don’t work on this one. I haven’t taken the time to figure out how to convert, so nothing is at my fingertips.

      2. Okay Shelia, you got my curiosity up and I went digging through my old man’s records on a copy of his computer I have stored on mine. First, turns out that what I remembered about 1635 entry to America was what he had told me, but later determined to be incorrect. The bit about the assumed name was because my father at the time (1970s) couldn’t track the John Jackson back. He later sorted that out.

        My John Jackson was born 1645. He was nephew to a Richard Jackson who had a bunch of money and was one of Cambridge’s first settlers, and was part of the political establishment of the day. John came over to run the business and when Richard died without direct descendants, John inherited the money. He’s buried in 1st Church Burying Ground, marker #1143.

        I did not turn up an Edward in my quick perusal of the records, so I suspect we were different families all together.

  7. Just finished Sherry’s fine novel Tagged for Death – she captured the charm of Concord, the New England common, and Hanscom Air Force Base area very well with certain details. Sarah jogging off the base without a second glance from the guard was amusing (guards keep people off base, not on). Many friends who come here are amused (or annoyed) by the small size of restaurants, no parking lots. people actually walking to a store from their house. Very different that the 3rd Mall from the Sun known as California.

    1. Thank you, John! I love the third mall from the sun — we lived in L.A. for four years — it isn’t very walkable! I did fall in love with New England.

  8. I’ve been to New York a few times, but that’s not New England, right? I’ve been to Vermont once, and I think that’s the only place I’ve been in New England. I flew in for the annual Trixie Belden convention, aka Trixie Camp, several years ago. Like 8 or so.

    But I feel like I’ve visited thanks to the books I’ve read set there, including all of yours. And it makes me want to see these states in person. But I’ll wait until some summer.

  9. I am also a roundabouter in a couple of different ways. I’ve never done the full on genealogy thing, but I know from a family bible my family lived outside Boston in the 17th century and kept going west–Deerfield, Utica, Pittsburgh, until they turned around and started coming back east in the 19th century. Full cycle, I ended up back in Boston in the 20th.

    But also roundabout because I was born outside Boston in Chelsea Naval Hospital when my father was stationed there before he went to Korea. I didn’t get back to New England, except for summer camp, until I was 22. My father always said Chelsea Naval explained everything about me. “Socialized medicine.”

  10. Although I am now in Pennsylvania, originally from Lowell, Massachusetts, I have also lived in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut. I love the word “wicked” and have used it forever. That is what made me really notice this site. Hail to all of you. Keep it up. Just noticed the historic series and need to explore!

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