Setting is such an important part of any book, and I doubt there’s an author out there who hasn’t struggled mightily to get his or her book to feel like where it’s set.
Whether it’s the forests of Maine in a Stephen King book or the outer reaches of space by Isaac Asimov, it’s difficult to find the right words, the right depiction to carry the weight of the present moment and location to the reader.
Rarely has a book done it as well as Southern Bastards. It’s a comic, I know, but Jasons Aaron and Latour (and occasionally, Chris Brunner) have done a fantastic job of creating a space that feels so deeply like what it’s supposed to be, you can almost feel the sticky in the shade, the underlying hostility that runs beneath Craw County’s old Southern civility.
Ultimately, it’s a book about football and crime, which really shouldn’t appeal to a guy who likes his comics with more out there concepts. However, everything about this book is so perfectly executed to feel Deep South (and not just a caricature) that it’s impossible not to get sucked in.
This is what we talk about when we talk about book feel. This book oozes South. Football, cars, booze, holy rollers, ribs and chicken and grits and pie, mad dogs and conscience ridden hard men (and women) populate the book in every panel. Racism, aggression, guns, and that small town fear of change or outsiders permeate the whole thing so fully that you can’t help but feel you’re there.
That tip of the hat, that “you’ll get ’em on Friday night” feel of passersby talking about high school football, all undercut with a current of hatred and violence and resentment so deep it’s palpable… I aspire to make books that encompass a time and place this deeply.
In the book I’m writing, the town is largely inconsequential. Small enough not to feel cosmopolitan or allow a lot of differential thinking, but big enough to get lost in it, to lose that sense of connection and community that many small communities have.
It’s home, basically.
But it doesn’t feel like this.
It’s a very internal struggle for the protagonist, which drives him to make stupid moves, to work against himself, to put others in the line of fire for his own unwillingness to confront his own bullshit… it makes sense that it’s lived inside his head, mostly.
But if ever the location becomes a part of the story where it’s inseparable, I will use Aaron and Latour as guideposts. Because these guys know what’s what, and when it comes to book feel, what is most definitely what.