Setting, Urban Legends, and Self-Identity by R.J. Sullivan (Guest Post)

As I write this, the annual Indianapolis genre convention Inconjunction has just passed. During that weekend, I helped run a mini-workshop for new writers on the effective use of setting in a story.

What is the setting of a story, exactly? Is it a geographical location? The buildings where the story takes place? Setting is all of these things, but it is much more.

In my novel Haunting Blue, Fiona "Blue" Shaefer is a punk girl from the (real) college town of Broad Ripple, Indiana, where most weekends, the streets overflow with young partying liberal-minded youth. When Blue's mother moves them to the small town of Perionne, with its traditional conservative values, Blue fights the idea with every bone in her rebellious body. Blue identifies herself with her setting and upbringing--not just the place, but the values of her peers and friends. Years in one environment, now transplanted to another environment, one she perceives as so different, she fears she'll; be changed in some fundamental way--changed for the worst.

Whether the fear is justified or not is beside the point. Blue fears this nevertheless. And this fear sets the tone of the story from page one.

While the town of Perionne is a product my imagination, I drew upon the common traits of real places to assemble it. The people of Perionne--the citizens or "natives", for lack of a more accurate term--blend or clash with others to varying degrees. This factor plays a huge part in any setting. The Perioinne local knows the area history. They remember when the pawn shop used to be the grocery store. They remember the scandal at the local library, the stories, the makeup of what makes the area unique. This creates a unique culture. Every setting includes a people with a culture. Some cultures are more distinct and defined than others.

The town of Perionne has one huge secret, a 20 year old mystery based on a real event. And unlike the trope of most small town mysteries, the average citizen doesn't know its secret. A despicable man by the name of Gunther Stalt committed a daring daylight bank robbery, and then disappeared. The money was never recovered. And if anyone knows anything, they're not talking. What, then, about the talk of the "Ghost of Gunther", sighting after sighting by otherwise credible townspeople of an apparition with a hooked hand exactly like Gunther's?

Blue learns of the legend on her very first day of school. Her folklore teacher reviews the story for her. In his enthusiasm, he scoffs at the stories, and in doing so, reveals himself to be an outsider of the town. But the rest of the class pushes back. The Perionne locals have lived with the legend, and they insist they know better. How they treat Blue and her resistance to their ways is as much about their culture as it is about the buildings and location. Before she knows it, in spite of her best intentions, Blue is pulled into the mystery of the Ghost of Gunther.

Haunting Blue can be read as an escapist edgy paranormal thriller and enjoyed on those terms. For me. I wanted to explore how one's upbringing, environment, and culture define each of us as a person. When Blue clashes with the Ghost of Gunther, it's not just hero versus villain. To Blue's thinking, the town itself is out to destroy who she is and what she values as important.

However you choose to enjoy Haunting Blue, I do hope you enjoy it. For me, the story was a fun experiment on how culture, upbringing, history, and shared urban legends can shape a person and how those factors all contribute to or threaten our identity.


About the Author

Haunting Blue is the first book of the adventures of punk girl Fiona “Blue” Shaefer. This is the 2014 revised edition by Seventh Star Press. Seventh Star also released Haunting Obsession, a Rebecca Burton Novella, and Virtual Blue, the second book in Fiona’s tale. R.J.’s short stories have been featured in such acclaimed collections as Dark Faith: Invocations by Apex Books and Vampires Don’t Sparkle. His newest project is the Red Lotus series of science fiction novelettes.

R.J. Sullivan resides in Heartland Crossing, Indiana. He drinks coffee from a Little Mermaid mug and is man enough to admit it.


About the Book

Haunting Blue by R.J. Sullivan
Seventh Star Press; 2 edition (May 28, 2014)

Punk, blue-haired “Blue” Shaefer, is at odds with her workaholic single mother. Raised as a city girl in a suburb of Indianapolis, Blue must abandon the life she knows when her unfeeling mother moves them to a dreadful small town. Blue befriends the only student willing to talk to her: computer nerd “Chip” Farren.
Chip knows the connection between the rickety pirate boat ride at the local amusement park and the missing money from an infamous bank heist the townspeople still talk about. When Blue helps him recover the treasure, they awaken a vengeful ghost who’ll stop at nothing--not even murder--to prevent them from exposing the truth behind his evil deeds.
Haunting Blue is Book One of the Adventures of Blue Shaefer