Several days ago, The Ferrett blogged about worldbuilding. He asked, at the end, “If you’re a writer, how do you worldbuild?” The post and the question, of course, got my mind going. It just so happened that at the same time I was reading his post, I was also cruising Google StreetView because I needed to see what the six miles between Hensley Store and Martins Fork Lake look like. (It’s been three years since I’ve been there.) Because while I was doing all this, I was also working on notes and such for Midnight that our critique group had turned in.

It’s the ADHD. I’ve always done this. Three or four tasks at a time. I have to say, though, the Prozac has made this more bearable and more organized.

Worldbuilding is a bit different for me. I use a place that actually exists for my setting. Harlan County, Kentucky. I’ve just given it my own overlay and made it a place where vampires are real. And I created histories, laws, and rituals for these people. I have a link above to the HVSWiki, and I hope to find the time to put the information I’ve compiled online.

Now I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t have complete histories, laws, or rituals until July of this year. I’ve been tinkering around in this ‘alternate Harlan’, as Preston calls it, for ten years now. My writing is really organic. I’ve learned most things as I’ve gone along. More so during these exhaustive rewrites I’ve been doing on the three books for the past three years. Until I figured things out and learned who people were, I didn’t need nor could I create these histories. And are they tangled, let me tell you. Spider webs make more sense in places. I’ll put it this way. I didn’t even know for sure who Sami (my main character) was until I got near the end of the first draft of book two in 2006. The shock was as great for me as it was for her, I’m sure. But now she has a family and family history reaching back to early Devonshire UK.

The laws weren’t that difficult. Now, these are the laws for Anethdraeg, the vampire Family. I’ve not gone around messing with Kentucky law to warp it to fit my ‘alternate Harlan’. I had mentioned some of these laws off-hand near the end of Midnight, then here and there in the sequels. I just had to go through and pick them out and clean them up. What are they? Where did these laws come from? I would like to take credit for creating these laws out of thin air all on my own. But I can’t. They’re a mishmash of the original 1991 Vampire: The Masquerade laws and The Black Veil of the ‘real vampire’ community. I took what I needed and came up with names, definitions, and descriptions that fit the Harlan Vampire Series universe.

Here is an example of Anethdraeg law:

Donor – vampires feed only from well-informed, consenting non-vampire donors. We must feed only for the sake of satiating the hunger and must never give in to addiction. The Elder is the exception to this law as he requires feeding from his advisers and other vampires.

Discretion – this is the respect all vampires have for himself and for his Family. Private disputes and similar concerns shall never be discussed out among the public. A vampire chooses with the utmost of care with whom he will share the knowledge of his true nature. And those people must be wise and mature enough to understand and respect what he is.

Respect – implies specific actions and conduct representative of the feeling of positive regard for a person or an entity. Unless a vampire brings harm or dishonour upon himself or upon the Family, all are to respect that individual’s choices and decisions. Give respect, therefore, to those who have earned it.

Haven – is a refuge, a sacred safe place where the Family comes together for ritual worship, socializing, and seeking the advice of their Elder. The sanctity of our Haven shall be respected and shall never be violated.

Only we define and control who and what we are. By our own free will, we choose to obey the Laws of this Family so that we shall live well upon this earth.

These Laws were given to us of old for our well-being and are not meant to be a burden. In keeping with the nature and ways of our times, we shall change those Laws which no longer apply and shall create new Laws when they are needed.

Creating rituals was simple enough. I’ve walked a Pagan path since I was ninetten, and with my ‘Gwyddon Druid Degree of Goodness’ comes my ritual creation +5 skill. So I put it to work – in Michael’s shoes. If I were a Pagan with roots in Devonshire, how would I do things? I decided, “probably not much different from a Welsh Gwyddon. I made a list of what I needed – not much (a ritual grimoire containing a brief outline of the Anethdraeg ritual practices and four rituals to encompass their Full Moon celebrations) – and went from there. The ritual body I created is, in all likelihood, very useable provided one researched, used, and fully understood the Welsh lore behind it. Same with the method of magic Sami employs. Her metaphysics is the same blend of personal, intuitive magics and Gwyddonics that I use, which is probably a whole other blog post on its own (minus the Gwyddon bits, which are up for discussion only with other Gwyddons. sorry).

The Time period came easily enough. I wanted Sami to live in the same Harlan County I had, starting in 1995. I moved to Loyall in October, Sami in September. But then, near the beginning of book two, I hit a snag. I mention this in my authors notes btw. I sat down to read the Lexington Herald-Leader and saw that Central Baptist Hospital had a plan to build a new campus across the interstate from Hamburg between Man O’War Boulevard and Winchester Road. Construction was supposed to start last year and hasn’t yet. So I had a bit of panic as I tried to figure out what to do.

See, I can write about a place better if I can visualize it. So much the better if I’ve been there before. Since I have been in and out of CB for various reasons over the last twelve years and can see it eyes open and closed, and due to the course of the story, I needed to use the hospital as I knew it. Yes, I even downloaded floorplans from the hospital website. The logical choice was to back up my entire timeline by ten years. Not as easily accomplished as I’d hoped. It screwed up clothing, hairstyles, cars, music, and electronics for starters. Gone were Stone Temple Pilots and Sami’s computer! Instead of her arriving on Steve’s doorstep in 1995, she arrived in 1985. This meant Jeremy lost his boxy Crown Victoria and Michael lost his Sebring. But one does what one must do. This also meant I had to make a ton of telephone calls back home to poke and prod my in-law’s memory. Was that store there then? Did it have the same name? What was it called? Who owned it? When did the bypass go in? When was the mall built? When did Loyall Elementary School shut down? Endless, endless questions.

When I write, I start with a character and a dilemma. Not much else. Then I do the equivilent of getting to know my neighbor. Hello. How are you? Where does your husband work? Where do you go to church? This is the Kentucky way of learning who knew people are, so those are the natural questions. The rest flows from there. And this is going to sound like a real stretch to some people, but my faith takes into account reincarnation. Our view is a bit different from anything else I’ve seen, and I won’t go into that here. I got Sami’s and Steve’s full names from my last life. I borrowed their names, not their stories. Jeremy’s name came from liking the name; his last name came from the 1997 Harlan County telephone directory.

Michael was a bit moe complex than that. I guess. It depends on how it’s looked at, I suppose. Michael’s name, look, and the good side (yes, he does have one!) of him are based on a real person I met here in Lexington in 1996, although he wasn’t six-and-a-half feet tall like Michael Devon. He didn’t have a last name until toward the end of the second book when I realized he didn’t have one and he needed one. But for Michael I didn’t want a common Kentucky name. I wouldn’t know it until later, but Michael wasn’t Kentuckian. (We all already knew he wasn’t common lol!) I researched uncommon names in Kentucky in the late 1800s. I found one Devon family in Louisville for that time period. For the name to be that uncommon was perfect. And I can’t remember exactly what it was about ‘Devon’ that stuck with me, but it did, and I refused to let it go.

Place names took care of themselves; afterall, my setting is a real place. All I need are a map and photographs. Oh, and my cell phone. In case I need to call home and ask questions. Again. Business names were a bit different. I changed a couple. Loyall Texaco, which has been in operation since the 1930s became The Market. Belk Simpson at the mall became Preston & Bianchi – although that last I’m still not happy with and am searching for an alternative. Most people are surprised to learn that Dairy Hut is a real place.

It is. See?

Parks and bodies of water also took care of themselves and are all real places and things.

Which brings me around to music. In Eventide and Midnight music makes appearances, more so in the first. Eventide was fun in that it takes place from 1959 to 1966 (research for this one was marvelous!). I got to explore some wonderful music. There’s more than one scene where Michael and Laurel dance along with the radio in his kitchen. In Midnight, Sami often has music playing in the background. At one point, she and Jeremy are listening to records in his bedroom, and she asks to hear one of his Stix albums.

Last but not least. Photographs. I have a digital collection of 600 pictures taken within Harlan County. This doesn’t include my 100 pictures taken in Corbin (in Whitley County), the 60 of/around/at Cumberlan Falls (near Corbin), or the 75 of Cumberland Gap (in Bell County). These pictures come in handy when I can’t remember what something looks like. You know, for the minute details. Like I have it stuck in my head that O’Neil’s Funeral Home in Corbin was either built out of white brick or was painted white. It isn’t. The building is and always has been red brick. I also have some Google StreetView captures I use for reference, such as this one I grabbed a few days ago. I needed to know what this section of road looked like.

Too, things look so different season to season. Shadows change, as does the quality and quantity of the light. Things also look different depending upon the weather. A Harlan drenched in rain, with or without fog, is a different Harlan from the one drenched in sunshine (in the places where sunlight actually reaches). The angle of the sun and moon do shine in a given area is important.

Oh. One more thing. I create houseplans. I used to do this with typing paper, a pencil, and a ruler, but thanks to graphics programs, I can now do this on my laptop. I do this for good reason. So I can trace the path characters walk. So I don’t have someone turning right off a stairway on page 6 and then have them turning left off that same stairway on page 298. It also helps if I have a small map of, say, Sami’s or Michael’s property so I know what sits where in relation to everything else.

I think that’s everything. I’ve probably left out half of what I meant to write about. If anyone reading this has questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments, and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability. This post will probably end up being a permanent page on the site somewhere.


Author: Mari Adkins

Appalachian gothic fiction writer - my works reflect a love of literature flavored by the darkness and magic residing in these ancient mountains. In my spare time, I'm a Simmer, I tumbl, I journal, but I always have a very strange sense of humor. I have lived away from the mountains and lived deep in the mountains. I currently live in Central Kentucky with my lifepartner and his cat. The mountains, their culture, their superstitions, their particular magics, will always be in my blood.