Real or imaginary – which best describes your settings?

When you write, do you base your settings on real places or do you let your imagination run wild?

For me, I like to incorporate a little of both.  Having lived in Georgia for a good portion of my life, I spent a lot of time in Dahlonega, Helen and Washington, Georgia.  I’ve camped in the Cohutta Wilderness and all over the north Georgia mountains.  I’ve taken trips to many mountain towns in North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky and the beauty and tranquility of the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains has left a long-lasting affect on me.

I’m also a sucker for grandiose and palatial plantation homes with sprawling grounds and long driveways shaded by hundred year old oak trees, but the mountain regions of the Appalachians don’t have many plantation homes to tour.  So, I had to venture a little more south to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

I knew when I started my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King, I wanted it to take place in the north-east corner of Tennessee in the fictional town of Havendale.  If you can find Bristol on the map, Havendale is a stone’s throw away, stuck right there in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  As David is quite wealthy, he had to live in a huge mansion, but I needed it in an almost suburban atmosphere.

While sightseeing on one of my last trips to Gatlinburg, I spotted this beautiful Victorian home set way off a mountain road at the end of a cul-de-sac.  On one side of the street were four or five smaller, older brick homes hidden by their share of trees.  On the opposite side of the road was nothing but forest.  However, at the end of the street stood this stunning giant with amazing towers and gingerbread trim.  As soon as I saw the street and the house, I knew this was where my David and his best friend, Charlotte, had to live.

I toyed around for a long time with David living in this Victorian home, but it wasn’t him.  His wealth came from old money . . . Civil War era money, so his house needed to reflect his past.  I needed a plantation home.  So I turned my sights on Natchez, Mississippi, a town steeped in historical significance and breathtaking plantation homes.  When I found Monmouth Plantation, I fell in love, and thought I’d found the perfect house . . . that is until I stumbled upon Oak Valley Plantation in Louisiana.  When I saw the grounds and the home, there was no doubt in my mind it was where David had to live.  There is even a picture of it on the left sidebar of my blog.

So, I took everything I loved about the house, put my own spin on it, and then moved it to Havendale.  I then named the home Summerwood, and voila!  I have a great setting steeped in imagination and fact without being historically correct.  It’s one of the many things I love about my novel and writing fiction.  The world is anything we want it to be, as long as we make it believable.

So, what about you?  Are your settings based on fact, fiction or both?  I’d love to read your comments so take a moment and leave one behind.