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Hitting the right note in historical setting – An interview with author Sonia Gensler

If you have ever wanted to be standing in the room when Elizabeth Bennett verbally spars with Mr. Darcy, or you wished Captain Nemo had offered you a ride on the Nautilus, you’ll understand the power of a story set in a different time than our own. And perhaps, if you’re a writer, you’ve dreamed of plotting your own story in a time long past. Then again, getting a historical setting just right can be intimidating. Well, WWAT had the exciting opportunity to talk to Sonia Gensler, young adult novelist and author of The Revenant (Oklahoma Book Award, Parent’s Choice Silver Award, Sequoyah Intermediate Master list), The Dark Between (Oklahoma Book Award finalist), and the forthcoming Ghostlight, (available August 4, 2015), all from Random House/Alfred A. Knopf. Because her first two novels take place in historic settings, we figured she’d be the perfect subject for questions about how a writer can initiate a journey through time to establish a story in a setting that has come and gone. How much influence does historic setting have on your first two published novels, The Revenant and The Dark Between? Setting was a major inspiration for my first two novels. In my initial thinking about The Revenant, I knew I wanted to write a story set at a 19th century Southern girls’ boarding school, because female education outside of the home was still a fairly recent phenomenon and school settings are inherently rife with drama. When my Tahlequah friends pointed out Seminary Hall at Northeastern State University, I was intrigued. When they told me it used to be Cherokee girls’ boarding school, I knew I had my setting! It was during my research about the school that I learned about the building’s history of hauntings, and the plot really began to come together. With The Dark Between, I was inspired by the 19th century paranormal researchers who formed the Society for Psychical Research (which is still going strong today). When I learned that many of the founders had met each other at Trinity College in Cambridge, I knew I had to exploit that setting! And then it got even more interesting when I discovered that one of these founding members, Henry Sidgwick, was a co-founder of Newnham College, one of the first female colleges in Cambridge. He inspired the character of Oliver Thompson in my book, and the setting, Summerfield College, was based on Newnham. In general, I start with place, and... read more

Graveyards, Hotels, and Asylums! Oh, my!

One of my favorite genres is horror. Give me zombies, monsters, and ghosts galore. The one element that can make or break a great horror novel is the setting. There is nothing scarier than a haunted hotel, or an abandoned mental hospital. Two of my favorite books, The Shining by Stephen King and Asylum by Madeleine Roux, are perfect examples. Most everyone knows that the real life Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado was Stephen King’s inspiration for The Shining. Having recently visited the Stanley, I can see how it stimulated King’s imagination. The picturesque landscape, the history, and the tragedies of the Stanley are an inevitable muse for authors. Stephen King captured the creep factor and created an ingenious setting for a truly eerie ghost story. The hotel itself is one of the most important character in the novel. Asylum by Madeleine Roux is another, more recent, example of a setting that makes the plot. When a university buys an old abandoned asylum and converts it into dorms for a summer session, ghosts of past residents mingle with the living. Not only did the asylum host the mentally ill and criminally insane, a mad doctor who experimented on his patients was in charge. If that’s not scary enough, high school students live there for a summer and the dead take over. Once again, the setting is as much of a character as the people are. No matter what genre you’re writing, the setting needs to come alive. With a great setting, you can create an atmosphere and emotionally charge the... read more

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