Indiana author Cathy Day knows her place, writes about it, and urges her creative writing students at Ball State University to know their places, too. And yes, we're talking about place or setting in a novel, not one's station in life. In a faculty interview on the Ball State English Department webpage, she notes "That's been a big thing for my writing and teaching: trying to encourage people to look at the places they're from for their material. It's usually all there."
By happenstance, her latest teaching blog entry deals with the importance of place or setting to the success of a good story and is quite interesting to read by itself. Ms. Day admits she didn't appreciate that her hometown of Peru, Indiana, was any different from any other place until she moved away from it as a young adult. The fact that Peru had been the winter quarters for a circus for many years seemed extraordinary only when outsiders remarked about it.
In deciding to write a fictionalized account of Peru's relationship with this traveling circus, she found herself naturally culling out the historical facts and bits that fascinated her, and these became the elements of her first book, The Circus in Winter. What gives her book its heart is the way the author anchors her story in a setting so well described as to be known and felt by the reader. Chapters of the book, like short stories in themselves, move backward and forward through time, taking the characters (and their descendants) away from Lima (the fictionalized town of Peru), but then bringing them back to it again, over and over. In this way, we get to know the town as if it were one of her main characters. For more information about Cathy Day, please refer to her website http://cathyday.com/.