Sunday, 09 May 2021

G Guest Editorials

Celebrate Lit Author Jennifer Sienes

When you choose a fictional book to read, how important to you is the setting? Do you prefer exotic locales or places with which you’re somewhat familiar? How do you feel about big cities and foreign countries? Beach setting or mountain? Maybe it depends on the genre.

Where a book takes place is more important than one would think. It anchors not only the reader but this author, as well. I’m a very visual person. This can make it somewhat difficult to write about a setting unless it’s a tangible place with which I’m familiar. This is one reason I am in awe of sci-fi and fantasy authors. They not only don’t have a tangible setting, much of what they describe doesn’t even exist in our natural world.

illusions 150 availableAside from a tangible setting, I also need an emotional connection. Call me needy. Some authors write about exotic places—they can transport the reader into a different world where they bring to life sights we might not otherwise experience. But I’m a homebody at heart, and thus far, I’ve found my characters are, as well.

There is something about raising a family in one home that appeals to me—a place the children gather with their children years after they’ve grown and moved away. Maybe it’s because I’ve never experienced it for myself. I lived in five different towns by the time I was in middle school, and I never felt a kinship with any of them, let alone an emotional connection. However, I was blessed to spend many summers and holidays at my grandparents’ place, which is where I felt most at home.

My grandparents retired to the somewhat small town of Placerville, California when I was only ten, so it became my town by default. It wasn’t everybody-knows-everybody small, but it had that special, close-knit feel that spoke to my heart. Because of this, it seemed the perfect setting for my Apple Hill Series. Of course, it’s changed quite a bit from the time I was young, but the heart of it is still true.

This gold-rush town in the Sierra Foothills has a unique history. You can only imagine a place once called “Hangtown” must have some kind of wild past. It was originally known as Dry Diggins and was a gold mining camp along Hangtown Creek, established in 1848. This name came from the way the men moved carloads of dry soil through running water to separate it from the gold. When I hear Dry Diggins, I imagine a lack of success, but by 1910, they boasted over $25 million in placer gold. Sounds anything but “dry” to me.

Placerville’s most common historical name, Hangtown, came from the many vigilante hangings that occurred. It was incorporated as the town of Placerville in 1854, and was then, the third largest town in California. When I was growing up, Placerville was considered a quiet, humble place. It was a big day if Grandma took me to the Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime store, which is no longer there. However, they still have the oldest (and coolest) hardware store west of the Mississippi.

Another unique feature to Placerville is their historic bell tower, which was erected after several fires destroyed large sections of their business community in 1856. The residents realized they needed a better system to alarm the Volunteer Fire Department. The original bell was cast in England and didn’t arrive on the scene until 1865. After a few updates, this 25-foot tower, which now sits in the middle of Main Street, is constructed of steel. It’s no longer used as an alarm system, but it does serve as a beautiful backdrop to their Christmas decorations.

Some well-known people who contributed to Placerville’s history are John Studebaker, Mark Hopkins, and Levi Strauss. More recent persons from this historic gold-mining town are Thomas Kinkade, Larry LaLonde (guitarist for Primus), baseball player Toby Hall and ski racer Spider Sabich, whose untimely death made international headlines.

You might be wondering where the series name Apple Hill came into play. As a child, Apple Hill was (and still is) the name of a road that runs above Placerville. During my childhood, it was home to a few family-owned apple orchards. The most memorable to me was Kids, Inc., whereJennifer Sienes the family children were the main operators of the business, which fascinated me. Since my grandparents lived just off of Apple Hill, we’d pass by Kids, Inc. every time we went for a visit. To this day, I can still smell the crisp, pine-scented autumn air.

Today, Kids, Inc., is Delfino Winery and there are more than sixty places of business crammed along this once-quiet country road. It is now a tourist destination which rivals downtown Sacramento traffic from October through Christmas. You know what Thomas Wolfe said—"You can never go home again.”

Although the series is named for this area above Placerville, my characters don’t actually visit it except in the Christmas novella, All That Glitters. When we live in a place our entire lives, we often don’t give its history or historic sights a lot of thought. And so it goes with my novels. Aside from a mention of Apple Hill, my characters are too busy navigating the complexities of life to have the time or inclination to go sight-seeing.

I used a blend of real and imagined places in this three-book series. Since Placerville sits halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, the conveniences of a big city are within driving distance—colleges, hospitals, neuro-trauma rehabilitation facilities, private investigators—your run-of-the-mill amenities. And although some of the restaurants are real (Tortilla Flats and Sweetie Pies) the main restaurant, Bella Cucina, introduced in Surrendered, is a product of my imagination. It eliminates those pesky problems that arise when readers are knowledgeable about a setting or have even a minimal experience with Google.

You can visit Placerville and the families I created to live there in any one of the Apple Hill novels—Surrendered, Illusions, or Providence (available now for preorder).

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