In many of the horror novels that I have read, the setting has been as much of a character as the individuals involved in the story. I wanted this to be the case in my novel as well. To accomplish this, at least this early in my writing career, I felt that it was important that I set this story in a location that I am intimately familiar with, Reliance. Fortunately for me, this location is also beautiful. It takes on an eerie type of beauty as fall sets in and the cold of winter takes over. Walking through the area in the dead of winter after the sun has gone down can have you looking over your shoulder for the boogeyman (or one of the fabled mountain lions). The river that runs through Reliance, Tennessee also has several old Cherokee tales that are incorporated into the story, but more on that later. For this blog entry, we will focus solely on Reliance and why exactly it was chosen as the setting for Hunger in the Valley.
First of all, as I mentioned, was my familiarity with the location. I essentially grew up around Etowah, Tennessee, which is a short drive up Highway 411 from the Hiwassee River which runs through Reliance. Pretty much everyone who lived in the area frequented the businesses in Reliance such as Webb Brother’s General Store and Hiwassee Outfitters. I’ve floated down the Hiwassee River in a raft or kayak more times than I can count on two hands, without a doubt. This made it easy (kind of) to bring the place to life for readers who have never been there. I know what time of year the leaves change, I know the speed of the river, I know the put-in/take-out points, I know the places to eat or purchase fishing bait, and I know the curvy roads that run parallel to the river on both sides. In being so intimately familiar with the area, I was able to save a decent amount of time by skipping some research that would normally be necessary.
The second reason I chose Reliance is the community’s overall size. Its small. Really small. I think its official designation is an “unincorporated community,” but its really more of a place with a couple businesses that people drive through on their way to the mountains or the Hiwassee/Ocoee rivers. The closest decent sized towns (and when I say decent sized, I am being very generous) are Benton and Etowah. Both are a solid 10-15 miles from the turnoff of Highway 411 to reach Reliance. This gave me the space to insert a very small fictitious town between Benton/Etowah and Reliance that is called Mountain View, Tennessee. This enabled me to still use Reliance and the Hiwassee River as the primary setting, while still having a very small town where a majority of the characters live very close by. The town of Mountain View is heavily influenced by Etowah, Tennessee, where I lived for quite a few years. Therefore, some of the locations in the novel are real life, tangible places (Webb Brother’s General Store), some are real places that have been moved to Mountain View from other small towns in the area (Movie Magic), and some (Old Reliance Church) are entirely fictitious. So, there we have it. A quaint community at the foot of the mountains in the Tennessee River Valley with a calm old river running through it.
The third reason I chose Reliance as the setting for Hunger in the Valley is the history of the area. Its some backwoods, mountain/river loving, God fearing, Appalachian, moonshine running stuff with a healthy dose of Native American (Cherokee) influence. It’s a rich history that is as filled with folktales and myth as it is with religion. Two particular Cherokee tales regarding the Hiwassee River that runs through Reliance play a huge part in the plot, but that’s the topic for another blog post. There is a huge religious influence in the southern United States, and East Tennessee is right there in the center of the bible belt. As any religious follower can tell you, modern times have drastically strained beliefs in what is acceptable both from society and from followers of the Christian faith. The times are a changin’, and change is rarely embraced in the foothills of Appalachia. All mixed together, these things create a very interesting dynamic that allows me to explore the faith, or lack thereof, of my characters and the strain that the events occurring throughout the story have on their faith/beliefs. Reliance was a good melting pot for the plot. While I wanted this story to be scary/good vs. evil/etc., I also want to have an undercurrent that explores a deeper message, and this was the perfect setting to allow me to do just that.
And that, friends, is why I chose Reliance, Tennessee and the fictitious town of Mountain View as the setting for Hunger in the Valley. Next week I’ll introduce a couple characters and maybe do a deep dive into one of their character profiles. As always, thanks for stopping by to read this and thank you for your interest in what I’m trying to do here. If you have any questions about why I chose this particular setting that I didn’t address in this post, please drop a comment and I’ll be sure to answer any questions you might have. See you next week.