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Swoon Author Lillie Vale's First Draft Report: When a Place Becomes a Person

When it comes to Small Town Hearts and its cozy, seaside Maine village of Oar’s Rest, the one statement I hear heads and shoulders above the rest is: “I want to move there!”

And variations, such as:

“Is this a real place?”

“Oar’s Rest feels like a character in itself!”

“Did you come up with the town first or the characters?”

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Many contemporary books don’t world build much, since for the most part a city is a city is a city. Readers don’t really need to know, or care, how the streets and houses look. What the geography is. Whether there’s a superstore there or just a corner bodega. But I really geek out for this stuff, and world-building is one of my favorite parts of creating a universe, whether it’s one that looks like ours or something far more fantastical.

So while you won’t find Oar’s Rest, Maine, on a map (as far as I know!), I had every seaside village I’d ever stayed/visited to dip into for inspiration in crafting Babe’s hometown. I sort of had a picture of how it looked before I even came up with the plot, but it really all came together when I decided Levi was going to be my mysterious artist who needed a change of scenery. What place better to recharge his emotional and creative batteries than Oar’s Rest, where a cute barista who lived in a lighthouse was in need of her own adventure?

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I’d like to say this was all meticulously planned, but for the most part, it was an adventure for me right alongside Babe and Levi. This journey of discovery that started in August 2016 had me writing ferociously, and I knew that the town and all its magic and charm would have a far, far bigger role to play than just being the setting for Babe’s epic summer.

Somehow, along the way, Oar’s Rest turned into a character. Babe frequently mentions that it’s a memory hoarder, greedy for everything it can snatch and snuggle close. It’s a place where memories settle into cracks and crevices, where you can’t walk two feet without being reminded of something or someone.

It also turned from the place that drew Babe and Levi together to the symbol of all the reasons he wouldn’t stay, and why she felt she always would. And that tied into the theme of change, which is prevalent throughout the novel, especially Babe’s fear of it. Oar’s Rest became, kinda unintentionally, the third person in their relationship.

So I guess the tl;dr is that the setting informed the characters as much as anything else did, which I personally find very cool (yes, I’m biased LOL), and I absolutely do think of Oar’s Rest as a character.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Babe:

I didn’t need Levi to tell me that this town was special. There were many things you couldn’t find elsewhere. Trees that seemed to whisper lost lovers’ names when the wind blew just right, a beach that swallowed flip-flops and gave back books. Memories containing whole worlds.

That was what Levi forgot. Oar’s Rest held on to memories. Every first kiss, every last kiss. Every tragedy, every miracle. It was greedy for them. We’d talked about it before, but I didn’t think he realized that Oar’s Rest would hold on to him, too. The memories he left behind would be there in every grain of sand, in every wobbly plank on the pier, in every corner of my world. Places like Oar’s Rest were like that—they held on tight, tugged memories close, and gave life to the people who weren’t there anymore.

Small Town Hearts goes on sale March 19. Don't forget to add it to your Goodreads shelf!

Author spotlight

Lillie Vale

Lillie Vale, upon discovering she could not be one of Santa’s elves or attend Hogwarts, decided to become a writer …

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