Thriller set in Hamburg (with a side trip to Cartagena)
Talking Location With Amy McCaw, author of Mina and the Undead – NEW ORLEANS
4th April 2021
#TalkingLocationWith… Amy McCaw, author of Mina and the Undead set in NEW ORLEANS.
When I went to New Orleans in 2012, I knew I’d write a book about it. I’d been writing for a few years at this point and learned a lot from completing several manuscripts. While I didn’t know if this one would get published, or if anyone but me would read it, I knew there was a story inside me about a girl who visits New Orleans and is swept away by the spooky settings and dark myths. It turned out that I was right, and Mina and the Undead will be published by Uclan Publishing in April 2021. So how did I capture the vibrant sensory experience that is Bourbon Street, and the dusty heat and sombre tombs of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1?
The first step was deciding which key locations would suit the creepy atmosphere of what would become Mina and the Undead. Most of the main settings in the book are places I visited: the morbidly fascinating Pharmacy Museum, the buzzing atmosphere and flavoursome po’boys of Mothers and the calm greenery within Jackson Square. There were also locations that I invented, such as the Empire of the Dead, a bar decorated with caged animal bones, which was inspired by the Paris Catacombs.
After I’d picked out the key locations, I used online mapping tools to plot the distances between them. I wanted the book to feel authentic to locals, so I didn’t want the characters popping round the corner to a place that’s actually 10 miles away. I bent the facts to fit the story in some places, but authenticity felt important.
Mapping the locations also made me realise that I could use these tools to see photographs of streets and locations. I found that useful for adding descriptive details. Was there a park running alongside the main action, which would provide an eerie backdrop to a night-time conversation? What is the pavement made of where the blood drips from a fatal wound? Photographs from my holiday also enabled me to flesh out my descriptions. I was very fortunate when a friend later visited New Orleans and took pictures of some of the places I’d missed. All of that contributed to evoking a suitably spooky mood.
Once the main details were there, I read countless books about New Orleans and trawled travel websites for those extra touches of realism. I also found an author from New Orleans and a local tour guide to help with my research. It was invaluable to ask questions and get feedback from people who know the city.
Top tips for visiting New Orleans
- Choose your location. Is there a place you’ve visited and never forgotten? New Orleans would not let me go when I left. Even though I’ve visited 29 states, New Orleans still shines. I found myself poring over photographs, buying stacks of books and watching anything set there. If you’ve already decided on a plot, is there a location that would serve your story? Or could a favourite location inspire you to write something new?
- Target the time period. I chose to set Mina and the Undead in 1995 because the year before was the deadliest in New Orleans history up to that point (424 people were murdered). 1995 was also the year that the Interview with the Vampire movie was released. Is there a time period that complements your plot?
- Research it. I found interesting facts about New Orleans in online articles, snippets from newspapers, non-fiction books, novels, travel TV shows and movies. I talked to locals and even played a computer game set in a reimagined New Orleans. At the early stage, I found it useful to consume as much information as possible to make the setting seem real.
- Narrow it down. Once I had plenty of research overflowing from folders and crowding the desktop of my computer, it was time to figure out which locations to include. I didn’t decide on all of them before writing, but I had a rough idea of key scenes and the settings that would bring them to life. For example, a walk in the punishing heat took my characters into the shade around Jackson Square, where ancient oaks towered overhead and tempting stalls offered souvenirs and even the chance to learn their fortunes…
- Flesh it out. For me, a scene comes alive when it’s rich with well-chosen sensory details and subtle touches that impact on the plot. What elements from your research or imagination will make the scene real for your reader, without overburdening them with unnecessary background?
Amy McCaw, author of Mina and the Undead
Amy McCaw is a YA writer and blogger. She’s the author of Mina and the Undead, a YA murder mystery set in 1995 New Orleans.
Her main interests are books, movies and the macabre, and her debut novel has elements of all of these. If Amy’s not at a book event or reading, she can usually be found scribbling away in her writing room, surrounded by movie memorabilia and an out-of-control signed books collection.
Amy also loves travelling and has a particular affinity for America. She’s visited 29 states, 13 Man Vs Food restaurants and many bookish locations, including the cities where Twilight, Interview with a Vampire and Vampire Diaries were set.
If you want to talk with Amy about books or 90s movies, you can find her on Twitter @YAundermyskin.
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