Alarum | Behind the Scenes: Setting

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The publication date for Alarum is fast approaching so to celebrate I’m writing a little series of BTS posts! If this type of thing is uninteresting to you or you’re worried about spoilers (which as the author I don’t want to spoil anymore than you want it to be ruined) then feel free to skip merrily away to another internet tab. For those of you who are interested or are simply BTS fanatics like myself then grab a snack and let’s go!

This book was at one time impossible to me. My first attempt at writing a novel was a fantasy because it was always my favorite genre, it was what I knew best and felt the most comfortable with. I did however learn the hard way that writing a fantasy novel takes LOADS of work because not only do you have to craft characters and plot but the very world they dwell in. I guess I like giving myself extra work though seeing as the Walking Shadows Saga also takes place in a fictional landscape. I did have it a touch easier however knowing that it takes place in what was once the United States of America so I automatically had a geographical outline to work from. (Although I did spend a lot of time trying to calculate travel times and distances which became tricky because Google Maps doesn’t have a setting for “Horse” haha I tried my best but perhaps you shouldn’t analyze my estimates too closely…).

But if you’re expecting to read this and recognize every location they explore then go ahead and lay that expectation aside because this is a fractured society. It’s fractured politically, socially, morally, and environmentally. While technically it takes place in the country once called the U.S. it has long since ceased to be such. Before this book even begins the U.S. split into four factions: The North-central, The Northeast, The South, and The West.

Here’s a map for you visual people:

Alarum_USA map 2.0

The Northeast is the smallest territory: The Rochester Alliance (named such after some political treaty mumbo jumbo that happens pre-Alarum but will be touched on later in the series). It’s a high-tech futuristic society that maintains relations with the world yet stands largely isolated from the rest of former U.S. They’re small but heavily populated and thriving.

You’ll get to read more about the R.A. in Book 3

The West is now called the Pacific Confederation. This territory is highly fortified, utilitarian, and pretty much entirely isolated from anyone else. It’s not the most fun place to be unless you’re one of the people running it.

The P.C. is the setting for Book 4 so stay tuned

The Northern-central area is “Unclaimed” as in there are people living there but no official form of government has been able to root itself there. So basically it’s a wasteland of anarchists and roamers but honestly a large portion of it is useless terrain now so it’s a bit like Siberia where people can live but most don’t. When the nation split things sort of settled with this area managing to hold out long enough to maintain their autonomy and independence/the others didn’t find the resources required to regulate it worth it. (Side note: Alaska and part of the northern edge of the U.S. was taken by Canada, part of Texas was lost to Mexico, and Hawaii…they’re still trying to figure out who’s in charge there but they’ll likely end up independent at least for a while).

Books 2 & 5 will get more into this semi-abandoned nook

The South is the largest territory and is also the wildest. The Southern Coalition is the main setting for Alarum and is inspired by the infamous 1930s Dust Bowl combined with the 1800s Wild West spun with a futuristic element seeing as this book takes place in the, uh, future. The S.C. is ruled by a sort of oligarchy as in it’s subdivided into three sectors each with its own enforcer. Honestly it’s less of a government set up than a giant policing system that definitely resembles those wild west shows or the mob (in other words you’re in trouble if you get caught but oh well if you’re not).

Book 1 welcomes you right into this wild place

SO to clear up any confusion you may have still: No this is not still somehow the United States. That is a country of the past. So these four sections are…independent countries then? Yes, basically. Then why not choose names that sound, ya know, more like an actual country? Well, firstly, because it didn’t feel right. Secondly, because Americans have some serious pride for their home. We may whine and complain a lot and loudly but when it comes down to it we bleed red, white, and blue. The thought of the U.S. no longer being a big shiny superpower sounds impossible. So despite the split and the determination to secede from/dissolve the nation, despite no longer standing under one grand banner, no one, not even the leaders, could fully grasp such a thing, at least not on a subconscious level. So they created new tiers beneath the U.S. title that eventually became separate and fully independent. Like the Confederate States of America, it was a determined movement and yet not a permanent one because America does not break easily. Well, until now. Ha.

Alarum_travel notes
These are my early notes so the final map looks a bit different from what I brainstormed here

But really, how could the U.S. become like this? Honestly, how could it not?

Every superpower rises then falls. The U.S. was/is a young nation and it rose to stardom hella fast but nothing lasts forever. It simply doesn’t. It might not happen tomorrow but someday something will knock us off the peak. Hopefully we don’t actually fall this far but you know what they say about the higher you rise…

Anyway just think about it. The U.S. is HUGE. And it’s all inhabited! Russia and Canada are massive but much of their land is frozen and uninhabitable, but the U.S. has people and animals crawling over every inch. Not only that but opinions, views, and beliefs vary wildly across state lines. It’s honestly mind-blowing that it’s managed to remain ONE NATION for so long. I’m sure subdividing it into 50 States has helped with that to give it a bit of flexibility for whenever a storm hits, but it’s still impressive. People are notoriously difficult to wrangle so kudos to you America.

But yeah. As I sat in the car on the 13-hour journey to my grandparents’ home for Christmas my brother mentioned wanting more post-apocalyptic stories (he’s a fan of Mad MaxBook of Eli, etc.) and then my mind began wandering and stumbled across this thought about how impressive it is that the U.S. has managed to stay together for so long and what would it look like if it finally split. What might that look like? How could it happen? Why would it happen? Who would survive? How would they survive?

Now some of these questions will not be answered in Alarum (they’re irrelevant to the book’s plot. Sorry.) and some will go unanswered in the series (it’s just not important? I know that sounds impossible but it’s true and I’m also a fan of leaving some things open-ended or up for interpretation hehe). I just don’t care about writing political novels. They usually irritate me. What Alarum and all the other books in the Walking Shadows Saga do focus on is the “Who.” Who survived, how, where, and why?

Now I will say that Alarum mentions a place called Sanctuary. Some say it’s real, some say it’s a myth, and maybe it is real or maybe all the skeptics are right. But it’s a place my characters journey towards, search for, long for. Whether Sanctuary is a real location free from the harshness of the S.C. or just a dream to give people hope, I think it’s an important aspect to such a devastated plot. These characters undergo a lot and having this beacon of hope to keep their feet walking forwards is an important pull for their story. Does it represent faith? Hope? Religion? Heaven? Perhaps on a subconscious level that’s what I intended, but in the simplest of interpretations I think we all need a reason greater than ourselves to live for. Otherwise it’s far too easy to succumb to the shadows, to give up, to erode.

As I said the U.S. splitting up happened pre-Alarum but the devastation that sweeps the land afterwards will be explored, riddled, and eventually unveiled with each installment of the Walking Shadows Saga.

Well I think that’s enough for now. Next week I’ll talk characters so stay tuned…

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