Monday, July 2, 2018

The Weird and Wonderful: Fantasy Settings in the Real World with Beth Woodward

The Weird and Wonderful: Fantasy Settings in the Real World

Hello, my name is Beth, and I’m a Weirdness Seeker. Oh, it’s not an official term (yet). But I’m sure I can’t be the only one who loves to pick up their copy of Atlas Obscura and find those off-the-beaten-path places that the normal tourist guides might not take you to. I think it has something to do with being both a reader and a writer of fantasy. When we think of “fantasy places,” we think of Narnia and Middle Earth and Westeros. But luckily for us, there are a whole host of weird and wonderful places right here in the real world.

Without further ado, here are a few of my personal favorites:

1) The Capuchin Crypt in Rome, Italy

This place is not for the faint of heart…or the weak of stomach. Back in 1631, the Capuchin friars moved to Santa Maria della Concezione. The pope’s brother ordered them to bring the remains of the deceased friars with them. Rather than just seal them up like most people would, the monks decided to use their dead brethren as…decoration. What came out of that was a crypt with six rooms—with such lovely names as “Crypt of the Skulls” and “Crypt of the Pelvises—and dioramas made entirely of bones and mummified bodies.

I would love to use this as a setting in a book. But I don’t think I could do it justice.

2) Holt Cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans has no shortage of weird places, but this is the one that really affected me. If you Google “Holt Cemetery,” the intrawebs will tell you that it’s a potter’s field. But that belies how wonderful and sad it really is.

When we think of New Orleans’ cemeteries, we think of the above-ground crypts we always see in movies and on television. But those crypts are incredibly expensive. So New Orleans’ less advantaged population comes to places like Holt Cemetery, where you can bury someone on the cheap—if you’re willing to bring your own shovel. The cemetery is overgrown, the walkways are cracked, and the markers are made of anything anyone can find—wood, concrete blocks, even street signs. The cemetery floods all the time, and it’s not uncommon to find bone fragments that have been pushed up to the surface and scattered. But I’ll never forget the image of a tattered teddy bear, half-buried and covered in mud, sitting next to one of those makeshift graves. Holt Cemetery showcases the enormous disparity between the haves and the have-nots in New Orleans that persists even after death, but it also shows that love doesn’t require money.

3) Madrid Atocha Train Station in Madrid, Spain

A train station usually isn’t high on your list of places to visit when you’re in Spain, but Madrid’s Atocha Train Station is home to a botanical garden and hundreds of live turtles. Apparently, most of them are former pets, dumped there by travelers who did not want to pay the tariffs associated with transporting the animals into different countries or people who grew tired of taking care of their pets. There’s even a sign warning people that it is a crime to abandon animals there. 

But Atocha Station’s famous turtles may not be there much longer. According to this, they’re being moved to a bigger habitat, and the botanical garden is being paved over. Kind of a bummer, but since the turtles were beginning to cannibalize each other due to overcrowding, probably a necessary evil. (The article is dated January 2018. I can tell you that the turtles were still there in March when I went.)

4) South of the Border in Dillon, South Carolina

Anyone who’s traveled on I-95 in the Carolinas should recognize this, if only from the numerous billboards advertising this kitschy attraction. Located at exit 1A on the South Carolina side of the North/South Carolina border (South of the Border, get it?), this kitschy attraction is a monument to an era past, when families traveled in their Studebakers along the new Eisenhower highway system and a sombrero-wearing, mustached mascot named “Pedro” wasn’t seen as uncomfortably racist.

The amusement park doesn’t run anymore. The motel looks like it’s seen better days. And the restaurants…well, I’m not sure I’d actually eat in any of the restaurants. But stopping at South of the Border feels like taking a time machine into the past, and all the best and worst that comes along with it.

5) Flooded Venice in Venice, Italy

Venice floods. A lot. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has even the slightest inkling of the geography. (It’s an island, with a lot of canals running through it.) When I visited Venice, it flooded. But what really surprised me was just how blasé everyone was about it. I think of flooding as being a big crisis, worthy of summoning the National Guard and FEMA. Not so much in Venice.

As water accumulated in San Marco Piazza, city workers assembled catwalks to allow you to walk over the water and the locals pulled on plastic knee-high boots and went about their evening like nothing was happening. That night, there was over a foot of water in the city center, but you would have never known it. Water rushed in to shops and restaurants and apartments, and the locals mopped it out without so much as blinking. And the next morning, it was gone. The sun came out, and the workers disassembled the catwalks and put them away…until the next flood.

Bonus—Old City Hall Subway Station in New York, New York

Spent any amount of time riding the New York City subways and you’ll realize that there are a lot of stations underground that are no longer being used, frozen in time at the moment they were closed. The best of these is the old City Hall Subway Station. Back in 1904 when the system first opened, the City Hall Station was its crown jewel. But the longer trains that were rolled out in the 40s could no longer stop at the station’s curved platform, and it became obsolete.

You can still see it in all its glory if you ride the 6 train downtown to the Brooklyn Bridge and stay on the train as it loops around to come back uptown. And you’ll see it all: intricate tilework, curving archways, and a chandelier that looks like it came right out of Phantom of the Opera.

When I was revising The Demon Within, my editor said I needed to pick some settings that were more exciting and unique than a high-rise in midtown Manhattan. So I used this station for an epic fight between my protagonist and the angels who are trying to kill her. It remains one of my favorite scenes in the series.

Embracing the Demon
Dale Highland
Book 2
Beth Woodward

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: California Coldblood Books

Date of Publication: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1945572845

Number of pages: 360
Word Count: 80,000

Cover Artist: Leonard Philbrick

Tagline: Dale Highland never wanted to be a demon…but now she may be the only one who can save them all…

Book Description:

Dale Highland never wanted to be a demon, never wanted to go back to the supernatural world, but now she has no choice.

A militant anti-supernatural group called the Zeta Coalition is trying to kill Dale, and a mysterious illness ravages angels and demons throughout the world. As the death toll rises, and the Zetas get closer and closer to Dale, she starts to realize the two things are connected.

To save them all, Dale will have to team up with John Goodwin, the man she once loved. The man who destroyed her.

But by the time Dale and John figure out the Zetas’ real intentions, it may be too late…

Amazon      BN      Indiebound      Mysterious Galaxy


He wore a gray suit with a dark shirt and a blue tie that fit him so perfectly I knew it must have been custom made for him. His dark blond hair had been combed and gelled into submission. Normally, it stood up in random spikes around his head—not as a stylistic choice, but because he had the tendency to run his fingers through it nervously until it went in about 14 different directions.
Until that moment, I hadn’t been convinced he’d survived the fall off the roof of Amara’s estate. Every night in my dreams, I stared at his broken body, tears running down my face. I wasn’t sure why I cried: because I had killed him, or because he had destroyed me.
But here was John, very much alive, looking like the fantasy of some billionaire boss about to have hot monkey sex with his secretary on the desk. He didn’t look like the John I remembered, who’d spent most of our time together wearing blood-covered t-shirts. Which one was the real John, I wondered, the suave businessman or the urban warrior? And then I noticed the pin on his lapel: a flaming angel that matched the ones on the others’ pendants. John had declared his allegiance, and it wasn’t to me.
“My apologies for the mess,” he said. “Ephraim, Leah, please clean that up. Make sure you dispose of the body well. I don’t want him coming back to haunt us one of these days.” A man and a woman jumped out of their seats and scooped up the body, leaving just a puddle of blood behind. Guess they’d be getting that later.
John turned to the rest of the group. “Let’s not forget why we’re here. This illness is already devastating our community, and it’s getting worse. The Zeta Coalition created it with the intent of wiping out supernaturals—angels and demons. And if we can’t cooperate, they will succeed.”
“She’s the daughter of our worst enemy!” someone shouted.
“Amara is dead. And Dale is not Amara.” He paused. “Covington is right. We need more information if we’re going to survive this, and Dale is our best hope of gaining access to their records containment facility.”
“What about taking an army and storming the compound, like we talked about a few weeks ago?” someone asked.
To my surprise, it was Tina who answered. “The compound is too heavily fortified, and its underground architecture would make it difficult to strong-arm. We’ve run the scenario many times, accounting for the different variables. The most likely outcome is that we’d end up trapped down there while the Zetas pick us off.”
“There must be another way,” a woman said.
“Maybe, but this is the best way,” John replied. “We all know Dale can do things that no one else can. Her return may have been a coincidence, but we should use that to our advantage.”

“I haven’t agreed to anything yet,” I managed to get out through gritted teeth.

About the Author:

Beth Woodward has always had a love for the dark, the mysterious, and all things macabre. She blames her mother for this one: while other kids were watching cartoons, Beth and her mother were watching Unsolved Mysteries together every week. She was doomed from the beginning. At 12, she discovered the wonders of science fiction and fantasy when she read A Wrinkle in Time, which remains the most influential book of her life. Growing up, she was Meg Murray with a dash of Oscar the Grouch. She’s been writing fiction since she was six years old; as a cantankerous kid whose family moved often, the fictional characters she created became her friends. As an adult, she’s slightly more well adjusted, but she still withdraws into her head more often than is probably healthy.

When she’s not writing, Beth volunteers at her local animal shelter, attends as many sci-fi/fantasy conventions as she can, and travels as much as time and money will allow. She lives in the Washington, DC, area with her husband and their three cats.

Twitter: @beththewoodward

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1 comment:

Beth Woodward said...

Thank you for having me :-)