Revisiting the Past
by Sara Dobie Bauer
My new novel, We Still Live, takes place in a small fictional Ohio town called Hambden. This is the home of Hambden University, a place shrouded in darkness following a tragic shooting the spring before our story begins. Yes, Hambden is fictional—but the setting of We Still Live (and subject matter) is very, very real.
There are those who say, “Write what you know.” Eh, I’m not a big fan of that old literary adage. Sometimes, though, sometimes, I completely understand writing what I know, especially when it comes to setting.
I attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where I earned my creative writing degree and probably lost half my liver. (It’s a party school and annually hosts one of the biggest Halloween celebrations in the country.) When I considered the setting for We Still Live, Athens came immediately to mind, although I didn’t want to set the book literally in Athens because I don’t want the horror of a shooting to linger over any school—even if the shooting is fictional.
As I wrote, I time traveled. In my crazy brain, I went back to Athens for We Still Live. Granted, I pay my alma mater a drunken visit every two years or so. I know the place better than I know Cleveland, where I currently live. Still, I conjured memories of Athens, Ohio …
The way Ellis Hall (the arts building) smelled.
How my favorite tree (a white sycamore on College Green) changed with the seasons.
The scent of wet leaves and clove cigarettes as Halloween approached.
The frigid wind of winter.
The wicked spring rainstorms that made rivers run down Court Street.
The weeping angel statue in the cemetery up the hill.
Many of these references make their way into We Still Live because setting in a book is almost as important as character. In fact, the setting can be a character. I love when I successfully invoke a place—its sights, sounds, and smells—for my reader. Athens (Hambden) was easy to invoke due to my familiarity, and it was fun revisiting a favorite place from my past.
I’ve done this with other books, too. The Bite Somebody series is based in Longboat Key, Florida, where I’ve vacationed every spring for years. Destiny’s Dark Light is in Charleston, South Carolina, where I lived and lost and loved. Of course, I’ve imagined places, too. In the Escape Trilogy, for instance, I couldn’t literally travel back to New Orleans in the early 1800s—but I could research. I could also dream.
That’s why I’m not big on the “write what you know” thing. Writing is about imagination. Most of the time, it’s fun to not write what you know and see what new things you learn.
What setting from your past deserves to be immortalized? Or what new setting would you like to create?
About We Still Live
Running from a scandal that ruined his life, Isaac Twain accepts a teaching position at Hambden University where, three months prior, Professor John Conlon stopped a campus nightmare by stepping in front of an active shooter.
When John and Isaac become faculty advisors for the school’s literary magazine, their professional relationship evolves. Despite the strict code of conduct forbidding faculty fraternization, they delve into a secret affair—until Simon arrives.
Isaac’s violent ex threatens not only their careers, but also John’s life. His PTSD triggered, John must come to terms with that bloody day on College Green while Isaac must accept the heartbreak his secrets have wrought.
***WE STILL LIVE is a standalone M/M friends-to-lovers romance featuring detailed adult content, graphic violence, hurt/comfort, and mental illness.***
Available at: Amazon
An Excerpt from We Still Live
Close as they were to the foyer, Isaac was the first to notice the front door opening. A student walked inside. The kid dragged a heavy-looking suitcase behind him. Dressed as he was in a slim-fitting button-down, Isaac immediately assumed preppy, although that assumption altered and changed when taking into account the tight black jeans, Converse sneakers, and shaggy hair the color of caramel and chocolate—a mass of waves and curls that fell down the back of his neck but not quite to his shoulders.
The kid pushed his hair out of the way and looked up, eyes finding Isaac and flashing a moment of panicked nonrecognition before seeing Tommy.
“Um.” Isaac pointed toward the new arrival.
Tommy turned and shouted, “John! My man!”
Not a student, then.
Tommy wrapped John in a hug that actually lifted his feet off the ground. Isaac imagined it wouldn’t be difficult. The new guy might have been average height, but he was gangly, skin and bones.
Tommy ruffled his hair. “Have you lost weight?”
John grumbled and scratched his face with his middle finger. “What are you freeloaders doing in my house?” His voice was surprisingly resonant for someone Isaac considered “pretty.” At John’s pronouncement, crows of approval rang from every direction.
“Come meet Isaac,” Tommy said.
John wiped his palms on his jeans before reaching out to shake, and Isaac’s large hand dwarfed his.
“Isaac Twain is the newest addition to our special corner of Hambden hell. Isaac, this is John Conlon.”
John brushed more hair out of his face. “Nice to—”
John and Tommy froze.
Isaac jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “The books on the shelf. Those are yours?”
John’s face, immobile in what looked like dread a moment before, melted into relief, tinged with a bit of blush. “Oh, yeah. You’ve read?”
“No, but I should. You’ve published a lot of books. You must be good.”
John’s nose wrinkled, and he looked away.
Tommy shook him by the shoulders. “John is an amazing writer. He had a story published in The New Yorker when he was, like, five. Are you working on anything right now?”
John glanced at the bookshelf. “Not lately.”
“You need a drink,” Tommy said.
John’s eyes widened on a big breath. “God, yes, I do.”
“Nice to meet you,” Isaac said, but John just nodded quickly, smile thin, before allowing himself to be herded farther into the house toward the sound of quiet laughter and clinking bottles.
Isaac felt it then—an outsider’s emptiness. He became a nervous-looking coat rack in the corner, a terrified tree waiting for the ax. As the party doubled in auditory volume, he bemoaned his spilled wine. Was it okay for him to leave? It wasn’t like he was supposed to make a speech. He was only there because he figured it was the easiest way to meet everyone before the first official faculty meeting, but he’d been standing around too long. He wanted to run.
Out of curiosity, he reopened John’s book from earlier and read the front flap. It was a coming-of-age story about a gay kid in the Midwest. He flipped to the back, and a picture of John stared back at him. He’d assumed the guy was tired when they first met, but no; apparently, John had perpetual bedroom eyes, and his hair was always an artful mess. He skimmed…creative writing professor at Hambden University…gay rights activist…Converse-wearer and “old-people music” enthusiast.
All arrows pointed to John’s probable sexual preference for men. A spark of interest flickered but quickly went out. True, John Conlon was what most people would consider beautiful, but he wasn’t Isaac’s type. John was the kind of man butch guys fought over in gay clubs, but he was too small for Isaac, too fragile-looking, girly. After all he’d been through, the last thing Isaac wanted was someone feminine.
A thin figure ducked into the library and literally hid against the doorframe. He took a long drink of something brown and leaned his head back. “It’s not good when you want to hide in your own house.”
“Library is the best place for it,” Isaac said.
John kicked away from the wall. “Tommy mentioned you just moved here? I’ve been in Lothos forever, so if you need anything…” He examined Isaac from his brown boat shoes to the top of his blond head. John’s large eyes, dark green, seemed bottomless—drowning pools of intellect and soul—only slightly overshadowed by his thick eyebrows.
Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, and mental health / LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. She lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody series and Escape Trilogy.