As I was writing the Empath, I wanted to create an entirely unique and fictional place for Aeron’s hometown. It had to be a place that would fit anywhere and yet seem settled in the surrounding landscape. My starting point was the name. I love word play and I love languages, I wanted Aeron’s home town to be a universally recognised ‘little town.’ As Latin is the root language for some of the most widely-spoken tongues, it made sense to me. And so Oppidum in Latin is a little town.
The layout of the centre was born out of Aeron’s own descriptions, it was a tourist trap deserted in off-season and crawling with life during the summer months. I live very near to such places and it has always fascinated me how contrasting life is there. Necessity dictated that it had a police station, a fire/paramedic station, a café and two shops, I studied the architecture in Missouri where Aeron is from and incorporated it into the design. Still, I wanted it to have a very different flavour as its origins were a settlement, predominately Welsh settlers eventually mixing with the local indigenous population and workers from other areas contributing to the modern day populace.
The question you may be asking is why?
Well, it all sprang from Aeron’s own voice. She was an American with a smooth drawl but she also had traits that were uncommon to many accents. Her voice is unique and her accent was much like those people in Oppidum. The town was created to house her and in the book you will meet a few characters with varying levels of accent as there are in any town from Nan’s strong southern slant to Eli’s more educated tones. In short, I wanted my people to have their own voice, their own inflections so that when you read the lilt, you would instantly recognise it as ‘Oppidum.’ Serenity Hills, the institution that you first meet Aeron in, is the brainchild of one of Oppidum’s past residents, David Holmes, and therefore carries the same feel in architecture as does her hometown. Everything had to feel just right – the big lodge-like hotels with flashing neon signs, to the shanty-town shack-of-a-place that belonged to Uncle Abe.
Most importantly of all was Aeron’s home – Nan’s cabin. The place spawned from her last name, Lorelei. I named her after a rock in the river Rhine, Germany. To which Wiki explains beautifully.
“The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near St. Goarshausen, Germany, which soars some 120 metres above the waterline. It marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea, and is the most famous feature of the Rhine Gorge. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there.
The name comes from the old German words “lureln” (Rhine dialect for “murmuring”) and the Celtic term “ley” (rock). The translation of the name would therefore be: “murmur rock” or “murmuring rock”. The heavy currents, and a small waterfall in the area (still visible in the early 19th century) created a murmuring sound, and this combined with the special echo the rock produces to act as a sort of amplifier, giving the rock its name. The murmuring is hard to hear today owing to the urbanization of the area. Other theories attribute the name to the many accidents, by combining the German verb “lauern” (to lurk, lie in wait) with the same “ley” ending, with the translation “lurking rock.”
That combined with Aeron’s ‘mountain of strength’ demanded that she lived beside a river at the foot of towering mountains. To be exact the Ozark region of Missouri. The Ozark region is mountainous but I wanted to give Oppidum its very own. The outlay of the land already leant itself to adding in another mound of mother nature and so Blackbear mountain took its place in Aeron’s world. I spent hours searching various locations for research. I came across a little watermill in Alley springs which is west of Eminence, Missouri. It gave me good ideas about the use of mills in the state.
I particularly wanted her to live in a watermill, a feature of the landscape where I live and would make the already important theme of water prominent in the novel. Fortunately for me, Alley springs provided just that, and with a couple of tweaks Nan’s cabin was born.
Oppidum isn’t based in this area but further north near St. Francois mountain. The Ozarks is a beautiful part and I hope you enjoy spending time in Aeron’s hometown.