As with many, I base my settings off familiar locations. I believe many writers and authors do this in order to paint a vivid picture, where they can effectively describe any scene if it takes place outdoors. Furthermore, it’s easy for them to convey the demographic to the reader and in many cases, the buildings and other structures are in place. It’ll also allow the writer to focus on the surrounding plot and main characters rather than take almost half their time constructing a world from scratch. Well, even if a world is constructed from scratch, it’s still possible the writer places elements of a familiar location within the text.
In Once: The Uprising of Columbia, I used this same technique. The setting of the novel is in Richfield, North Columbia, which is a carbon copy of a small village called Wintersville, Ohio. Wintersville, which I’ve long considered my hometown, gave me several landmarks in which to construct Richfield, North Columbia. The one difference is that Summit University is located in Richfield, whereas Wintersville doesn’t contain a college or university, though nearby Steubenville, the more well-known of the two towns, has two. Steubenville, known as the City of Murals, is a carbon copy of Muralville in Once, where a game of shotball takes place. In addition, it’s mentioned in Once that Summersville, South Columbia bears resemblance to Wintersville, and Mural City, South Columbia is the South Columbian version of Steubenville.
In Once, Richfield is named after Richfield, Ohio, which is located in Summit County, Ohio. In Columbia, there is a total of eighty-eight colleges and universities, each named after Ohio Counties, minus Jefferson, where Wintersville and Steubenville are located, in order to avoid confusion with the name of a main character in Once. Instead, the university in question would be named Thomas University. With Richfield being located in Summit County, it was appropriate to call the existing university Summit, though I did consider Cuyahoga and Ashtabula before settling on Summit. Not only is Richfield located in Summit County, but Summit is easier to read and pronounce than the latter two.
Let’s get back to the buildings and structures real quick. For one, a white water tower is mentioned in the book, described as overlooking the Village of Richfield. This is true, because one of Wintersville’s water towers is built in a similar manner. It’s such a towering structure that no matter where one is standing, they can see it for miles. If one stands on the surrounding hills ten miles away, it can be seen. If one is across the river in Weirton, West Virginia, it can be seen. It’s majestic, in such a way the sun appears to gleam off the tower in the midafternoon, even on the cloudiest of days. The sunbeam is so powerful, the tower becomes quite the gem in the low Wintersville-Steubenville skyline.
A mural is mentioned during our main characters’ arrival in Richfield, consisting of a colonist, who in the book is George Santos, one of the Founders of Summit University and one of the first colonists in the New World, soon to be named Columbia. This mural exists and was designed by the students of what was once Buchanan Middle School. The mural depicts a standing colonist, along with others riding on horseback.
Kettlewell Stadium is a real stadium where I tend to do my track workouts when I’m hanging out in Wintersville. It’s the home of the Indian Creek Redskins, and contains one of the newest tracks in the Outer Ohio Valley. Also mentioned is Harding Stadium, where Steubenville Big Red play their home games, and Cartwright Field, home of the Edison Wildcats (my former high school).
Mares Pizza and Raze Pizza are based off Giannamore’s and Rays Pizza Shops in Wintersville. Like Mares, Giannamore’s has been in existence over the last four decades, and it still possesses an old school feel for anyone looking to order their pizza within, complete with pinball, Pac Man, and other classic games. The popularity of Mare’s is mentioned several times, and this claim holds true for Giannamore’s, which even to this day is in such high demand the usual wait is one to two hours. So, go ahead and order your Giannamore’s Pizza, because it’s worth the wait!
Summit Forest is named after Fernwood State Forest, and Bantam Ridge Road is mentioned in Once. Bantam Ridge is also a real road, which leads to what I describe in Once as ‘the vast countryside.’ It is mentioned that Bantam Road cuts into Summit Forest, which is partially true, as Bantam Ridge can lead to Fernwood State Forest. Also located near Fernwood State Forest is the Jefferson County Airpark, where several airshows are conducted each year. This was the basis for the Richfield Airpark, mentioned a few times in Once to have been located ‘just outside Richfield.’ One can always treat themselves to a breathtaking view of the Airpark if traveling south, just beyond the Jefferson County Christian School and the Dunlope-Shorac Funeral Home. Once they hit the residential area which will take them to an onslaught of houses, including that of my own grandparents, the Airpark will come into view in the distance, surrounded by Fernwood State Forest.
The Fort Mural Mall is named after the Fort Steuben Mall, which is actually located in Steubenville, but I decided to pull the Mall over into Richfield instead of placing it in Muralville when it’s mentioned in one of my scenes. The Fort Steuben Mall is an ailing mall whose prime is well behind, with The Mall in Robinson and the Ohio Valley Mall superseding the necessity of the Fort Steuben Mall. However, in Once, the Fort Mural Mall is still in its prime, due to its close proximity to Summit University. The place, which doesn’t have a huge role in the book, is a popular hangout for students and staff alike.
Main Street in Wintersville leads to a highway which will also branch off into the countryside, leading to quaint towns such as Bloomingdale, Smithfield, and Richmond. Instead of the highway, it was the perfect location for the university, which would technically be located just beyond the corporation limit of Wintersville. Summit University itself is based off Kent State, in both size and location of residence halls, which are apartment complexes in Once. It is true that half are located on one side of campus and half on the other. In Once, the South Columbian half are in the same location as Kent State’s Centennial Courts, arguably the nicest residence halls on campus. The North Columbian half are located on the other side, where Lake Hall and a few others sit. Also, White Hall is mentioned a few times in Once, described as the ‘northernmost tip of the campus.’ This holds true for Kent State, and it’s White Hall. Other structures, such as the library being described as the ‘tallest building on campus,’ also holds true for Kent State.
So, there you have it! My created town of Richfield, North Columbia, is a place which holds true to me. Not only did I wish to share this with you, but I wish to share it with the world.