Earlier this week, a photo album of rare color photographs from early 1900’s Paris circulated around Facebook. You read that right…COLOR photos from the early 1900’s. Here is the link: http://curiouseggs.com/extremely-rare-color-photography-of-early-1900s-paris/.
These photos got me thinking…we all have, thanks to the media, news, and marketing, distinct impressions of what makes a place unique. Wisconsin has dairy farms, Texas has cattle ranchers, California has Rodeo Drive, and New Jersey has the shore. Florida has orange groves and Washington has apples.
When I pitched my short contemporary romance set in Vermont, almost every agent and editor I pitched it to stressed the importance of setting taking on the role of a character in the story. In other words, evoke the setting in the prose. If the story is set in a place, make sure there’s a reason the story is set there. Your story should only be able to take place there, and nowhere else, if the setting is strong enough. If you’re setting a story in Vermont, for example, it seems like it should have a few key things…mountains, ski resorts, maple sugar and fall foliage.
However, those things aren’t all that make up the state of Vermont. What if your heroine works for Ben & Jerry’s, or the Vermont Teddy Bear factory? Maybe she owns a dairy farm. Vermont is famous for its cheddar, too. Maybe she lives in town, as my heroine did…the artsy college town of Burlington. Your hero could own an apple orchard.
One of the great pleasures of travelling, for me, is finding the little unknowns…the venues and quirks about a particular area that make it truly unique. When those things make it into a book, and the book steps out of the cliché, that’s when I feel the author has really done her homework. As I said earlier, New Jersey has the shore. Sunny beaches, boardwalks, arcades and clam festivals. Did you know New Jersey also has wineries? Yes, wineries. In fact, in the 1700’s, New Jersey was well-known for its wine, and it’s starting to make a name for itself again. (See http://www.visitnj.org/wineries)
I was thrilled, many years ago, to read Janet Dailey’s Americana Series novel set in New Jersey, One of the Boys. Not only did she pick up on the active film and music industry here…she also set part of the book at the Garden State Arts Center. If you grew up in New Jersey, chances are you’ve been to a concert at this amphitheatre, which just happens to be in my hometown. If you didn’t grow up here, you were introduced to something new and awesome. That’s a win-win in my eyes.
There are a lot of cowboy heroes in romance today, riding out on West Texas ranches and returning home to their lady loves. Now don’t get me wrong. I love a cowboy as much as any woman. However, there is a lot more to Texas than cattle ranching. What about a romance set on South Padre Island? Or in a border town, where the hero is up against Mexican drug smugglers? Some of the best hospitals in the country are in Texas, which is why I was so happy to read Leanne Banks’ Texas-set romance, The Doctor Takes a Princess, where her hero, Ryder, is a doctor.
I love a book that takes me to a place I haven’t experienced, although the locale may be familiar. It’s why I love Andrew Vachss’ books…he takes the reader to the seedy underbelly of New York City, the place we would never want to go in real life, but where we can go safely in a book.
So here’s a challenge…the next time you choose a setting for a novel, try something a little different. Instead of the Santa Barbara Wine Country, how about Temecula? It verges on the desert, and is a totally different landscape than we think of for California, but the wines are excellent. Instead of the seaside towns of Maine (think Bar Harbor or Portland), why not go inland to Sunday River? Or way far north, near the Canada border, where moose roam and there is only one road through? That would make a great setting for a romantic suspense novel. (Think Stephen King with a love story thrown in). Set a novel in Norfolk with a military hero/heroine. Try Austin, Texas instead of Nashville for a bad boy country singer. Austin is the biggest Music City in the world, even though Nashville carries the nickname.
In her interview on our blog, Nancy Herkness talked about the impact West Virginia has had on her, and on the setting for her newest novel, Take Me Home. Where have you visited, or lived, (and what about those places) that has compelled you to include them in your stories? Or, what books have you read that make you want to visit someplace new? Please share!