Discovering Local Flavor

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.

File:Shelburne Farm VT.jpg

 

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.  One of the Boys (New Jersey)

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. File:Homeless New York 2008.jpeg

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!

Hugs,
Jaye

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10 Comments

  1. Jenna Blue

     /  January 28, 2013

    Jaye, I think I’m already taking your challenge! My romantic suspense Unhinged takes place in both San Fran (not trolley cars & seafood restaurants, but a homeless shelter in the Tenderloin & a non-famous town in central PA). The second, is in the same area of PA but I’m able to add in some bits about the Poconos. Not skiing but maybe kayaking and an one of the oldest resorts in the area…Perfect time for me on the reminder as JeRoWri Mo starts: setting acts as a character! Thanks, Jaye! Great post!
    Jenna Blue

    Reply
    • I thought about you when I was writing this, Jenna! You did a great job of evoking the setting and making it a part of your ms, which is especially important in Romantic Suspense, if you ask me. I can’t wait to read your new ms.

      Reply
  2. Nicole Doran

     /  January 28, 2013

    Great post Jaye! It certainly got me thinking too. My MS takes place on Parris Island, at the MC Training Depot. I loved doing the research on the area. You are right, setting is so important. And Jenna for sure – setting almost becomes another character in the book. I like the NJ theme too…it’s such a rich state with so many different areas…we have urban cities, rural farms and suburbs, and yes wineries. The Cape May winery is a nice and small one..with good wine!
    Thanks for the info!!
    Have a great week everyone who is prepping for JeRoWriMo.
    ~Nicole

    Reply
    • Nicole, I love when books are set in unusual places. The research is so much fun, isn’t it? You’re right about NJ and its richness. Mountains, ocean, farms, vineyards, forests, lakes, city and suburb. For a small state, NJ has a lot to offer! It’s too bad so many people think NJ is all factories and pollution.

      I think we all need to set the record straight by setting our books her in the good old Garden State!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Jaye

      Reply
  3. Great post! I agree with you, completely. So much in our genre has been overdone and I think readers get tired of the same old tropes. I get that familiarity is important, but I read to experience something NEW. Give me something…a new plot twist, a new location, a new occupation. That’s why both of my Regencies had a little bit of the story in England, but the majority of it set elsewhere.

    This is great advice, Jaye, on how to keep stories fresh!

    Reply
  4. Thanks, Joanna! You hit the nail on the head…which is why I’m really enjoying Nancy Herkness’ book. West Virginia, country girl turned city girl comes back to the country, still horses, but the hero is a vet instead of a cowboy. She mixes it up but we still get the country vibe.

    I love your Regency romances…well, I still have to read Drawn to the Earl. :/ You definitely know how to pique interest in different locales.

    Reply
  5. Nice post, Jaye. A great escape for a snowy, Jersey day.

    Reply
  6. I’ve always love small, seaside towns, which is probably why I like books by Jill Shalvis and Kristan Higgins. My first book takes place in Long Beach Island, NYC, and London. While I was familiar with the Jersey Shore, I took a day trip with my family to the lighthouse so I could write a scene. I ended up removing it, but one day plan to write an even better lighthouse scene and will reference my pictures from Ol’ Barney. I did enjoy researching England to find a place for a summer home outside of London. With the internet, it’s so easy to traverse the world right from my dining room.

    Reply
    • Very true, Maria! The problem with me is, if I start surfing the internet to research places, I end up planning vacations! lol I agree with you about Kristan and Jill…their settings are always so awesome.

      Reply

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