Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Location Matters

Do you remember reading a book where the location became a character? Gone With the Wind could not have been set anywhere other than the deep South during the Civil War. In other books, the location is critical. I believe the setting is as important to a book as the characters and story.

The admonition to ‘write what you know’ is a cliché for a reason. I believe you can’t accurately write about a place without having been there. A writer needs to be aware of the look, feel, rhythm, smells, and sounds of a location in order to be able to write about it convincingly.

For example, I set my book, Ghost Writer, in Laguna Beach, California. This is the costal own just north of Dana Point, where I live. I know this place intimately. Every restaurant, hotel, store and other location mentioned in the book is a place I have been. When I describe the drive along the coast in this area, I have actually traveled the road.

Las Brisas is one of my favorite restaurants. It sits on the bluff overlooking the ocean, just as described in the book. The Montage Laguna Beach is a beautiful Craftsman-style hotel situated on the water. We shot the photos of the dog in the video trailer for Ghost Writer on the sand in front of this hotel.

The Ritz Carlton is actually located within the city of Dana Point in Monarch Beach. We spent time in this location, both before and after the hotel was built. We have eaten in the restaurant and walked on the beach. My husband has surfed here for years.
Most of us older folks remember the small cottages on the sand in Laguna. Many of the originals were built as vacation homes for those who lived inland. Over time, most have been torn down and replaced with mini-mansions like the one Tad’s parents own in the book. The fictional street, Seashell Cove, is based on several locations in South Laguna where streets lead from Pacific Coast Highway down toward the water. Although it’s fictional, I think it would be a great name for an actual street.

Ghost Writer is not the only book I’ve set in an actual location.

We set our mysteries, Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise, in Hawaii. We travel there often and know the islands well. For the second book, we learned about outrigger canoe racing from a friend who participated. We especially love feedback like this: “I really love you describing so many of the places we have visited. We loved North Shore.” Of course, writing about Hawaii requires us to make trips to the islands before each book in the series…

I helped to create the fictional town of Aspen Grove, Colorado for a series of romance anthologies, Snowflake Secrets, Seasons of Love, Directions of Love, An Aspen Grove Christmas, The Art of Love, and …And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe. We lived in Denver for a year and often ventured into the mountains to visit the charming small towns there. Aspen Grove is based on Idaho Springs and Georgetown. As the books progressed, we added details, but the town remains consistent throughout the series.

Portraying San Juan Capistrano in the 1800s accurately for our historical novel, The Memory Keeper was especially important. This town is historically significant in California history. The details matter to people who live there. San Juan is also next door to Dana Point, so we are very familiar with the town. However, we spent over two years doing research about its history. We were blessed to have the help of the historical society as well as the official historian and the local native storyteller in writing the book. We are confident that each detail in the final book is as accurate as we could make it.

Why is it important to get the locations right? Because readers will never forgive a writer who gets their hometown wrong.

Lorna Collins and her husband, Larry K. Collins, helped build theUniversal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka Japan. Their memoir of that experience, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, was published in 2005 and was an EPPIE finalist and chosen one of Rebeccas Reads best nonfiction books of 2005.

They have also co-written two cozy mysteries set in Hawaii: Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise, the latter a finalist for the EPIC eBook Award for mystery. They are currently working on more in the series. The Memory Keeper, published in 2014, is their historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano.

Lorna co-authored six sweet romance anthologies set in the fictional town of Aspen Grove, CO: Snowflake Secrets, Seasons of Love, An Aspen Grove Christmas, The Art of Love, …And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe, and Directions of Love, 2011 EPIC eBook Award winner.

Her fantasy/mystery/romance, Ghost Writer, was published in 2012 by Oak Tree Press to launch its Mystic Oaks imprint. It combines elements of fantasy, romance, and mystery. Set in Laguna Beach, CA, this beach read tells the story of Nan Burton, and unemployed programmer who inherits a cottage at the beach, a dog, and a resident ghost. In the course of the story, she and the ghost identify the important things in life.

In addition, Lorna is a professional editor.


Amy Bennett said...

I agree. Some books have left me longing for a chance to visit the places used for the settings... and I can't tell you how disappointed I would be to visit a place and find out that the restaurants and other points of interest are entirely fictional!

A book truly is a trip into another world and how gratifying it is to see that that other world, to a certain extent, really does exist in this one!

Nancy LiPetri said...

Completely relate to making the location central to the story. This post reminds me to keep using actual details because readers love to recognize street names, landmarks, favorite places. And I know I sure enjoy learning about real places when I read fiction.

John M. Wills said...

How do I post on this blog site, particularly if I want to schedule a post prior to the date I'm scheduled for? What's the site?

Carolyn Niethammer said...

Tony Hillerman's novels set on the Navajo Reservation are another example of stories that could be nowhere else. For my most recent OTP novel, I spent many days walking the streets of Tombstone and visited Dawson City, Yukon. There's nothing like seeing it and smelling it. I, however, did not climb over the Chilkoot Pass in winter. There were plenty of memoirs written by people who did! Camping in Skagway and waking up in a soaking wet tent was enough realism for me.

Lorna Collins - said...

John, the locations is: Make sure Billie has added you to the contributors.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

After a trip, I often find myself reading novels and other material about the country or area I've visited. Once I've seen an area, I have a visual image of the place and it makes the book more memorable. Having good description in books about places I have not visited, goes a long way toward making them memorable as well.