Choosing Your Book Setting: Convenient or Integrated?

Hi everyone– Whew. Just coming off the Beach Balls Blog Tour so i’ll take a deep breath and focus on our theme this month — settings. I think authors tend to take two tacks with setting. They either choose a familiar setting to them regardless of its possible incongruity to their stories, or they choose settings as almost a character in the book. For the first type, i think of books by J. R. Ward or Laurell K. Hamilton. The Anita Blake series takes place in St. Louis. True, it’s an alternative universe St Louis, but still anyone who has met the great vamp, Jean Claude, knows he wouldn’t hang out in St. Louis. No offense, but he’s a coastal kind of guy. The Black Dagger Brotherhood in Caldwell, New Jersey? Really? It may be 17 miles from New York, but do vampires and lessers really choose to fight it out on the time-honored streets of Caldwell? Well, if J. R. says so. We adore the series and don’t care where they are set.

In contrast, think of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris which became the TV Series Trueblood. Bon Temps, Louisiana is the heart of this story. Small, nosy, unsophisticated, steamy, and just that bit weird, we know vampires would live there.  If you’ve read the wonderful Lynn Lorenz’s books, you know that the choices of Louisiana and Texas are not just convenient places to put the stories. The books need the heat, the attitudes, and the topography of their settings. They couldn’t take place anywhere else.

I don’t think i set out to place my books in settings that supported the stories but, unwittingly, i did. All of my books  are set in either New York (plus close- by Connecticut)  or California. Yes, i live in California and have spent a lot of time in New York, but the cities in which the books take place are integrated into the plot. Five of my books are set in Laguna Beach, California. The places, people and events of this small village are woven into the plots of the books. The  town is gay friendly — all of my books have gay characters. Laguna is an artist’s colony. One of the books stars an art dealer and another features an artist. It’s by the water. I have sex scenes happening at 25 feet below the surface! And, while eclectic, the town has a lot of wealthy residents and gorgeous houses. My gay billionaire in Golden Dancer lives there. Next door to Laguna which is very liberal, is a very conservative beach city called Newport Beach. In Mistletowed and Beach Balls, Laguna represents the liberal attitudes of the book and Newport the more traditional and conservative ones.

My paranormal gay romance, Spell Cat, takes place in New York City. While vamps and weres may love the rural, steamy climes, don’t you just know that witches want to be in the big city? And Sinders and Ash is set in an upstate New York resort. For a romance writer, it’s extremely convenient to set stories in states that have legalized gay marriage in case you want to have a wedding.

There’s nothing inherently better about finding a setting that fits your story versus making the setting support it. Clearly, both work for a lot of writers. As a reader or writer, which do you prefer? :  )



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4 Responses to Choosing Your Book Setting: Convenient or Integrated?

  1. Loved your post. I am intrigued with your books set in LA since I’m a native Californian. I’m more San Francisco and Bay Area, but I know enough about Laguna Beach and Newport having lived in San Diego for a few years. I’ll be checking out your series – especially love artist!

  2. Thank you, Viki. I live in Laguna and i love it so it inspires me everyday. : )

  3. I write settings that I know for the most part. Then again, I’ve written very vague settings, instead focusing deeply on the characters. I don’t want to get lost in the surroundings and some books I think do put too much emphasis on the setting and not the story itself. I don’t mind the emergency room, the firehouse, the barn, the bar…but how the characters interact in those places is much more important to me. I think some places lend themselves to a certain ideal in the minds of readers and likely writers as well… Texas makes one generally think of cowboys though there are cowboys all over, and New York makes one generally think of urban, up all night and Friends, California generally makes one think Hollywood (though i want to write one in Northern Cali), the South generally makes one think of slow Southern drawls and country boys…

    Interesting post!


  4. Hi Lissa– Thank you so much. Yes, i’m writing a story right now set in Silicon Valley. A whole different vibe than SoCal. : )