Girls Write Out
Monday, October 22, 2007

Environment is important, isn't it? We choose where we live, what home we buy, and even what decor we settle on is based upon how it makes us feel and where we're comfortable.

The setting a writer chooses for a book is vitally important as well. I've written books set in a fictional town in Kansas, in Colorado, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in Hawaii, in Chicago, and on the island of Nantucket. The longer I've been writing, the more I realize the importance of an intriguing setting. After all, readers are paying a chunk of money to spend several hours there. Where do they want to visit?

Personally, I love books that are set in small town USA, where people sit on front porches and fall in love with the boy next door. But now that I'm trying to figure out the setting for a future story, I'm wondering if everyone feels the same way about small towns.

And if they do, is there a regional preference? Western, Southern, New England, Northern? Do they prefer seaside towns, lakeside communities, snowy mountain villages, prairie towns, western ranches? The choices are as vast as the world and this novelist needs to narrow it down a little.

So, what's your preference? When you settle down in cozy chair with a novel for a few hours of escape, where do you like to go?
Denise Hunter  
posted at 8:23 AM  
  Comments (35)
 
 
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35 Comments:
At 10:16 PM, Blogger Suzanne said...

I've never picked a book because of the geographical setting. I have avoided books because of historical settings though! I like contemporary settings more than historical (although every once in a while I find a good one by Lynn Austin) . I have been pleasantly surprised when I read a book that is set in a town that I've lived in or visited. Books about PA make me feel at home (even the Amish ones!) and I just read The Penny by Joyce Meyer and found it fun to know the places she was talking about in St Louis.

 
At 12:37 AM, Blogger Brittanie said...

I live in the Deep South and was excited to see a Christian Fiction author Beth White writing contemporary Christian Fiction stories based here in the Deep South. Her novel "Off The Record" is of my favorites.

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger Timothy Fish said...

I don’t care where a story is set as long as the author stays true to the setting. I think the way an author portrays the setting is much more important than the location itself. I could not help but notice how different your assessment of small towns is from mine. I have the experience of twenty-two years of small town life. While I have fond memories of my childhood, when I think back to that time, I do not get the image implied by your statement “where people sit on front porches and fall in love with the boy next door.” I have some memories of sitting on a few front porches, but I would not consider it a defining characteristic of small town life and I have been in porch sitting situations in much larger cities.

 
At 9:07 AM, Blogger Denise Hunter said...

Timothy, thanks for your comments.

I only meant the front porch comment as a way of expressing that a front porch community is one in which people talk to people. In stores, on the street. You know people and they know you.

The neighbor phrase I said because in cities, we so often don't even know our next door neighbors, much less know them well enough to fall in love with them :-) I'm as guilty as the next person.

I think many people long for the small town community feel that's missing in the city--that's why I think small town books seem to go over well in general.

 
At 10:03 AM, Blogger Laura said...

I prefer the small town scene as well. I grew up in a small town and we would sit outside and chat with each other and just have fun. I don't have any experience in big city porch settings, but in real life and in a book setting, I very much enjoy the porch settings in a small town. I guess I'm just a country girl!!

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger Diann Hunt said...

I love Smalltown America, and I like the city, too. But the smalltown settings always make me think of hot chocolate and fireplaces which in turn makes me think of hot flashes and--okay, I'm kidding.

But I DO love smalltown settings, and your books always have a cozy feel to them, Denise! Love it!

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger Pam S. said...

I like foreign exotic big city settings--like Istanbul (my city)!
I guess that, like most people, I love stories about places that are familiar and dear to me. I will always pick up a book that is set in a place I've lived or visited. Prague! Paris! Budapest! Chicago! Tokyo! Katmandu! It's easier for me to visualize the setting, I suppose. Also, the setting--if is familiar to me--must be accurate or I feel very disappointed. It's irritating to read a story set in, say Paris, where it is obvious that the author has never been there or has no clue about the city.

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger Jaime said...

I love more "wilderness" settings. I gravitate towards Tracie Peterson's Alaskan series or Montana series becuase I just love the remoteness of the locations. But, I also love the small town "Front Porch" feel of books located even in fictional towns, as long as they give me the warm fuzzies! :)

I also second Pam S. on the more exotic locations. I bought a book simply becuase it was based in Katmandu (where i've been)plus other locations like, Munich, St. Gallen (Switzerland), Italy/Tuscany, etc.

I am a reader who will buy based on location. Anything seaside (east or west coast) appeals to me if it has that Hallmark moment fisherman smalltown boat feel. (I probably should have thrown a comma somewhere in that last sentence!)

I am not intrigued by popular spots such as Mexico, Bermuda, Jamaica unless it has a suspense involved. Otherwise is the "standard" vacation/cruise romance that seems to be in every other book - no offense. :)

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

I love small towns too because you can have everyone know everyone.

But small towns are limiting. Less culture or places to go for shopping or fancy chocolate. LOL.

I like a setting that's real no matter where it's set. Though, I admit, I like American based stories the most. England, Canada and Australia tied for second.

PBS aired the play version of Oklahoma yesterday with Hugh Jackman as Curly, go figure, and I was so filled with pride and emotion about our great country and heritage. We shouldn't forget it.

Jackman was great in the play, btw!

Rachel

 
At 1:54 PM, Blogger celestemc said...

I love the stories that take place in locations that I have never been, where I can learn something about the community.

I've recently read a very SWEET novel with a Mighigan setting and a lot of Maple. Loved it! I wanted to BE there.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love the books that make me want to travel. Things familiar are nice, but I really enjoy getting a "feel" for other areas as well.

 
At 1:58 PM, Blogger Colleen Coble said...

Oh Celeste what a cute way to tell Di you just read her book. LOL! It was great, wasn't it?

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger Deena said...

I don't usually focus on geography when I pick a selection...but my favorite settings are always coastal. Nothing like being on a beach by the water!

 
At 5:58 PM, Blogger Kay said...

I love small town settings, too. And I don't care if the are idealized. I actually kinda like that. Like the imaginary town of Mitford.
I don't care where the region is, though, because they all are interesting to me.

 
At 6:53 PM, Blogger Aplepie said...

I'm writing a story set in Italy although I live in Texas. The closest I've come to Italy is the local pizzeria.

 
At 9:25 PM, Blogger Ane Mulligan said...

I definitely love small towns with an intimate feel. It doesn't matter if it's mountains or seaside. It adds a certain something to a book. Maybe it's the other characters. Most small towns have quirky inhabitants.

Large cities have them, too, but they're harder to find and to know.

Large cities are filled with people who live places other than where they work. The commute causes them to leave home early and get back late.

 
At 9:38 PM, Blogger Diann Hunt said...

Oh, whoohooo, Celeste! Thanks for reading my book!! :-)

 
At 10:10 PM, Blogger Winter Peck said...

Typically I like the contemporary west, or ranches. But I've been drawn to big cities and small towns. Sometimes the setting doesn't matter as much as the plot. But I've been known to turn down a book set, in say, Regency England.

 
At 10:30 PM, Blogger Denise Hunter said...

Thanks, everyone, for your help! There's a pretty big concensus for the small town, though there are a variety of opinions.

 
At 11:19 PM, Blogger Sabrina L. Fox said...

Hmmm, I think I'm a small town kinda girl...but I confess it's less about the location and more about the cover that gets me to purchase the book. :-/ Shallow I know. LOL.

 
At 11:34 PM, Blogger Kristin said...

Setting doesn't really make a difference to me, it's all about characters. I'd rather pull my hair out than be in a small town, but I love your stuff D, so clearly it doesn't translate into my reading choices. : )

 
At 2:15 AM, Blogger Anna Marie said...

Take me anywhere and I'll be happy.
As,long as it's not science fiction,Thank you.
LOL.

 
At 3:37 AM, Blogger celestemc said...

Oh yes, read it... and have to say that I haven't ever had a book cause a craving as that one did! I love my coffee shops, but here in Oregon, they haven't really embraced maple flavorings yet. I couldn't believe it, after all, wasn't the coffee boom started on the west coast? After reading BE SWEET, I'd searched for Maple Macchiatos... I could practically TASTE it. Yet no one had it! I'd settle for pumpkin spice, hazelnut or caramel, but really wanted maple (thanks Diann... everyone here thought I was crazy! :) Imagine my joy just last week when I saw a sign at Seattle's Best for Maple White Mochas! But that's all I got was the sign, and had to walk away from the counter drooling because they were out of Maple. I went back a couple days later and was delighted with my fix!

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger Denise Hunter said...

LOL Celeste! Well, it's not really funny when you have a craving that can't be satisfied, but it was funny the way you told it. :-)

 
At 8:54 AM, Blogger Timothy Fish said...

Ane Mulligan stated, "Large cities are filled with people who live places other than where they work. The commute causes them to leave home early and get back late."

I know we are talking more about the stereotypical small town than real life, but from my perspective, it looks quite different. I grew up two miles outside of Zalma, Missouri. (If you can tell me where that is without looking it up then I will give you a dollar.) There are a few jobs in that area, but very few. High school students who wanted a job usually ended up driving to Advance (20 minutes), Puxico (20 minutes) or Marble Hill (30 minutes). The better paying jobs were about an hour away in Cape Girardeau or Poplar Bluff. There were a few jobs in Dexter. The teenagers would hang out at the car wash in Advance. Some of the smaller towns have stores, but most people who wanted to go shopping would drive to Cape Girardeau. Even some of the people living in Poplar Bluff would drive to Cape occasionally. They have most of the stores that you will find in the larger cities, but people might drive to Saint Louis (2.75 hours) for entertainment. I now live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. A few people live far enough away from work that it may take them a while, but most people are only a few minutes from work. When the traffic is not bad, a person can drive from the East side of Dallas to the West side of Fort Worth in about an hour. There are many jobs between those two extremes. People who live in small towns spend an awful lot of time on the road and they do not think anything about it because that is just the way it is.

 
At 8:59 AM, Blogger Colleen Coble said...

Not really, Timothy. Check the mileage driven by someone in a city and someone in a small town. HUGE difference. When my daughter moved to Phoenix, she puts 25-30k miles a year on her vehicle, compared to her 10k here in Wabash.

 
At 11:22 AM, Blogger Crystal Laine Miller said...

I pick books based on geographical settings. I'm like you in that I love small towns, front porch communities and that homey-feel. I love Southern novels(my family is from the South,) but also love my Midwestern home.

The last book I read was set in Paris, France, so that doesn't fit my usual setting preferences, but I loved it, anyway. Ha! (It had other attributes.)

I like historicals and contemporaries, but the main ingredient needs to be romance, I've discovered.

 
At 12:30 PM, Blogger Kristin said...

That's because there's nowhere to GO in a small town, C. : ) Been there, done that. Yes, I have twice the mileage on my car here in Silicon Valley and honey, I'd take three times to have a Jamba Juice and a Peet's within five minutes of me. : )

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger celestemc said...

I, too, grew up in a very small town where logging was the industry. It was great until the mills closed in the 80's. Then, if someone wanted to work, they would drive an hour to Eugene. There was one overpriced grocery store, and often you'd find outdated dairy producks (yuck!). I got out of town the day after I graduated, and it's sad to see how much drug abuse/welfare there is with those who chose to stay and not work.

I've lived in other small towns and loved them. Now I am in the city and love the conveniences, and my hubby commutes 45 minutes each way to work.

I have a lot of family down in the San Francisco area, and commuting can be either close or far for them, but there is definitely much driving.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Colleen Coble said...

I wasn't going to say how much I hate big cities, but you leave me no choice, K. LOL Big cities have no soul and no compassion. Who cares about burned Peet's coffee? And Jamba Juice? Ick.

I'll take big front porches and saying howdy to your neighbor. I'll take no traffic and a leisurely stroll along the sidewalks. I'll take small shops that have most things I need. It makes an ocassional shopping trip to Ft Wayne a fun excursion. But even Ft Wayne isn't big compared to the crazy place you love. LOL

You can have it. There's plenty to do in small towns. I don't like to shop anyway. I've done my Christmas shopping online for years.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Timothy Fish said...

Colleen, obviously, individual experiences will vary and I have only my personal experience to go on, but when I was living in Zalma, I was driving about 21k miles a year in my car. Dad was putting about 40k miles a year on a vehicle. I'm not sure what the mileage was on the old truck, but that was probably another 5k miles. I am currently putting about 13k miles a year on my vehicle. My lifestyle is about the same as it was when I living there, but things are a lot closer together.

It was not my intention to get into an argument over this. The original thought had to do with the setting for a book. Unless we are trying to present a realistic view of life in Southeast Missouri, my experiences are unimportant. Many people are looking for an idealized setting rather than realism. That is probably why historical fiction seldom mentions using the outhouse on a cold winter morning.

I can enjoy a book about people who live in a small town were everyone knows everyone and neighbors sip lemonade while sitting on the front porch. I can enjoy books where the local doctor gets up after sunrise, eat breakfast and then walks across the street to his office. In fact, I set Searching for Mom in a very idealized setting. But there are times when the location of a story is the antagonist. In those situations, we don’t want to see the people who have more time on their hands than they know what to do with. Instead, we want to see the man who drives an hour to get home from work then has to hurry to get ready so that he can drive another hour to get to a meeting in another town. We do not want to see the girl who falls in love with the boy next door, instead we want to see the girl who looks at all of the boys in town and says, “Yuck!” We want to see the boy who falls for a girl in another town and then has to drive some distance to reach her. An author could set a story in a town like Zalma, or Advance or Puxico and either make them look like the stereotypical small town or a problem that the residents must overcome. Realistically, there would be some truth in either representation.

 
At 11:54 PM, Blogger Crystal Laine Miller said...

Oh, wait, wait, Denise! I forgot to say that if you set your book in Savannah, Georgia, I will read it (and if I'm reading it as a reader, your chances of making it through me just upped the anty.) GRIN

I have read a wide variety of genres set there (even a nonfiction written like fiction--Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) and for some reason, I love them. Maybe it was those pralines on River Street or the Pink House restaurant...ha--oh, just put food in it and I'll like it!

I also like books set on water--rivers, lakes, oceans. I have no clue why except I grew up "going to the river."

Interesting take on settings. I like the way Colleen works the setting into her books and characters. Her settings stand out.

 
At 1:14 AM, Blogger Belinda-Jane said...

western ranches =)but most probably becuase at heart I see country living as romantic, and its one place that I will probably never get to experience... so its truely another world. The sea side also sounds nice with sunshine filled moments =)

 
At 1:21 AM, Blogger Belinda-Jane said...

Sabrina.. I agree with you! It is in the cover of a book - and the story line on the back that grabs ones attention! Actual location probably doesnt matter too much - more the story and twists promised and the front cover! lol.

 
At 1:32 AM, Blogger Belinda-Jane said...

Oh... why do so many people want to read about stories set in places they know? Im in Australia so I dont know any of the locations I read about, but I love it because wherever it is, its about people dealing with other people, trying to make decisions and learning to trust God... or some other life lesson. Books are great =)

 
At 9:11 AM, Blogger Andrea said...

Denise, it's funny - I don't remember every choosing a book based on the setting, but I bet it factors in there subconsciously somehow and I KNOW it is a big factor once I sit down to read. I can definitely agree that I feel cozier in some settings than others. I think I prefer a small-town feel (like Mitford), in the south or New England and a seaside cottage would just put it over the top. :-)

 

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The Authors
Kristin Billerbeck
Kristin Billerbeck is a proud Californian, wife, mother of four, and connoisseur of the irrelevant. She writes Christian Chick Lit; where she finds need for most of the useless facts lulling about in her head.

www.KristinBillerbeck.com

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble writes romantic suspense with a strong atmospheric element. A lovable animal of some kind--usually a dog--always populates her novels. She can be bribed with DeBrand mocha truffles.

www.ColleenCoble.com

Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter writes women's fiction and love stories with a strong emotional element. Her husband says he provides her with all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too.

www.DeniseHunterBooks.com

Diann Hunt

Diann Hunt writes romantic comedy and humorous women's fiction. She has been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, chocolate, her dog, and well, chocolate.

www.DiannHunt.com

Hannah Alexander

Cheryl Hodde writes romantic medical suspense under the pen name of Hannah Alexander, using all the input she can get from her husband, Mel, for the medical expertise. For fun she hikes and reads. Out of guilt, she rescues discarded cats. She and Mel are presently taking orders from four pampered strays.

www.HannahAlexander.com

 
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