Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Author Beware – It’s Not as Easy as it Seems

 Happy New Year, everyone! Audra here. I'm so excited to welcome the New Year with my special guest, Amanda Cabot. Mark your calendars, Amanda and I will be booksigning together in Cheyenne, WY on Saturday, February 13, 2012 at the Cornerstone Book Store. If you're in the area, stop by! We'd love to see you!!
Author Beware – It’s Not as Easy as it Seems
Using Real Locations for Your Book’s Setting

What was I thinking?  I’d just finished writing the Texas Dreams trilogy and had loved creating the fictional town of Ladreville, so when my editor asked me to propose a series set in Wyoming, why on earth did I choose Fort Laramie and Cheyenne for the settings?  Did I have a sudden memory lapse, forgetting that the one time I used a real city as a location for one of my secular romances, I agonized the entire time I was writing it, worrying that I’d get hate mail from a reader, telling me that such and such a street wasn’t cobblestoned at the time of the book?

The truth is, I chose real settings for two reasons.  I haven’t queried other authors, but I suspect that if they use real places for their books, their reasons are similar.  So, what were my reasons?  The allure of reality and increased marketability. 

Let’s start with the allure of reality. “Real” fiction would seem to be an oxymoron, wouldn’t it?  After all my Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines fiction as “something invented by the imagination or feigned.”  And yet, even though the stories are fictional, I know that readers of historical fiction enjoy learning facts about the time period and that their enjoyment is enhanced when they have the opportunity to read about places that they may never actually visit.  I could have set Summer of Promise at a fictional fort in Wyoming, but using Fort Laramie, an important and well-known location, gave the book added appeal.  That’s the reason I asked that the back cover copy specifically mention Fort Laramie rather than simply saying ‘Wyoming.’  It’s too soon to tell, but my hope is that readers who haven’t picked up my earlier books will be intrigued enough by the Fort Laramie connection that they’ll read it. 

And that leads me to the second point: increased marketability.  Revell has a superb marketing department, but I still think it’s my job to help them.  One way of doing that is to get my books into places that wouldn’t normally carry fiction.  Fort Laramie’s gift shop is a tourist’s delight, filled with books and souvenirs.  The books, it should be noted, are mostly non-fiction.  I knew it was a long-shot, but I really wanted them to carry Summer of Promise, so I approached the Historical Association.  The general manager was intrigued by the premise of the story, and she loved the cover.  (Note: the background is a scene from Fort Laramie.)  But, since we’re dealing with the National Park Service, there’s a rigorous selection process.  Not only did several people on the staff have to read and review the book before they could consider carrying it, but the park superintendant asked them to answer one key question: “Are the details in the book authentic?”  It was only when the readers could answer ‘yes,’ that the Historical Association could order copies of my books.  And now that they’re going to carry it, I’ve approached other museums, using Fort Laramie’s decision as an inducement for them to stock copies of Summer of Promise.  I have no idea how many additional sales this will mean, but each new reader is important. 

We’ve talked about the advantages of choosing real locations for a book.  Now I’d like to debunk two myths.  “Of course you should use a real location.  It’s easier,” one author told me.  I disagree.  Although it’s true that you don’t have to invent street names and other details about the location, the opposite side of that argument is that you need to know all those details.  Simply having a general idea and then fudging won’t work.  Which is the perfect segue to the second myth: readers won’t catch small errors.  Trust me.  They will.  That’s the downside of increased marketability.  Among the new readers that you’ll attract by using a real location are those who are experts on that location.  While they might forgive a few discrepancies, chances are that if you make serious errors, they’ll tell you and – even worse – the world.  Are you willing to risk having reviewers post your inaccuracies?  It’ll happen.  And even if your mistakes aren’t paraded for the online world to see, there’ll be negative word of mouth.  None of us can afford that.

So, how do you avoid bad reviews and what I call hate mail?  There’s no panacea, but I have a few hints.

Read everything you can about your location.  I find the reference section of the library to be a particularly good source of information, especially when I ask a librarian for assistance.  Searching the card catalog reveals many books, but librarians are the experts.  They’ve pointed me toward books that I would never have found otherwise, books, I might add, that have proven invaluable.  Those included diaries of people from the time period which provided a number of important details, including the weather on specific dates.  Readers may not know that my descriptions are accurate, but I do, and that helps me overcome those worries about hate mail.

Look for picture books.  The adage about a picture being worth many words is true, and never more so than when you’re trying to discover what buildings or streets looked like many years ago.  I’ve found the Images of America series to be extremely helpful.  Not only are there hundreds of old photographs in them, but the commentary is typically written by local history experts.  While I borrow most reference books from the library, the Images books are ones I own, because I find myself referring to them almost constantly during the writing process.  (And, no, I don’t own stock in the company.)

Visit the site at the appropriate time of year.  Although I had made two research trips to Fort Laramie before I wrote the book, one was in late summer, the other mid-autumn.  Since my book began in June, I knew I had to return to the fort then.  I was so glad I did!  Not only did I discover that the grass was green then, whereas it had been golden brown on my other visits, but I was able to see how much higher the river was.  Those and a myriad of other details made their way into the story, adding the authenticity that readers expect.  I know it’s not possible for everyone to travel to a location, especially at a specific time of the year.  If you can’t, search for local residents who can help you with details.  Which leads me to my next hint.

Enlist local experts.  Although I’d read stacks of books about Fort Laramie and had visited it several times, there were still things I didn’t know.  As an example, most visitors to the fort are familiar with Old Bedlam, the large white building that served as the bachelor officers quarters for much of the fort’s history.  The problem was, at the time my story took place, Old Bedlam had been converted to apartments for married officers.  I could find no reference to the building that was used as the BOQ at that time period, so I consulted the fort’s librarian.  She and one of the park rangers pulled out maps and records, and when they couldn’t find any definitive information, they helped me to choose a plausible location.

Don’t make assumptions.  This is actually a corollary to my first two points.  On one of my visits to the fort, I took a picture of two uniforms displayed in the fort’s museum.  One was clearly marked ‘infantry,’ and since my hero was a lieutenant in the infantry, I used that picture as my source, describing the single-breasted coat in great detail.  The problem was, once the Images of America book on Fort Laramie was published, I started studying it and discovered that many of the soldiers wore double-breasted coats.  Why was there a discrepancy?  Again, the fort librarian was of immeasurable assistance.  She provided me with a book that detailed Army uniforms during the nineteenth century.  Half an hour with that book revealed that the uniform in the museum display was for an enlisted man, while the double-breasted coats I saw in the pictures belonged to officers.  My description had to be changed.  Would a reader have caught the error?  Possibly not, but I’m glad I discovered it.

Lastly, if you take liberties, tell the readers.  There are times when an author wants to bend history for the sake of the story.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  After all, we’re dealing with fiction.  But if you do decide to stretch the truth, perhaps by placing a real person in a city where he or she might not have been, mention that in a note to readers.  They’ll appreciate it, and so will you, because your note will forestall criticism.

If I’ve made using real locations as settings for your stories seem like an overwhelming burden, let me assure you that it’s not.  It can be fun to learn the details of a real place and share them with readers.  A real location can help you market your book.  And it can attract new readers to your books. 

Would I do it again?  Maybe.

Though she had planned to spend the summer in Vermont with her sweetheart, Abigail Harding cannot dismiss her concerns over her older sister. Charlotte's letters have been uncharacteristically melancholy, and her claims that nothing is wrong ring false, so Abigail heads West to Wyoming. The endless prairie seems monotonous, but when her stagecoach is attacked, Wyoming promises to be anything but boring. Luckily, the heroics of another passenger, Lieutenant Ethan Bowles, save the day.

When circumstances--and perhaps a bit of matchmaking--put Abigail and Ethan together, there's certainly attraction. But Abigail is planning to marry another man and return to life in Vermont as soon as she is finished attending to her sister. And Ethan loves his life in the Army and the wilds of Wyoming. When summer ends, will Abigail go back East? Or will she fall in love with this rugged land herself?

A former director of Information Technology, Amanda Cabot has written everything from technical books and articles for IT professionals to mysteries for teenagers and romances for all ages. She is now a fulltime writer of Christian historical romances. Amanda is delighted that her Texas Dreams trilogy received critical acclaim, in part because of their historical authenticity, and that the staff at Fort Laramie found her research so accurate that they’re carrying Summer of Promise, the first book in the Westward Winds series, in their gift shop.

Great info, Amanda! Whatever you're writing, historical or contemporay, suspense or Amish, never take research for granted! Seekerville is offering a prize package today. So leave a comment and winner will be announced in the Weekend Edition.


Carol Moncado said...

OOoo! I've got my influencer copy of this one sitting here in my TBR pile!!!!

Okay not 'here', downstairs in my office area, but I *think* it's next and I can't wait!

I use my hometown as a setting for my contemporaries but I change the name so I can take liberties when I want to but I leave the "big city" and the other towns nearby in tact.

The research into a historical is mind boggling to me. When I use an area that's not in my area, the research going into a contemp makes me want to cry - much less a historical!

And now /sigh/ I need to get a 4yo back to bed so I can go to bed so I can write lots and lots tomorrow [I'll finally be 1K1HRing!].

Plus I think the extra dog needs to go out... Cuz we're dog sitting and I think I may be mildly allergic [I know my 10yo is...]

Walt Mussell said...

I like the story about the bachelor's quarters being different at the time of the story. Does the fact that people will likely have an incorrect preconceived notion about your setting make you shy away from those details?

Jan Drexler said...

Amanda and Audra! Ft. Laramie and Cheyenne! I live almost close enough to go to your signing...it's only a 5 hour drive...

I love history and historicals - and you're right, a seemingly small error can ruin a story for me, but I love learning about places and times through reading historical fiction. I can't wait to read your new book.

I chose to set my current series in a real place and time - Shipshewana, Indiana in the 1930's. The only reason I was brave enough to attempt that is because I have a living, breathing person who can share his memories of growing up in that same place and time - my father - and a memoir that my grandmother wrote about being a young wife during the depression.

I've backed up their memories with my own research, but the information I've gotten from those two sources is invaluable. I also lived in the area for 7 years - another plus.

And I did think about marketing when I chose my location - the area my books are set in is a hugely popular tourist destination, so I hope that helps.

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your expertise!

I'm leaving the last of the Christmas cookies on the buffet for the late nighters. Please eat them - they're too much of a temptation for me!

Connie Queen said...

Oh Audra, who would think writing about a real location would be easy?

I can see the benefits or writing about a real location, though.

I tend to write like Carol. I live 60 miles north of Dallas and the couple of contempory wip's are in a small town much like the one I live in. Only more interesting.

LyndeeH said...

Hi Amanda,
I love reading that you used an Images of America book during your research as I am author of Images of America - Johnstown, PA, and I worked very hard to identify each photograph and determine the historical significance for readers. It's nice to know that you found the WY book of help.

I appreciate your comments regarding the marketability factor of using a real location. It's another key way to attract visibility and sales. And, BTW, speaking of visibility, the cover on Summer of Promise is lovely.
Thanks for your time.

Carol Moncado said...

I have one book - the last one in a 5 book series that may never get picked up - set in a pretend country.

But to get that pretend country I chopped off the bottom of Switzerland.

I think I need to visit.

For research of course.


Ausjenny said...

first off I have to say I love the cover. I adore the dress.
For an Aussie I may not notice errors but I have read books based in Australia where there have been bad errors. the worst was a book that put a naval port in Norther Queensland only about 2 hours from Sydney where infact at the time the book was written would have been more like 22 hours.
I recently read a book set in Hawaii and it came to life for me because I had been to some of the places mentioned and made the book even better.
I love when an author puts a note about changing history at the end of the book. Especially when they give the details of really happened.

Kathryn Albright said...

Thank you for this illuminating post! Using the history of a real place is the thing that inspires me to write historical romances. Truth often is stranger than fiction and makes learning history so interesting. I'm so glad the historical society okay'd your book! It will reach out to a new audience -- I'm sure very positively! Kudos!


Virginia said...

I love everything Amanda Cabot!!!

I tried to write my first historcal this year--- oops! LAST year!--- and I had the impression that it would be hardest to write about the clothes. Um, no. There are tons of articles, magazines, references about the clothes. The city, the language, the social mores, all of that was A LOT harder.
I remember writing the hero into a 1906 Ford and making it green. Two weeks later I found out they were only in one color that year- shiny black. Just having them drive down the road took a day's research. Was there a neutral? Were there windsheild wipers? Was it one long front seat? Brother...

And the city I chose was supposed to be Peoria but I changed it after a judge in a contest pointed out an error in the story! And I ahd to have the 'error' so I ahd to change the city. *whew* Historicals are fun to write, but they take twice as long as anything I've ever done.

Virginia said...

Carol! I say you definitely have to go to Swiizerland. That's tax deductable, right???

Virginia said...

Sorry for the typos!

And I meant SWITZERLAND. The other one is a pretend country.

Carol Moncado said...

I think so Virginia!

Cuz it's Sooooooo in the budget :D.

I just read "Nickels" by Karen Baney [review on my blog Monday if anyone's interested] and one of the things I loved about it was that it was set in the Phoenix area - where I grew up. So I got to 'see' some of the changes since I moved nearly 20 years ago now [ow! that makes me feel OLD!].

Melissa Jagears said...

Yeah, I'm not one who reads historicals to learn about history, I just like the ambiance. So, I kind of write the same. I pick a real place but change the name. Then I research it as if that's really where I'm writing, but I don't have panic attacks about being 100% correct geographically or not, there's enough research being correct chronologically, I think, to give me fits.

Now, if I were actually making money writing and could buy some more books and travel, then I might consider a real place...but probably not until then.

Unless it's where I live! Which, ok, I do have one set where I live and contemplating another one, so that's my only exception because I can waltz over to the historical museums and the library archives on the way to the grocery store. :)

Cathy Shouse said...

Thanks for these wonderful points, Amanda. I was thinking of using a real setting in a contemporary and am having second thoughts.

By the way, I presume you are meaning "Images of America" books published by Arcadia Publishing. I wrote the one for Fairmount, Indiana. :)

Please add my name to the drawing.

Mary Cline said...

Amanda, I can't wait to read this book. I haven't been to Fort Laramie for a long time but we manage to make it to Fort Robinson once a year or so.
I love that time in history and your story sounds so good, the cover is beautiful!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Amanda, what great advice. I got caught when I mistakenly identified a location as a DIFFERENT AND ADJACENT SMALL TOWN in upstate New York...

Duh on me. And I was sure I was right until I realized how wrong I was, LOL!

No one has hung me in effigy (YET) but I hate making silly mistakes. Especially in an area I actually know... How much easier it is to make errors in areas we don't know personally.

Thank you for this, and for being a guest in Seekerville!

We're back to salad and such at The Yankee-Belle Cafe so I brought along a low-carb breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, ham and a side of almonds.


Let's rock those spring dresses!

sherrindaketch said...

You know, if you write in the medieval era, you can "kinda" make up stuff...within reason! Yes, I checked out history books and picture books for England, but I took more license than I would have if I'd written something in the US.

Excellent post!

BK said...

Very helpful. Research does seem daunting, but by the same token I just can't get into working on contemporaries the way I can with historicals.

Jeanne T said...

Amanda, I appreciate your post. I'm still new in this writing world. My first wip takes place near where I live, so I am fairly familiar with the details of the setting. Writing historicals intrigues and intimidates me because of the research involved. :) I admire those of you who write them.

I read a book by a very well known author and found a glaring error. It distracted me, some, from the story.

I have a question. Is it okay to make up businesses/names and such in a real area for the story?

Jeanne T said...

PS--I forgot to mention that your story sounds exciting. The cover is beautiful. I agree with Ausjenny--love that dress. :)

Audra Harders said...

Carol, you're open for dog sitting? Can I drop off our coonhound and Chessie retriever with you? LOL, I can dream, can't I?

Excited to hear you're an influencer on Amanda's book. She puts so much detail and heart into them, you just gotta love'em.

Hmm, you chopped off the bottom half of Switzerland to create your own country. My, my. A bit power hungry, aren't we?? LOL, if you need a pal to go to Europe with you, just let me know...as long as we can explore Britian, too.

Audra Harders said...

Oooo, Jan! A five hour drive to our booksigning? We LOVE to have show up, but really, no pressure, LOL!

I'm with you on the living, breathing people to lend authenticity to your work. I remember my mom telling me stories about the war and how she and her sister had to run through European countries to get to England in order to catch a ship to America. They were in their teens. Can you imagine that? I have a hard time letting my 21 yo daughter drive back and forth to college by herself!

Anyway, the details and flavor you get from those who know the area and have lived the history is priceless.

Shame on you for leaving cookies...although if they're broken, they don't have calories since all the calories were swept away with the crumbs. LOL!!

Audra Harders said...

Connie, you're close to Dallas? Does that mean we'll see you at the conference??

Hope so.

We can all get together and have our own workshop on Location, Location, Location!

Audra Harders said...

Lyndee, I can just imagine the time that went into a book like Images of America. Crediting the correct photo is such a labor.

Marketing to the locale is a great tool. Kind of puts you between a rock and hard place when you create your town, but hyping up the surrounding towns and cities makes perfect sense to me.

Audra Harders said...

Jenny, I agree with you about errors pulling you out of the book, especially when they are as glaring as 22 hours vs 2!

Amanda is a very meticulous writer. Her depiction of the area is spot on!

Jan Drexler said...

Audra, it sounds like your mom's story would make a great book! I can just see two girls negotiating their way through the different countries...different languages, suspicious border guards, trying to find food and a safe place to sleep...and all with the clock ticking.

Sorry, but I didn't bring any broken cookies. The calorie-free ones have already disappeared!

Audra Harders said...

Kathryn, what era and locale are you writing about? I have some Regency era mss gathering dust, but were they ever fun to write.

Audra Harders said...

Yay, Virginia! I love everything Amanda Cabot, too : )

Glad a judge pointed out the error in time for you massage the book around to incorporate your "error."

Contests are the BEST way to bring your ms in front of an editor and have anonymous reads. Always check out our Contest update section in Seekerville (shameless promo going on here.)

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Amanda! Loved your savvy post. Your book looks wonderful! Congratulations on getting approval to get it in the gift shop at Fort Laramie!

As a writer of historical fiction, I've tried both real and fictional settings. To me, the latter is far easier.


Julie Hilton Steele said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Audra Harders said...

Melissa, I'm with you. I don't really read historical for their accuracy, I read to escape. Give me a great read that just captures my mind and heart and I'll forgive many of the little details that aren't quite right.

I'll forgive them, but unfortunately, I won't forget them.

Audra Harders said...

Gotta go get ready for the day job. So sorry I can stay for all the fun today.

Amanda will be around soon. Talk up history in the meantime!!

Oh, I see Ruthy is here with goodies from the Yankee Belle Cafe. Thanks, babe!!

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Carol, my husband and I are going to Switzerland in the fall. I am happy to store you in my suitcase.

I appreciate authors who teach me something about history or expand my limited knowledge about a particular event. Sadly, I am one of those readers who catches things and is driven nuts by inaccuracies. I am not into hate mail but I do appreciate authors who say they are bending historical facts.

I just read about a website that lists a lot of contemporary and historical oddities often lost to the general public because the markers are taken down to prevent vandalism or are just off the beaten path. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/

Just read about a man who pleaded with his family not to bury him in the ground and so a Scottish sculptor came to North Carolina to chisel out his grave in a boulder on family property. Hmm, what if that Scottish sculptor found true love with a neighboring lass or the man's fiancee? I am never sure about what we can do with people. Places, I can take liberties. People are tougher.

Great post!

Peace, Julie

Jamie Adams said...

Hi Amanda! I loved reading Summer of Promise. It's a great story.

Last year I wrote a wagon train story and Ft Laramie was one of many locations I researched. I was really impressed with how you brought it all to life in your writing.

Pam Hillman said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Amanda!

There are definitely pros and cons of using real or imaginary towns. And, you're right, readers in the know will pick up on every tiny detail.

And congrats on getting the book in the Fort Laramie Gift Shop! That is fantastic!

Carol Moncado said...

JULIE! I would be happy to stow away in your suitcase!!!

Audra - we can certainly hit Great Britain. And as long as we're going we may as well make a summer of it :D.

And I didn't cut off the a whole HALF of Switzerland. Just a chunk of it near Italy. About the size of Lichtenstein. I was going to use Lichtenstein and rename it but it didn't work for me for several reasons. S. Switzerland worked better.

Well, I didn't get to go to Panera today but I am ALL ALONE in the house [except for the stupid dog who wanted to go out at 2 stinkin AM - not eve RUTHY was up yet!] so I'm going to shoot for a HUGE word count before I have to go get DS4 and everyone else shoes back up. I have about 6/6.5 hours. Let's see if I can swing 8K. Off to the #1K1HR Facebook page...

Julie Lessman said...

Hey, Amanda, WONDERFUL blog today, especially for we historical types!!

I had to laugh at this statement: "Which is the perfect segue to the second myth: readers won’t catch small errors. Trust me. They will."

LOL ... oh, AMEN to that!! I actually got a pretty scathing letter from a woman from Dublin who told me in no uncertain terms that cottages did NOT have wraparound porches in Dublin during the time of my story.

Ah-ha, I have her, I thought to myself because I knew there was NO WAY I had given my characters' cottage a wrap-around porch -- that was the house in Boston. BUT ... sure enough, I checked out her claim and I did, indeed, make reference to a wraparound porch in Dublin, which was my mistake and of course, this woman caught it! Fortunately, it's something probably no one else on earth would catch ... I hope. :)

The book looks GREAT!!


karenk said...

love this posting...looking forward to reading amanda'a latest masterpiece :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Mary Connealy said...

I'm setting a book right now south of Medicine Bow, WY. I considered Laramie for a while. but they barely touch down in town then head for the ranch.
However, I realized that the old western novel The Virginian is set near Medicine Bow and the beginning of that book is full of descriptions of Medicine Bow in 1874. My book is 1870. This is only a few years years after the Transcontinental railroad went through, closely (but not exactly) following the Oregon Trail, so Medicine Bow is still a very raw 'end of the line' railroad town.
I'm paying close attention to flora and fauna mentioned in the book. Landscape. Mountains in the distance. Lots of references to antelope. It's all very confusing.

Rebekah E. said...

Summer of promise sound like a great story. I love reading books that are set in places that I have read.

Vince said...

To Tell or Not To Tell

Hi Amanda:

As a lifelong history buff, with a teaching minor in history, I catch a lot more mistakes than the average reader.

Here’s my question:

Do you want to know about your mistakes?

My wife says no one wants to know about their mistakes and that if you tell an author she will consider it hate mail.

I say, as a professional, I want to know about my mistakes so I don’t embarrass myself in the future. I’d like to be told about my mistakes in private and not in front of an audience but I definitely want to know about them.

As of right now I don’t tell authors about their mistakes but I do try to let the correct information come out in other venues with the hope the right author will see it.

What do you think?


vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

Casey said...

I've seen secular book stores or gift shops put Christian books in their store because it's a local author or a local book. Great post with food for thought when putting a book in a specific setting. It's one thing I've tried to avoid. LOL! I know I should rethink that. ;-)

Jan Drexler said...

Mary Connealy - it sounds like you need a road trip to experience eastern Wyoming! Once you've seen it, it will no longer be confusing...

And when you go on your road trip, feel free to stop by Rapid City - I'll take you to lunch.

Meanwhile, I'll post a picture of eastern Wyoming on facebook for you -

Valri said...

Great post! I love it when an author is up front about changes! I've read many a book where that is not the case and felt confused! I don't mind when a story has some changes at all but I'd just like to know about it! I'm a big history buff so I usually know about those " little things" and I always wonder if the author thought the reader wouldn't notice or what! The book looks great and the cover is fantastic!


Melanie Dickerson said...

Great post, Amanda! And you always have such beautiful covers!

It gives an author some freedom to create a fictional setting. You still have to get your historical facts straight, and make your setting believable, but to me, that is much easier than using an actual town and having to get every single detail right. I am thinking of using a real town for one of my historicals, which will force me to do a lot of digging. But as you say, it gives me a marketability and will make the book more appealing, especially to anyone who is in any way affiliated with the real town.

Well, Amanda, since you're more experienced than I am, you probably already know this, but I have discovered that even when you DO get your facts straight, you will still probably get a critical review here or there. Lots of people think they know Medieval times, but what they "know" isn't necessarily true, especially across the board. I've been criticized for things that the criticizer thought they were right about. They really believed they were setting me straight. However, they hadn't researched that specific situation or setting. But I have. And I'm confident that I am right and they are wrong. And yet, they can say whatever they want to in a review, and the author has no recourse. If we were to publicly try to correct them, it just comes off all wrong. But I think that's just one of the negatives of this business. I'm still thankful to be published!

Melanie said...

I'm currently reading Summer of Promise and it's really good so far! :)

Please enter me in the giveaway.


Debby Giusti said...

Amanda, my hats off to you. Using a real setting for an historical novel must make the research even more exacting. So glad the Historical Society approved your work for local sale...great marketing idea!

Thanks for being with us in Seekerville! Happy New Year!

Amanda Cabot said...

I feel as if I’m late to the party, and it’s not even 9 in Cheyenne. Right now I’m getting ready for a radio interview to promote this weekend’s bookfair to benefit Fort Laramie’s historical association, so I’ll have to make this brief, but I’ll be back later today. Thank you all for visiting Seekerville this morning. It’s always so much fun to be part of your discussions!

I think I’ll start by answering the direct questions. Then I’ll come back to respond to other comments.

Walt, in the case of Old Bedlam no longer being the BOQ, rather than shy away from the change, I mentioned that the building used to house bachelor officers but was now used for married couples. It was an important change, and most people who’ve visited the fort would associate Old Bedlam with the BOQ, so I thought it was important to mention.

Jeanne, thanks so much for asking about making up businesses and names. It’s a great question and one I neglected to address in the post. The short answer is, yes. For Summer of Promise, the only invented place was the hog ranch. There were several in the area, but I created a new one for my purposes. The second and third books in this series are set in Cheyenne. I wanted to use real places for some scenes but fictional ones for others. I’ve created a map with the various locations, and the fictional ones are clearly marked as such. Now I hope that my publisher will include the map in the front of the book so that readers aren’t confused.

And, Vince, yes I do want to know about my mistakes. Of course I cringe when I learn that I made them, but having someone point them out (gently, please!) helps me grow as a writer. You’re right, though, that I’d prefer to hear about them privately, rather than having someone post a scathing review online, pointing out each and every error. The bottom line, at least for me, is I want to be as accurate as possible, and so I appreciate readers telling me where I can improve.

One last note before I head off to the interview: I’m excited to see that we have two Images of America authors here. Lyndee and Cathy, I toast you with my cup of herbal tea. The series is invaluable!

Pepper said...

Oooh Amanda,
Thanks for sharing!!
I loved reading info about Fort Laramie and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. Have you read about the Sand Creek Massacre? I did a little research on that for one of my first historical novels (which is currently sitting in a drawer) and emailed a historian back and forth for a while. It was fascinating. LOVED the area and the culture of the times.

I'm gonna have to get my hands on your book!! ;-)

Pepper said...

If Carol gets to chop off the entire end of a country, can't I have my heroine fall in love with an former actor?
I mean, seriously, it's that less probable than chopping off cities?

Let's consider the massive differences here.... ;-)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for this interesting post, Amanda.

I just wrote my first historical set in 1880's England and read through several books on Victorian England, what they wore, where they lived, customs, etc. Really interesting, but I'm sure I've made some blunders!

I personally like using fictional settings better - much more freedom!

Love the cover of your book, btw!

sbmason at sympatico dot ca

Mary Connealy said...

Amanda, I set a book in the Grand Canyon and I approached the Grand Canyon National Park about carrying it in their gift shop there. I got this same info...like they need two years notice or they take one or two years to decide, something like that.
I sent the books but I'd forgotten all about it until now.

Mary Connealy said...

I also set Montana Rose in Fort Laramie, WY and I had it all wrong.
Tracie Peterson who has set an entire series in their area...maybe more than once, judged it in the ACFW Genesis contest...it came in third. I got to talk with her afterward and she told me so many interesting things about the area and told me so many inaccuracies in my book--very kindly. I learned so much.

I ended up moving it far away to a fictional place, that I later found out really existed...but I SWEAR I googled Divide, Montana and it wasn't there!!!!

Ah, research!

Linnette R Mullin said...

This is one thing I had to do for my novel, Finding Beth. When I first wrote the story, I went off my memory of the place. Well, I went back six years later and the place had so completely changed that I almost relocated that part of my story! It is fun to research, though. My first WIP is set in my hometown. When I started researching for the historical books I was fascinated at all the changes the town has and continues to go through. Fun!

Mary Connealy said...

BTW, read Walt's book last night.
I loved it!

Hot Cocoa for the Heart

The title makes me smile.
It's a collection of FIVE Novellas and right now costs on $3.99 on Kindle. Grab it.

Myra Johnson said...

Amanda, how exciting that Ft. Laramie is carrying your book in the gift shop! That's a real tribute to your attention to accuracy!

My tendency is to set my stories in fictional small towns that are near larger real-life cities. That way I can invent all I want to in the characters' immediate world, but they can visit the real locations from time to time for a touch of authenticity.

Wow, after being mostly incommunicado during the holidays with family visiting, illnesses, etc., it's daunting trying to catch up! Today I promised myself to get back into writer's mode. So far...not accomplishing much. ;>D

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks for the tips, Amanda! Writing historical ficition, or ficition spotlighting a real place is intimidating, and I think anyone willing to take it on must take research very seriously. Your book sounds great!

Amanda Cabot said...

I’m back. The radio interview was fun, but it had the disadvantage that, unlike blog posts, there’s no feedback. One of the things I love about Seekerville is how active its followers are. It makes visiting a real pleasure.

So many of you commented on the cover. Like you, I think it’s beautiful. I continue to be impressed with how much effort Revell puts into their covers. This one took three tries, including a change of background, but each one made it better. I really hope readers will be intrigued enough by the cover that they’ll pick up the book.

Virginia, I nodded when I read about how much research you put into your black-not-green Ford. One of my earlier books included a Model T, and I wound up changing the year simply because I was able to find a user’s manual online. That helped me with the details of shifting, cranking and refueling. I had thought I might have to go to Detroit and the Ford museum to learn what I needed, but fortunately the Internet came to my rescue.

Janet and Susan Anne, I agree with you that fictional settings are far easier. As Melissa said, taking a real place and changing the name reduces the worry about getting every single detail accurate. I suspect you’re right, Melanie Dickerson, and that even though I tried my best to get every detail right, I’ll get some negative comments. That’s one of the risks of being an author, isn’t it?

Pepper, I have to admit (with a look of chagrin on my face) that I don’t know much about the Sand Creek Massacre, despite the fact that I’ve seen signs along the highway, indicating that I was on the Sand Creek Massacre trail.

Mary Connealy, I’m not surprised at how long the Grand Canyon would take to approve a book. I wasn’t sure that Summer of Promise would make it through the approval process in time for the book launch, but the business manager believed in the book and helped push it through. Have you considered contacting them again? I’m not sure how many books the gift shop will sell, but the manager has asked me to go there for a speech and signing once the weather is a little more predictable. I still chuckle about the fact that a book with ‘summer’ in its title is being released in January.

It’s time for lunch, which I assure you will not include any dried potato cubes or canned oysters, both of which my characters might have encountered. I was thinking along the lines of a toasted cheese sandwich.

Connie Queen said...

Audra, I plan on being at the conference in Dallas.
I haven't signed up for ACFW yet, but will this month. I also need to meet w/our local chapter.

I'd love to meet the seekers.

KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

Super info Amanda. Thanks to you and Audra today!

You've given me some wonderful ideas for May's 2nd book, in progress. A fair portion takes place in present day Paris (May is DOGNAPPED!) and... yes... I think a trip here would be in order. http://pariscemeteries.blogspot.com/2006/09/passy-cemetery.html

Thanks for the cookies, broken or otherwise! :)

KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

OH - and AGREED on the cover. Beautiful!

Smart ideas on the marketing too. I'm sure your publisher is so pleased with you!

Pepper said...

Oh Amanda,
I went into 'hyper interest' mode because you hit one of my creative nerves with your locale ;-)

The easiest historical I've written is my current WIP because it takes place in a fictional 'place' but a WWI time period. The 'place' is akin to my hometown/mountain and the era involves snippets of true stories from my family history - so... that's been amazing to interview my great uncles/aunts and great grandparents.

But my last historical was a doozy to research. Still WWI era but actually in Europe. Researching is definitely time consuming (and distracting because all new story ideas have a tendency to pop up :-)- but especially when you have to research an unfamiliar time period and an unfamiliar culture.

Valri said...

Glad the radio interview went well, Amanda! As I said before, the book cover is great! As a reader, you never know what goes into it but I was interested to note that you said it took 3 tries! I will definitely look for it. I probably would have just by the cover alone but now knowing the back story, it makes it more interesting!


Carol Moncado said...

Pepper! Of course she can fall in love with a former actor!

Just like my gal is gonna get her own castle ;).

And I kept the cities etc [though I did rename them] - they're just not part of Switzerland anymore... :D

Did I mention I want to be in the drawing?

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

I like real settings but I wimped out on this MS: the story takes place in a fictional Nebraska town based in part on a few I've come across, and my own imagination.

I do enjoy researching, though, and historicals, so my next work is going to be a WWII story based in Germany. There will be a lot of research involved in that, so I thought I'd start simple this time. Although, I have been researching it slowly, with each WWII story I read!

I must say, although I understand why historical fiction writers bend history to fit a story, it still bugs me. I've read author's notes where they changed the date of something "because it just makes more sense." Or say an event happened on a Friday, instead of a Tuesday, their reasoning being that the event should have happened on that day. I think if you're a good enough writer, you can MAKE the event work in your story without changing details like the date.

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

BTW, I joined ACFW yesterday!!!

Patty Wysong said...

Great info and help here! THANK YOU! I'd love to someday write a book (or more) set in the small town we go to church in and you've helped me even as I think about it. I really need to work on that idea sooner rather than later because I have resources that are fabulous, but they won't be with me forever. =[

Great post! Thanks so much!!

Mary Connealy said...

Amanda, the trouble with pushing the Grand Canyon folks is that, at this point, the book has been out for about nine months. so we're already well past the launch. And we're probaby a giant step toward the remainder bin.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I do believe Mary attempts to kill me in this book of which she speaks.

And fails.

Which is good, right?

misskallie2000 said...

Great interview. I am not a writer but have been reading for over 60 yrs. I would love to win. Thanks for stopping by to chat and share with us.

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Geographic surgery...

Carol, I like that.


I had to switch a location of a heroine's birthplace because I wanted to use it in book two... after she'ss gone home and tragedy has struck...

I could not find enough to like about the location. It was so totally not what I envisioned, and I tried and tried... Nope.

So her family home shifted to Missy and Deb's area of Georgia... Exactly how I "Saw" her small town, her past.

Sometimes we just can't bend reality far enough, you know?

Missy Tippens said...

Amanda, welcome!! We're so glad you joined us today with all this great info! Thanks so much for sharing.

I love you cover!

Jackie said...

Thanks for sharing this Audra. I'm unpublished and have written about fictional towns. I've also written about a fictional neighborhood in a real town. I hope that's okay. From what you say, as long as I state that in the author notes, it's okay.

The book cover shown here for Summer of Promise is beautiful. I enjoy studying book covers, and if I get published I'd be thrilled with one this pretty!

Thanks again for sharing today.
Jackie Layton

Virginia said...

I recently changed a finished ms locale because one of the Seekers said they liked their Christmas books with snow.
Now, when a Seeker throws out a comment like that, don't brush it off. Pause and reflect... Soooo, I let it roll around in my head and realized... I wouldn't buy a Christmas book set in LA, either. (All together now...Duh!!!)
Last minute locale change to Denver. It was easier than I thought, probably because I've lived in both citiies, AND it was just better that way. It took a lot of 'surgery', like Carol said, lots of fiddling with tiny plot issues. The first person to read it had read the LA version and LOVED the chnages.
So, that's what ended up being sent off to NY last week. :)

Virginia said...

Vince, that's such a good question! I've found errors and figured they didn't want to know. Plus, how do you even say it without sounding rude?

But if Amanda says it's okay, hen maybe it is. Not that I've ever found any really big ones in the Seeker books.

Melanie D., your books are AMAZINGLY well researched. My religious studies degree had a medieval focus, which means 15 classes had to be from the Med Studies department. I think in the end almost 20 of my classes were, so I've had my fair share of time with the medieval geeks... and you did a great job in your books. I always wondered what your educational background was or if you were just an excellent researcher!

Amanda Cabot said...

KC – If you need a guide to Paris or an interpreter, I’d be glad to help. Seriously, I was a French major and am fluent (more or less) in French, so if there’s anything I can go, just let me know.

And, Pepper, I’ve done a lot of research on WWI, since I wrote a trilogy set during that timeframe and have another trilogy under contract, so if you need to bounce questions off someone, let me know. BTW, have you been to the WWI museum in Kansas City? It’s on my must-see list.

Virginia, I’m sure that many authors don’t want to know about errors, no matter how diplomatic you are about pointing them out. Still, I think we learn as much from our mistakes as we do from our successes, so I for one don’t mind (well, not too terribly, terribly, terribly much) when someone tells me I’ve made an error. I’m fortunate, though, because both my editor and my copy editor are sticklers for accuracy, and they check details I might not have. For example, I had the hero of Paper Roses wearing a Stetson before the company was founded. My eagle-eyed editor checked the dates and kept me from making that mistake. She deserves at least a pound of Godiva chocolates for that.

BTW, I agree that Christmas stories set in snow-covered locales are more fun to read. As you said, Seekerville’s advice is good.

Thank you, Audra, for inviting me to join you today, and many, many thanks to all of you who’ve made it such a great visit. I’ve enjoyed our conversation!

Cara Lynn James said...

Great tips, Amanda. I've set my first three books in Newport, Rhode Island because I was very familiar with the place. I already had tons of research books. But for my fourth book, set in the Adirondacks, I had to do much more research. I wanted to locate my story on a fictional lake, but my editor said no. That was much harder. I think a fictional location is fine sometimes, but for certain locations the reader probably wants authenticity.

Whitney said...

Welcome, Amanda! Oh, Lord… I would love to be in Cheyenne, WY to get a book signed by you two! I dream of a log house on acres of beautiful secluded land, with mountains as a backdrop. Sigh. My “stone cottage.” One of them, anyway…

The setting in my WIP is fictitious. Sort of. The town is fictitious, but it’s set in 1897 Alaska. Obviously, a lot of information and details still have to match up historically and geographically.

Thanks for the info, and a book set in WY is definitely on my TBR list!


Cindy W. said...

Hi Amanda! I truly loved your post today. When a fiction book is set in a place that I am familiar with I find it takes me longer to read the book because in my mind I'm trying to picture the place the way I knew it and see if the author is correct. I love reading about places I've been but if I had my choice I think I'd like to read about a fictional town, that way my creative mind can try to see the picture the author is painting.

Thank you again for the wonderful post today!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.


Mary Connealy said...


Janet Kerr said...

This is an informative post on real settings. The research that is required is amazing but does provide interesting history.

I enjoyed this post!


Jeanne T said...

Amanda, I've had a busy day, but I wanted to thank you for answering my question. It was very helpful. :) Thanks for stopping by today!

MaryC said...

You can tell it's a back to work day when it's almost 9 o'clock by the time I get to visit Seekerville.
I'm glad I stopped by, Amanda. This is a really interesting article.
Thank so much for sharing your expertise.

Annie Rains said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I seem to set everything in my neighboring town because I'm so terrified of setting a story somewhere else. I don't go anywhere!...Your tips are great and will be useful as I branch out.

Hope everyone is starting there new year off well!

Walt Mussell said...

Mary, thanks for your plug. I read your short story over the holidays and, being a North Carolinian, love the O Henry reference.

A Home For Christmas: The Sweetest Gift / A Christmas Angel

Still only $0.99. Click on the link below.


Mary, I need to know how you do that link like you did for mine.

Carol Moncado said...

Walt you type like this but use < and > instead of ( and ).

(a href=PUTLINKHERE)Type your text(/a)

Hope that helps!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Virginia, good girl! ;)

I love that you changed locations for that, chickie!

When daughter Beth came home from a semester in Adelaide Australia, she said that their Christmas decorations went up right after Halloween...

And the storefronts did New England Village type displays. Snow. Trees. Villages, etc. Even though it's summer in Australia in December.

Something about our minds' "vision", right?

Good for you!

marybelle said...

I just know that the research you do will translate beautifully into the story. It is appreciated.

Glenda Parker Fiction Writer said...

I really enjoyed your post it was a great help to me. I know readers do catch the errors. I live in rural Nebraska and I read about about Valentine. I lived there I know that place, she sent her hero to Broken Bow to the hospital, I live here it was obvious she had done her homework. I read a book about a plane crash in the Sandhills of Nebraska and it was obvious she had never been there. Thank you for your post.
Glenda Parker

Valerie Comer said...

Awesome post, just as I am starting on a proposal for a novel in a real location I've visited numerous times. Thankfully, my daughter-in-law, who lives next door, lived in that location for six years. I will be picking her brain a lot! (Also, she's up for a research trip, lol.)