Thursday, May 24, 2012


A few thoughts about setting…

As a writer how do you choose your setting? Do you give it much thought? Do you pick a location because it’s familiar and comfortable and won’t require much research? Or do you go for someplace exotic that begs for a research trip?

I think we writers usually choose settings we’re really interested in because we’re going to explore that locale for 300 or more pages, and for several months, if not several years. That’s a long time to live vicariously in a world we don’t like. If you break out in and mosquito bites and sweat just thinking about a jungle, head to another terrain.

When we write we probably consider our own likes and dislikes along with what we think will attract readers. But what’s popular now, might not be popular when the book is published a year or more after a sale. It’s far easier to know what will hold our attention for months at a time than to worry about the changing tastes of readers—not that we can ever forget about them.

Which draws you in: the city, the countryside or a small town?

Some settings automatically create an emotional feeling in you. If you love a place I’d say that’s a strong indication you should at least consider it for a story. Don’t reject a possible setting just because it might difficult to research or too far away (or too expensive) to visit. There are so many ways to research from the comfort of your office. I’d rather visit, of course, but sometimes that’s not possible. Don’t give up you favorite place too quickly!

My three published books (the Ladies of Summerhill series) are set in Newport, Rhode Island. I like the beauty of the island, and I have wonderful childhood memories from lots of visits. My cousin Cindy insists I always said I’d write about Newport someday, but I don’t remember. That doesn’t sound like something I’d say. I’m more apt to keep my dreams and story ideas to myself. But it turned out that’s where I did set my first novels.

But after I picked my location, I had to decide on the time period. The Gilded Age fascinated me, so historical romance became my choice of sub-genre. If and when I write contemporaries, I’ll scout around for another location. As much as I enjoy Newport in the present, it’s the past that captures my imagination.

To me turn-of-the-century high society is intriguing, yet outlandish. People with too much money sometimes do things we wouldn’t dare do—and they got away with it because no one had the power to challenge them! (Maybe that’s what attracted me!) Huge fortunes and a sense of entitlement created unhappiness, even misery, in some of the ‘cottagers.’ I could’ve explored the dark undercurrent of privileged society, but I decided to leave that to others.

I tried to create a cheerful and romantic mood that emphasized society’s foibles instead of its sense of boredom from ‘having it all.’ Every social group we write about is complex and multi-faceted, but we don’t have to cover everyone in one novel.

The tone of the book is also determined by the season of the year. Mine are set in summer when the New Yorkers flooded the town with money and the expectation of fun and frivolity. Even the book covers suggest the story’s light-heartedness.

In the fall and winter, Newport reverted to a sleepy place. After the foliage dies, the town turns colder and grayer. That suggests a very different type of story.

The Gilded Age summer people weren’t the only segment of society I could write about. Newport natives would’ve suggested an entirely different type of story. The locals lived there all year round, and not in mansions inhabited only 6 to 8 weeks a year. Their economic conditions were modest, for the most part. Yet the cottagers and the townies were dependent upon each other. The rich needed the natives to serve them, and the natives needed the rich for their livelihood. It makes for a more complicated, but interesting situation.

There were several groups even among the townsfolk. At the turn-of-the-century Newport had descendents of Puritan dissidents (I have a lot of those in my genealogy), Irish (a lot of them, too), French, Italian and Portuguese immigrants, Jews and blacks. The Navy also had a large and important presence. These groups could make a story filled with clashing cultures or unexpected harmony.

So we have to decide which aspect of society we want to write about.

In A Path toward Love I’m moving on to Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. I’m staying with the Gilded Age society and the same time period. But there are vast differences between Newport cottages and the Adirondack Great Camps.

The vacationers were different too, even though they all belonged to elite society. Newport cottagers liked the formal, ostentatious life where they could display (and flaunt) their status and wealth through extravagant social entertainment and palatial homes. Their mansions were built on a few acres of land, and lined only two or three exclusive avenues. This style of living attracted a certain type of millionaire—one who valued elite society and all that usually went with it.

But those who built Great Camps on the edge on Adirondack lakes enjoyed nature and casual living on huge tracks of forested land. They liked rustic architecture, and handmade furniture made from wood and twigs.

They brought the outdoors inside by hanging their hunting trophies—deer and bear heads--on rough, wooden walls. Fishing, long walks in the woods, and canoeing appealed to them more than fancy balls and coaching. Yet in some ways they brought their comfortable lifestyle along with them. Lots of servants to wait on them and delicious meals prepared by a large kitchen staff meant they weren’t truly ‘roughing it,’ even though many thought they were.

So the mountain setting determined the kind of activities my characters could engage in. My cast of characters might dress formally for dinner, but they wore casual clothes when they took a guide boat out on the lake or sang around a bonfire on a narrow strip of brown sand they called a beach.

It’s also important to think about how your protagonist would react to a particular setting.
What if she hates the sea, dampness, fog, and the pounding of surf? Maybe she can’t swim or finds sailing too rough. Or maybe she’s afraid of hurricanes. Her favorite place might be the dessert, or the mountains. Does she like to be in the middle of a crowd or by herself or with just a few friends? The setting will effect her reactions, and her mood. Each character may react differently to the same setting, and this in turn, could effort the plot.

Your heroine will view the setting through the lens of her emotions—what she’s feeling at that particular moment of time. If she’s afraid of the water, she’ll want to stay away from the ocean. Yet if she happens to be in a confident frame of mind, she might be adventurous enough to dip her toe into the surf. However, don’t go overboard and put her on a surfboard, at least not without her gradually getting used to the water. Just use a little common sense.

Thanks for letting me ramble today.

Let me repeat my first questions. How do you choose your setting? Do you give it much thought? Do you pick a location because it’s familiar and comfortable and won’t require much research? Or do you go for someplace exotic that begs for a research trip? I’m curious if other writers care as much as I do about setting, or if you find settings practically interchangeable.

I’m giving away one Advanced Reader’s Copy of A Path toward Love. If you’re interested, please leave your e-mail address. (Pic of book cover)

If anyone would like to receive my May newsletter, just go to my website sign up.


  1. Hi Cara,
    Love that area of the country, RI. We visited the mansions in Newport about six years ago, and it's still fresh in my mind. So much to take in. In fact, we were members of the historical society there for many years, too.

    As far as location, this is one aspect of my story where I truly write what I know. That said, I still heavily researched Pennsylvania to make sure I'm accurate in my historical description. It's important to me that the reader can trust my writing.

    Would love to be included in the drawing.

  2. Your information on setting is very interesting & you pictures say a lot about different areas.
    Please enter me in your draw.


  3. Very good and helpful thoughts.

    Please put me in your drawing.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Cara, you have a gift for using setting to augment the emotion and characterization in a book. That's such a wonderful thing, it deepens and layers the plot before the characters even open their mouths!


    I can't wait for the Adirondack series. I love going to the mountains, the Adirondacks, the Southern Tier (Northern tip of Appalachian range) or the Catskills/Poconos.

    People have no clue how mountainous New York State is, but it's amazing! These hills are just itching to tell stories!

    Hey, I've been lax on breakfast. My bad.

    Today we're dining on my old standby fritatta, fresh country sage sausage with scrambled egg, hash browns, onions, cheese and a side of grits and gravy. Plus I'm letting you try my "Almost As Good As Annie Loveless's Biscuits" like the ones they serve with pride at the Loveless Cafe in Nashville... These are my Cheddar-stuffed variety and son-in-law Jon says they're awesome.

    We'll see what the lot o' youse think!

    Great job, Cara-mia!!!

  6. I absolutely love this new cover. It's evocative like a beautiful painting.

    You are right that as a writer, we must be fascinated by the place we and our characters are going to live in during the next year or so. Setting is so important to me as part of the package when I'm reading. I've always found Newport's history interesting but I've yet to get there.

    I'd love to be in the drawing for your book, Cara. Thank you!

  7. Good morning! It's not light out yet but the birds are chirping.By noon I'll have to close the windows and turn on the A/C. This is my favorite time of the day.

    Lyndee, I think it's so important to research a location because it's easy to get the details wrong. Even if you're writing about your hometown, you can make mistakes!

  8. Ah, this is why I love books, Cara. They take me to places and times I have never been privileged or alive to experience. But I have discovered I choose settings in my writing for different reasons.

    I do care about setting because it is indeed a character in itself, or maybe I just think it should be.

    I am working on two manuscripts. One set in a modern day small town in Southwestern Virginia and one in WWII Washington DC.

    The first is set in my grandparents' town I visited every summer until I was eighteen. I chose it in part because I wanted to recall all the details of those visits in the summer. I can see every inch of the valley.

    The second I chose in part because I was actually born in DC (not a state, it always gets people in trivia get-to-know-you games). If you look at a map of DC and the way the grid is laid out, it is easy to see small communities in the larger city.

    My DC book is based on a real person so the time was chosen for me. Nothing more exciting than WWII.

    I am learning so much about my birthplace in my research and am headed up there to check out the Washingtoniania collection this summer.

    This post is so timely because it reminds me to look carefully at my settings. Am I doing them justice in the details? Can the reader see what I see? Thanks a bunch, Cara!

    Put me in for your lovely book. Can't wait!

    And, Ruthy, you have taught me more about New York than I ever thought possible. Between you and Cara, I am going to head up there with Man O for vacation!

    Peace, Julie

  9. Hi, Janet! I'm a very visual person, so pictures help me to imagine a place. I can feel as if I'm actually there.

    Too bad they can't let us experience the other senses, too. I'd like to bottle up the mountain air and send it down here to Florida, especially when the wind is blowing wrong and I can smell the paper mill about 15 miles away.

  10. Hi, Mary K and Ruthy!

    Thanks for bringing a fabulous breakfast. You're a great cook, Ruthy.

    Living in Florida I miss the mountains a lot. When I lived in Vermont I could look over the Champlain Valley and Lake Champlain to see the Adirondacks--right from my road. So beautiful.

    I liked the Green Mountains, too, but they seem much tamer. When I first lived in southern California the mountains seemed strange to me because they didn't have trees. I love how the scenery changes so drastically as we go across the country.

  11. Thanks for liking my new cover, Debra! I've so glad Thomas Nelson produces great covers that reflect the type of book.

    Julie, Washington, D.C. is such an exciting city. I grew up in the suburbs outside of a medium size city (New Haven, Connecticut) and only a two hour train ride to NYC. I love big, bustling cities!

    Virginia is one of my favorite places. I lived in Virginia Beach for 5 years. Looking back, I wish I'd stayed there and not moved around so much.

    Can't wait to read your books!

  12. Hi Cara,

    I think the Gilded Age is very intriguing too. I'm glad you chose that era to set your stories.

    Setting is so important to our stories. It can be a character, in itself. in my opinion our environment directs our thoughts and feelings.

    Good Luck with your new book!

  13. This is something I'm wrestling with right now in my Speedbo book. First time round I didn't bother with setting. Just knew it was a smallish town somewhere in North America...but now...argh. I don't know what to do with that. Should it be in Canada or the US? Should it be a real place or one of fiction?

    I'm always stymied by setting because I feel like I haven't been anywhere (especially in the states which seems to be the most marketable)to give the location authenticity. When I think back to the books that I have read recently, they've all been in actual places. I'm wondering if that's the norm?

    And here's a question for you: Do you think setting becomes more important when you're writing a historical novel as opposed to a contemporary one?

    I would love to be included in the draw. kavluvstoreadATyahooDOTca. Oh, and I love that cover too! You're right -- Thomas Nelson does an amazing job with their book covers which is great because first impressions often make lasting impressions, right?

  14. Cara,
    Your book covers are always great.

    I definitely need to spend more time on the setting. Pretty much all of my towns are fictious. That was would be okay w/me if "I" could really see it in my mind. But even when I write, the setting is more general to me. It's like when the camera zooms in clear on the person and everything else in the background is blurry.


  15. Cara, I, too, love the cover of your book. Simply beautiful! You've lived in a lot of places. :) I've lived in a few with a military husband, but probably not as many as you.

    As far as mountains go, I've always marveled at the differences between the Rocky Mountains I grew up near and the Alps, which I had the privilege of visiting a number of years ago. Haven't seen NY's mountains yet, but I hope to, one day.

    I love all the thoughts you shared about setting. I'm close to finishing my first rough draft, and because it's my first book, I opted to go with the familiar so that I could focus on crafting the story. As I do my re-writes, I'll need to come back to your post here and see what I can do to enhance the story. Thanks for sharing your love of setting and how to use it in a story. :)

  16. Excellent points on setting, Cara! Especially the importance of showing our settings through the POV character's eyes. What they see would certainly vary depending upon circumstance and mood. Amazing how much setting can bring to our stories!

    I usually set my books in small Midwestern towns. It's what I know and I love the idea of close knit communities. Though that's not always what my characters experience. :-)

    The book I'm writing now is set on a ranch in Texas in 1888. Talk about research! Still, I'm learning that a ranch is a small town in many ways.

    Love your latest cover, Cara! Newport is fascinating, but the Adirondack Mountains will be a fun setting to explore.


  17. Hi Cara!

    I love the settings of your books. When I was very young my family attended a conference in a seaside town in New Jersey. The old mansions had been turned into boarding houses/hotels, and I was fascinated by them.

    But even more, I've always been intrigued by those Adirondack summer homes. As much as I love the ocean, this mid-western gal appreciates the north woods more!

    I chose the setting for my book because I wanted to tell a bit of my grandmother's story - so the time and place were a given. I still did (and am still doing) a lot of research on the area, and visit whenever I can (my parents live there....).

    I enjoy reading books where the setting is an important part of the story. I just finished one that was set right outside Denver, so you had ranches and the city, but I was disappointed that the author didn't play on the mountains more. You'd think such a dramatic backdrop would be mentioned at least once, wouldn't you?

    Thanks for the breakfast, Ruthy! You're right. Those biscuits are to die for :)

    And please put my name in for the drawing!

  18. Excellent post, Cara! Setting can be something that really makes your story linger in a reader's mind. Almost like another character.

    I like to set my stories in places I've been if at all possible--places I'm drawn to.

    Currently I'm starting my 5th book set in the same fictional small town in the mountain country of Arizona. So for each book I try to touch on places that were in previous books to anchor readers with a sense of familiarity, then branch out to highlight some other aspect of the community.

    I think it's important not only for the reader to "see" the setting but, as you mentioned, to FEEL it. To touch it, taste it, smell it, hear it, experience it.

  19. I agree about the beautiful cover! The Newport mansions are so incredibly over-the-top I can't really get my mind around it. But it's always fun *pretending* you're one of the wealthy...

    I can definitely appreciate the beauty of the Adirondacks, where we go camping in the summer. Those rustic benches bring good memories!!!

    Please enter me in the drawing! Best wishes on the success of your book.


  20. By the way, if you can't go to the locale of your story setting, always remember that Diana Gabaldon wrote her best-selling "Outlander" BEFORE she'd ever been to Scotland! She did very thorough research and it's evident in the accurate and evocative way she portrayed that beautiful, rugged region.

  21. Hi, Cara!

    I've found that I discover my characters before my setting - and so far, they've all been based on real people, so I don't have as much choice with setting (e.g. biblical fiction). Lots of research for me!

    Great post :)

    And go ahead and enter me. joanne(at) joannesher (dot) com

  22. I love hearing about your inspiration. Your books are womderful. Love you!

  23. Thanks for the tour of the gilded age and your New England settings, Cara! I love Medieval Europe, so that's where I set my stories. I have two other settings that I very much love that are completely different from Medieval Europe--late 1800's Alabama and Regency England. We shall see if I get to linger in those settings the way I've lingered in Medieval Europe.

  24. I'm from the Chicago suburbs. I adore Chicago, and that's where my stories are set. In my current one, my hero and heroine live on Michigan Avenue and have have a view of beautiful Grant Park, Millennium Park, and Lake Michigan.

    Yes, that's where I'd live for a couple years, if I could.

    I am finding that it makes a huge difference to have a setting in a place I know and love to death. Already my book is so much stronger than my last one.

    Here's a question, though. It seems like most of Christian fiction is set in small towns. Is there a bias against big cities and more urban settings?

  25. Wonderful post, as always Cara!

    So far, pretty much everything I've written is set in a fictional version of my town [mostly, anyway]. It's big enough that they're not just running into each other but small enough that they can all go to the same [good sized] church and characters from other books can pop in and out. I love that.

    In my Speedbo, for instance, the 15yo daughter babysits for the h/h from my first book [the one that's doing well in the contest circuit right now], but if you don't know them, that's fine. The mentor couple from that first one tends to pop up as a mentor [either in a major or minor role] in the other ones, too.

    Anyway... today is our 15th anniversary so here's cake for everyone to munch on throughout the day! AND someone GAVE us tickets to the STL Cardinals game tonight [really good seats] so we're headed up I44 and will wave at Julie as we fly by. Plus we got the new car Tuesday so gas mileage is cut nearly in half and we're not nearly as worried about the engine [or rear axle] falling out on the way. ;)

    Would LOVE the chance to win!!

  26. Great post, Cara. I go with settings that make me warm and happy. Places I know of or have lived or traveled to.

  27. Kav - often it's easier to do a fictional town if the setting isn't a big city.

    When you use an actual living breathing community, you have to be careful to get every single turn and twist of the streets and businesses accurate or you'll hear from readers. And you have to be extremely careful that you don't portray any of it in a negative light. So you wouldn't want to make allusions to the mayor or a policeman in your book being a crook even if you didn't name the actual people. You wouldn't want there to be a contoversy in the community about something that real-life locals might object to. Things like that. A fictional town simplifies things immensely as you're pretty much free to portray it, the people, the politics however you wish.

    But if it's hard to create an entirely "imaginary" town in your mind, just base your town on a REAL town. Change a few tell-tale details and name it something else and you're good to go.

    My "Canyon Springs" is a fictional community. I'm familiar with the area I set it in and the types of towns and businesses that are common there. I know the terrain, what the economy is based on, the "feel" for the place. So I combined that with small towns I grew up in and voila!--Canyon Springs, where I'm free to have a city councilman be an old curmudgeon or the local banker be a crook or whatever.

    I personally think setting is as important in a contemporary as an historical. It anchors your characters in time and place and lends a sense of authencity.

    With historicals, however, the research is usually much more in-depth just because most of us aren't familiar with all the details of living life a hundred or more years ago. We have to accurately present that to readers--whereas in my modern day setting I don't have to researh what you do at a gas station or how to use a cell phone or explain most items of clothing or other contemporary things like that. Readers know it already.

    I've been told that my contemporary Canyon Springs setting plays a part in the charm of the stories. (I think Vince wants to vacation there! )

  28. Hello, Rose! I've heard the Gilded Age has become a more popular time period than it used to be. It really wasn't too long ago when historicals weren't read very much. I'm lucky that changed.

    Kav, I don't know if more readers prefer stories being set in the US than in Canada, but I'd definitely like to read a book with a Canadian setting. I used to live 5 miles from the Quebec border in the summer when we lived in Vermont.

    My editor wanted me to use a real place so I did. But I'd be just as happy with designing my own town. That said, some places are unique (like Newport) and I wanted to write about the real place.

  29. Jeanne, I don't think setting has to become as important as a character. It's just something I like to write. We're all different and we each picture our stories differently. I often pick the setting first, then the plot (vaguely) and then the characters. I don't do it in that order on purpose. It's just how it comes to me.

  30. Connie, I meant to direct my above comment to you. Sorry.

    Jeanne, I agree it's a good idea to write the familiar when you're writing your first few books because there are so many other things to learn and concentrate on.

  31. You're so right about reasons TO use a real place Cara. And especially in historicals you sure wouldn't want to have your heroine witnessing the classic gunfight at the OK Corral in Palm Springs. :)

  32. Cara,

    LOL. It's not a mental choice to not zoom in on the setting. Unlike a lot of historical readers, I tend to skim description. Since so many readers enjoy being whisked away to another time and place, I really need to concentrate on setting more.

    I so need to be reminded of this. Thanks.

  33. Setting is so important to me.

    I write historicals that take place in Texas in the 1880s. My choice of setting came about because of my love of local history and my curiosity about what kind of people and events made this the place I now know. My 'invented' town is based on (and a blended version of) several real places ... and tons and tons of research. You should see the maps I've drawn of my town as it grows :-) The emerging town and times shape my characters even as they shape the town and times. Majorly exciting to watch what's happening.

    Setting is important to me as a reader, especially when I have experienced the locale. Your mention of Newport brings back vivid memories of my visit there -- and the realization I don't like the sound of surf because, for me, it sounds too much like the tree leaves when there's high wind here :-) Ruthy's mention of the NY mountains calls to mind my stunned reaction to the incredible beauty of the Hudson and the cliffs and wow, those lovely wooded mountains.

    I appreciate the effort a writer goes through to establish setting so I can 'visit'-- through their words -- places I've never been.

    Thanks for a thought-stirring post, Cara!

    Nancy C

  34. Hi Cara, What a great topic from you because I just LOVE the settings in your books. They come alive with the history and characters.

    I agree with the cover of your latest. Well I liked all the covers really. They really give the flavor of the era you write about.

    Thanks Ruthy for the yummy breakfast. I was hungry.

    I like to write about places I've been. And I guess my favorite settings are in the West since that is where I hang the most.

    My new release coming out in December is set on a steamboat cruise up the Mississippi. DH and I won a trip to New Orleans so we booked a cruise up the Mississippi and had a terrific time. Talk about historical settings. Anyway I interviewed all the crew members (they thought that was a kick) and wrote Current of Love. So fun.

  35. Glynna, Love your points about a fictional town. So important to not offend the locals of a real town. LOL

    And being an Arizonan, I really relate to the settings of your books.

  36. Janet, I've thought about setting a book in a small mid-western town. But I hesitate because I don't know if it's similar to or really different than small New England towns. When you live in a place you often don't notice it's characteristics and how they compare to other places.

  37. Carol -- Happy Anniversary!

    Janet -- Really? Your latest setting is an 1888 Texas ranch? Yippy! My favorite decade and locale. Write, write, write, pretty please. I wanna read it :-)

    Nancy C

  38. Jan, I've heard the New Jersey shore is beautiful. I've never been there, but some of my friends go every summer. Wish I could.

    Glynna, I love to read about the southwest because I've only driven through the area. I never lived there except for San Diego and that's probably not typical. I do remember it was HOT driving through Tucson, Arizona in July without A/C in the car. I was young then and used to more discomfort than I was now!

  39. I love your settings, Cara! And you are so skilled at painting in the details in a way that enhances the story and really pulls the reader in.

    The books I'm working on now for my historical series are all set in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we've been vacationing since the mid-80s. I just spent another week there and visited at length with the helpful folks at the historical society. They pulled out maps, newspaper articles, photographs, and all sorts of interesting stuff related to the time period I'm writing about!

    Worst problem? The temptation to scurry down innumerable fascinating rabbit trails that would ultimately have nothing to do with my story!

  40. HAHAHAHA Myra, I know that rabbit trail so well.

  41. I love reading a novel set someplace I've not been. :) The Adirondack luxury camps sound so intriguing.

    I've set books all over, MN, CO, ID, KS, CA, WY. The current WIP is TX. I guess, I tend to stick to the middle of the country, but since I've never been east of Pittsburgh or west of Cheyenne, that makes sense.

    Love the cover of your new book, Cara. :)

  42. Hi Cara! What a great post. Thank you. Loved the pictures too. I'm hooked and ready for your book. Mona

  43. "Worst problem? The temptation to scurry down innumerable fascinating rabbit trails that would ultimately have nothing to do with my story!"

    Myra, I just call those bunny hops books 2, 3 and 4!

    Peace, Julie

  44. Hi, Cara. Loved your post. Interesting and thought-provoking, both on setting and the character class issues.

    In my writing, I'm drawn to settings that have some special historical aspect. Even though I've been living with a contemp ms. forever, it's the mixture of history and setting that intrigues me.

    And I'm with you on that paper mill! Yikes, what a smell.

  45. Hi Cara,

    I had the same problem as Kav when I started writing - no one wanted Canadian settings. So I invented small towns in North Dakota, and in the finger lakes area of New York. My historical ms is set in a real area and a real mansion in Derbyshire, England (based on my ancestor research). Someday I want to get there!

    It does take a lot of research, but it's worth it.

    We are heading to Wildwood, New Jersey for a vacation this year. I used to go there every summer as a kid with my grandparents, so it will be fun to see what changes have happened in the past many years. They have great beaches there and the boardwalk is so fun! Will have to take lots of pictures and notes!

    Happy Anniversary, Carol! Mine is tomorrow - 27 years! Time just flies by, doesn't it?


  46. My lighthouse novel is set in Camden, Maine. I searched a long time to find a lighthouse on an island, not far from a town before I found Curtis Island lighthouse. During the time period of my novel, it was called Negro Island. I had so much fun visiting the town and island for research.

    My new novel is set in Burrton Springs, Kansas. A fictitious town, but patterned after the area I visited in Kansas - Burrton.

    Congratulations on your new book.

    Jodie Wolfe

  47. Hey, CARA, fun topic!! And I LOVE the feel of your new series, my friend -- it makes me want to go there with you in your book, which is what I hope it does for your readers as well.

    Like you, I am fascinated by the Gilded Age period, which is one of the reasons I am excited about my new series in 1902 San Francisco as well as Marcy and Patrick's prequel, smack dab in the middle of the 1890s. But I have to admit, I would have preferred setting my San Francisco series in the early 1930s, where I originally proposed it, simply because I was very comfortable with (and intrigue by) that era after ending the O'Connor saga at that time. Regrettably, I was told by my publisher that statistically, the 1920s and 30s are not top-selling eras to write about in the CBA, given the Great Depression and lull before the glamor and glory of WWII. As a result, they asked me to change my setting to early 1900s, which I did and am enjoying immensely, I'm happy to say.

    That said, I tend to like an era and setting that is unique and a bit different from most of the things I'm currently reading as well as a setting that triggers my hot button since I'm the one who has to be excited about writing it, after all. But ... it is nice to know that we can warm up to any setting with enough research and exposure to it through writing the story.


  48. Emily, I'd love to be able to camp in the Adirondacks. Unfortunately, they're awfully far from Florida, even north Florida! We used to camp in the Vermont mountains a lot, but now we camp on the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama. It's brutally hot in the summer, but the beaches are great.

    Joanne, I'm in awe of anyone who can write Biblical fiction. That must take a huge amount of research!

  49. Jillian, thanks for stopping by!

    Melanie, I'd love to read a book set in the late 1800s in Alabama. You could stay in your own back yard to do research. Or set one on the Gulf, come down here for research and we could have lunch!

  50. Carol, I like my characters in one book to make cameo appearances in another book. Sometimes readers ask if some minor character will have their own book. The answer is no, but instead they'll pop up again so a reader can see what happens to then a year or two later.

    Happy Anniversary and thanks for the cake!!! Have a great time at the game.

  51. Tina, I go with places I like, too. I'm afraid of setting a story in Outer Mongolia because I know it's just too unfamiliar to me and I wouldn't do a good job with it.

    Glynna, I agree fictional towns are easier to write about. No one is going to tell you you have the details wrong unless you put a rain forest in Arizona or a dessert in Vermont.

  52. Connie, lots of readers skim the setting. That's why it's important not to write it in big blocks. Weave it in and then readers probably won't skip as much.

    Nancy, the surf is really noisy! Books let you experience different places without the drawbacks!

  53. Hi Cara! I love your descriptions of the setting in the Adirondacks, and I am very much looking forward to your new book. I though you did a marvelous job on the Newport series!

    In my first novel, th setting is a fictional small town in Nebraska that jsut "came to me." I imagined this town so vividly that I've had to tone it down a bit in places, because the town has become almost too overwhelming a character!

    My other novel I'm working on is a story I thought of first, then chose a setting. I wanted to write a Biblically-based story in another setting (a la Liz Curtis Higg's Scottish trilogy of the Jacob-Leah-Rachel triangle) so I chose the story of Rahab (easy, yeah, I know!). I was trying to think of eras to set it in, and thought about how much I love the World War II era. So, I've been researching and reading and fitting my Rahab story into World War II Germany as the Americans are invading Europe. It's been fascinating research! However, I have to make sure my setting doesn't overwhelm Rahab's story of courage and God's grace.

    Love to win your book!

    stephludwig at hotmail dot com

  54. Love your books and their settings, Cara! The pics were great, as was the information you provided. The rustic lake cabins remind me of Germany, especially the Black Forest region.

    I created a military post in South Georgia and named it Fort Rickman for my Military Investigations series. Freemont is the nearby small town. It's been fun exploring the town and military post in the various stories. The one I'm brainstorming now will include scenes at a nearby State Park.

  55. Just had to share some good news I received today. I had very positive feedback from judges in a contest I entered, and I also found out I was accepted into the Craftsman fiction course with Christian Writers Guild starting in November. I'm so excited!!! Talk about a roller coaster week of emotions!

    Jodie Wolfe

  56. Love these pictures!! And setting is really important to me, ebcause I always want to know what my characters are seeing and feeling... Especially where they live.

  57. Setting almost is the story in my latest series. A fictionalized Carlsbad Cavern is what propells the story, shapes the characters personalities and provides a huge slice of the atmosphere.

    Before that I wrote Deep Trouble set in the Grand Canyon, that was a huge factor in that. The rugged mountain passes Belle Tanner traversed to get her cattle to market framed The Husband Tree.

    The fact that they were so isolated in Montana Rose forced the heroine to accept the hero's proposal. She had few options and he was the least dreadful...not a happy way to begin a marriage.

    In Calico Canyon, the h/h getting snowed in together, after a forced marriage, along with the heroes five unruly sons who all HATED the heroine, their worst enemy, their dreaded school teacher, trapped them all into learning to get along.

  58. Hi, Janet! Thanks for stopping by. I'll see you tomorrow at B&N.

    Sandra, I think the Mississippi River boat cruises were discontinued for a while, but they started up again. They weren't cheap!!!

  59. Myra, it's funny but I thought of setting a story in Hot Springs, but I don't think my Gilded Age cast of characters would venture that far from the east coast. So I'll leave it to you.

    Erica, nothing wrong with setting your books in your area of the country. But research is always a good reason or excuse for a trip.

    Hi, Mona! Thanks for coming by.

  60. Hi Cara,
    I have learned so much just from reading stories about different places and times. I agree with both Julies.
    I love the Nebraska Sandhills I think they will always figure heavily in my books. And the Black Hills, love the Black Hills.
    We have puppies!! (Had to fit that in somewhere) Dogs will always figure heavily in my books too.
    How much do I want to tell about something people don't know about? Most people don't know about the Sandhills, well, Mary does I'm sure, but I don't want the stories to turn into a travelog, or a geography lesson, still that stuff is interesting to me. Also food, some books people never eat at all some go in to detail about many meals. Which is better?
    Speaking of food, I will share the extra mints from my son's graduation reception. White leaves clove flavored and blue stars, cinnamon. My sister made them they are wonderful. They will go well with Carol's cake.

  61. Loved your post, Cara! Settings are very important to me both as a writer and a reader. Since I love the coast, mountains, and small towns those are my favorite areas to set a story in (and to read a story set there). ~ The Gilded Age was definitely an intriguing time! Being a Georgia native and having family vacations at our Jekyll Island every year, I've enjoyed learning about the millionaires who vacationed there (in their "cottages" LOL) many years ago. ~ I've never visited Rhode Island but would love to someday--sounds like a lovely area. Blessings, Patti Jo

  62. p.s. The Grammar Queen sent my copy of THE SYNONYM FINDER in the mail and I am SUPER excited!!! Wow! An excellent resource that I'll use a LOT! Thanks GQ (Myra!). ~ Hugs, PJ

  63. Great post with lots of insight!

    Setting is something I've been itching to grab a better hold of lately. The beauty of the world around me and what is beyond just the walls of my town has begun to excite me. What sort of culture and history abounds across the ocean?
    With this new-found urge to explore the corners of the earth, I have recently taken quite an interest in setting. My ideal goal for life after college is to travel to an exotic location, learn as much about it while I am there and craft a story around the location while I wander around.

    As a reader, when a location in a book is real to life, it draws me in. I want to learn as much about that place as possible.

    Because I enjoy that in reading books, I want to utilize that appreciation into my writing as well! :)

    Because I also love writing fantasy, this brings up a whole new conversation. Creating new worlds in my mind is quite an undertaking -- but also a magnificent adventure, too. In fact, you can take as many small and unique features of various places on this earth and mold them into together into a fantastical new world. It's fun taking little things that intrigue you from this world and bringing them to a whole new level.

  64. Better late than never, right, Patti Jo? Glad it arrived in good order!

  65. Very late arriving. Worked outside in flowerbeds. So excited to see some small tomatoes making an appearance! Sad I missed out on Ruthy's breakfast...*sniff.

    Ruthy, you don't have anything to snack on, do you?? (smile)

    Cara, this post was perfect timing! This is exactly what I needed to read!Thank you. I've never been to Rhode Is. or VT.

    Mine is set out West. A contemporary setting. A little fictional town outside from CO Springs. Since it has been years ago that I was there, I will need to update my information. It is not a historical one. I hope in the future to write one.

    Also note that after my dh's medical illness(he's doing much better), travelling is not in the budget. So gathering the research info, is it only online or the library? Are those my only options to make my setting more believable? As one opening up this dusty dream to write again, I'm looking for tips. {Praying that I will be able to go to the conference this year.}

    Happy Anniversary, Carol!! :)

    ~~waving at Julie L & "hellos" to everyone :)

    Mary Conneally, love the Grand Canyon! I've been to Carlsbad as a kid and can't wait to read your book.

    I have coffee brewing, sweet tea, and I can make hot tea, if you desire. Help yourself, please.

    Thank you again, Cara.

  66. Hi, PattiJo!

    Jekyll Is? Fascinating! I'd like to hear more on it.
    Still praying for Aussie friend. I might skip on over to WoP too.

  67. Myra and Julie, I never found a rabbit trail/bunny hop I didn't want to run down!

    Susan, Happy Anniversary in advance! As I mentioned before, I think Canada would be a wonderful setting.

    Debby, Happy birthday!

    Stephanie, WW2 is such an exciting and emotional time frame. I think it's popular right now. It is with me.

  68. Congratulations, Jodie! Enjoy your course.

    Virginia, I'm glad you liked the pictures. There were so many great ones to choose from.

    Mary, your settings are always very vivid and rugged. Have you been to all the places you've written about?

  69. Mary Cline, congratulations on your son's graduation! Thanks for the delicious mints. I'm sure they won't spoil my supper.

    I'll have to include my dog (the family dog) in one of my books. He deserves to be mentioned. Sparky is a cute Papillon.

    Patti Jo, I'll have to check out Jekyll Island. I'm always looking for new and beautiful settings.

  70. Tippie, I love to travel too, although I don't get many opportunities any more. Don't pass any by!

    Miriam, look through travel books and contact the local Chamber of Commerce. I often get used book through Amazon. Some are really cheap. Ask your librarian for suggestions because they have lots of resources.

  71. That would be fun, Cara! I could see you and Beth White at the same time!!! What blissful conversations we could have, touring historical sites around Mobile! :-)

  72. Hey, snack????

    Yes, I do!

    Homemade (by homemade I mean Duncan Hines, LOL!) dark chocolate fudge cake with real home made buttercream icing...


    It's so delicious! I brought plenty for everyone.

    I'm laughing at Mary's settings, which are really more people than rugged landscape. She writes such vivid jump-off-the-page people that you can't help but kind of backpage the setting because the people are just so real.

    And fun.

    And hunky.

    And ready to do whatever must be done.

    Love those heroines!

    Cara kind of sidles her people in, a little more class and restraint, perfect for her Gilded Age settings. What a wonderful balance these women strike, of putting the right character with the balance of setting and emotion.

    Love it, ladies!

    Hey, I've got a cooler of Cokes, too.

    Help yourself, chickies!

  73. Melanie, come south and we'll all go to lunch. I do have lunch with Beth every few months.

    Ruthy, I think it's fun how writers are all so different, yet in many ways so much the same.

  74. Cara, I love you settings!! And it's so fun to see photos of the real place and places like it.

    I especially like your storefront photo. It looks like a lot of towns around here that I write about. :)

  75. Hi, Missy! My storefronts in the small town picture reminded me of the town I lived in in Vermont. I like small towns a lot. I wonder if small towns are a bit generic--they have many of the same characteristics no matter where they're located.

  76. (Not signed in right now to my blog) Miriam--

    Thank you, Ruthy! You make a delicious & moist cake! Just had to come back to thank you!!

  77. Cara, loved this post today.

    Setting is very important to me.
    Most of my stories are set in small towns, ranches, or on the trail, wilderness.

    In Stealing Jake, it's a small town set in the dead of winter in Illinois (brrr!) in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

    I fell into writing this season because I developed a proposal for a Christmas novella for Tyndale years ago. I probably wouldn't have ever chosen to write a novel set in winter otherwise. But I loved it!

    And, uh, I live in Mississippi and have never seen over an inch or two of snow, except in pictures and on tv.

  78. Thank you, Cara!!!

    Patti Jo is right. Jekyll is fascinating and fun. So least it was until the recent renovation took place. Not sure what it's like now.

  79. Setting certainly adds another element.

    I would love to read A PATH TOWARD LOVE


  80. I would love to win your book Cara!

    My e-mail is

  81. Intriguing questions and "rambling" about setting. :)

    I would love to enter the giveaway! Thanks!

  82. Hi Cara!

    I just wrote a post today on setting and then browsed the internet to stumble across your post. It's interesting to learn how different writers come up with not only their ideas but where they set their stories.

    And like you mention, it needs to be a place you'll want to live for a few months--vicariously, that is. I had a story set in Texas that I worked on for weeks--research, synopsis and chapters. Then we went through that terrible drought last summer and I couldn't stand to be in Texas anymore. I wanted out. Nor did I want to spend time here in the proposal I was working on. So I dropped that story for a while and set my mind in the Pacific Northwest--that proposal is being shopped around right now.

    Just think it's funny how we writers do live in the story world!


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