When I first started writing, I believed the best thing to do was to set my stories in a town I made up. That way, I could control everything, from the businesses lining Main Street right down to the weather patterns. Sometimes, this really is the best way to go. But with my last two novels, I found some fabulous benefits to using honest-to-goodness, real life locations.
They come with a built-in emotional connection.
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie set in a place you were familiar with? Or even better, in your hometown? Didn’t it give you a little zing when you realized you knew exactly what the author was describing? You’d driven down that street, or eaten in the same coffee shop as the main character. That kind of instant emotional connection is priceless.
Even if it’s a location the reader has never been, you can achieve the same results. In my novel, The Mother Road, about a third of the book takes place on Route 66. Most folks in North America are at least familiar with the iconic stretch of highway, even if they’ve never driven it themselves, and have an idyllic image of what that road trip might be like.
The details have already been worked out for you.
While creating a town from scratch has its perks, it can also be exhausting. How big is the town? What kind of plant life is indigenous to the area? What style is the architecture? The questions are endless. When you use a real, already-on-the-map location, it’s been decided for you. Of course, you need to have that information at the ready so you can weave it into your story. Which brings us to the next point…
Research is easier than ever.
Once upon a time, you really needed to visit a location to be able to get a feel for it. While there’s no substitute for the hands-on approach, it’s no longer the only way. The Internet has opened up the world. When I was researching Route 66, the web was my best friend. Blog posts, websites, and articles all provided valuable information. In one scene, Natalie and her sister order a meal in The Road Kill Café. I knew they had some colorful names for the food options and I wanted to make sure I got them right. So I did an image search on Google for “Road Kill Café Menu” and found several menu pictures that were clear enough for me to read. Now, instead of merely ordering a petit steak and fried chicken, my characters dine on Long Gone Fawn and The Chicken that Almost Crossed the Road. Much more fun.
Another oft ignored research tool is YouTube. People love to post vacation videos, and while they may not be exciting from a Travel Channel standpoint, they are incredibly useful when you want to see what a location looks like. The same goes for Google Earth. In most cases, you can get a street view of exactly where your character might be standing at any given moment.
So once you know everything there is to know about the location of your novel, how closely do you need to stick to the facts? Must every stop light, mailbox, and gas station actually exist in real life? Or are you able to fudge it a little? Honestly… that depends on the story. With a location like Route 66, that is so beloved and documented, it was important to me to keep it 100% real. There isn’t a spot that I took my characters to along that road that doesn’t exist: the Oatman Hotel, Granny’s Closet, the Blue Swallow Hotel, Wigwam Village… you can visit any one of them right now.
When you’re dealing with less iconic venues, you have more leeway. I set my latest novel, A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, in Monrovia, California. Why Monrovia? Initially, it was for the sake of expediency. I had a very short deadline with AWGCC, and I didn’t have time to create a town from scratch. For years, I lived in and around Monrovia, so I’m very familiar with it. As it turned out, Monrovia was the perfect place to set my story. The more I wrote, the more it all fell into place, and the happier I got.
Even though I was able to use a lot of real life local color – Izzy’s craftsman style home, the Old Towne Street Fair, the YMCA – there were some things I needed to make up. For example, Max Logan, my hunky museum curator, needed a museum to curate. Now, there are museums in Monrovia, but not wanting to step on any cultural toes, I decided to create one of my own. So I let Max work at the California Pioneer Museum in nearby Pasadena. Another real town, but a made up museum.
It’s an awful lot of fun weaving fact into fiction. And if you do it right, no one will even stop to wonder which is which.
About the book - Upon her grandmother's death, Izzy Fontaine finds herself in possession of a Wild Goose Chase quilt that supposedly leads to a great treasure. Of course, once the rest of the family finds out about it, they're determined to have a go at the treasure themselves. And, if that weren't enough, local museum curator Max Logan claims that Grandma Isabella promised the quilt to him. What is it about this quilt that makes everyone want it? Is Izzy on a wild goose chase of her own, or a journey that will lead her to the treasure Gran intended?
Bio – Jennifer AlLee believes the most important thing a woman can do is find her identity in God – a theme that carries throughout her novels. These include The Love of His Brother (Five Star, 11/07), The Pastor’s Wife (Abingdon Press, 2/10), The Mother Road (Abingdon Press, 4/12) and A Wild Goose Chase Christmas (Abingdon Press, 11/12). She's thrilled to be working on her first historical series with the amazing Lisa Karon Richardson. Diamond in the Rough is the first book in the Charm and Deceit series, to be released in 2013 by Whitaker House. And, as if that's not enough, her novella Comfort & Joy will appear in the Christmas anthology, Mistletoe Memories (Barbour, 9/13). She's a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Christian Authors Network, and the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. Visit Jennifer's website at www.jenniferallee.com
Ruthy here! Jennifer has graciously offered to give away 3 copies of A Wild Goose Chase Christmas today! Leave a comment to be entered and we'll announce winners in the Weekend Edition... Also, fresh coffee inside... A selection of creamers for your discriminating palate... And donuts which we should not be eating because we should be STARVING ourselves to get slightly thinner before Christmas: A pre-emptive strike, very Seal Team 6-friendly, right???? Come on in, grab virtual food and bless you for being here today!