Thursday, December 27, 2012

USING LOCAL COLOR TO ENHANCE FICTION


Thanks for visiting us again in Seekerville, Fran! Fran McNabb is a Montlake author who published four sweet romance novels with Avalon. Her newest release is WINDSWEPT.

After growing up along the beaches and islands of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, Fran McNabb earned both her bachelor of science and master of education degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi. Over the years, she has taught English and journalism as well as presided over writing workshops. This love of the English language prompted her to pen sweet, engaging romances, most of which set along her native coastline. Today she lives on a quiet bayou harbor with her husband.


First I want to thank Cara Lynn James for inviting me to participate once again in the Seekerville blog. Cara and I have become great friends through our writing and spend quite a lot of time on the telephone bemoaning our writing problems and celebrating our writing successes. Everyone needs a friend like Cara, and it is because of that closeness that I dedicated my latest book to her. As I say in the dedication of WINDSWEPT, Cara always has a moment to listen. (She didn’t know I had dedicated this book to her when we talked about my being on the blog.) So thank you, Cara.

Today I’m writing about local color. I’m using the term loosely because as a former English teacher, I realize the Local Color Period refers to a specific time with definite characteristics. Today I want to talk about enhancing our writing by using what we will call local color.

We’ve all heard that writers should write what they know. This statement makes sense because when by doing so, authors can capture more than simple, surface facts. Anyone can find descriptions of an area by looking online and or by picking up bits and pieces of information in books, but to capture the feeling of the area, I think one has to have experienced it firsthand. The swaying of marsh grass in a bayou is something an author would want to put in a book if her character is traveling through a bayou channel on a boat or if her hero and heroine are sitting on a pier, but what about the less obvious, such as the smell of the bayou mud during low tide or the pesky mosquitos and flies during certain times of the year? This is part of what I call local color. Setting should always be important to a story, and by adding those things that locals experience, I think the writing comes alive for the reader.

Local color is more than simply describing what is seen and felt. What takes place in your story? Is it something that can happen anywhere in the world or is it particular to a specific spot? Authors who can capture the traditions and cultures of an area are more likely to have stories and characters that live and breathe. Why do characters do the things they do? How do they feel when doing those things?

In one of my books, I used a small hurricane to bring the hero and heroine together. If an author has never been through a hurricane, it might be difficult to capture the intensity of feelings during the preparations. If your heroine must evacuate, what does she take? Does she pick up family pictures or computers or items given to her by her children, decisions that must be made by those trying to escape a disaster. Delving into the reasons behind character’s actions gives insight into both the character and also the area in general.

Do your characters celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah in your book? How is it different from other area of the world? In my stories, if the characters sit down for Christmas brunch, they probably will have gumbo and potato salad. For dessert, they might nibble on a pusherata (a Yugoslavian pastry). A strange meal on Christmas morning? Not in my area of the world. My most wonderful memories of Christmas is being at my parent’s small home for an early brunch shared with friends and family who dropped in early to start their Christmas morning with Mom’s tasty gumbo.

If an author consciously or unconsciously writes local color, I’ll bet the reader will experience some degree of nostalgia, a theme found in the great Local Color writers such as Mark Twain. A sense of community and the way people strive to retain that feeling can only be felt by authors who have experienced the area they’re writing about.

Yes, it’s feasible to capture that same feeling even when an author writes about a different area from where she was reared, but usually those books involve some universal element that can be transferred. My latest book, WINDSWEPT, is set in 1837 Key West, FL. I’m not from Key West and have only visited it twice, but I felt something when I was there, something that transferred from my experience of living along the coast to this small island. When I visited the Wreckers’ Museum there, I was mesmerized with the history of the period and didn’t want to leave the museum. WINDSWEPT was easy to write because I felt the period. I could see myself walking the streets of Key West in the Nineteenth Century. I felt my heroine’s loneliness and fear as her ship was wrecked along the Florida reefs (no, I’ve never been shipwrecked, but I’ve been caught on the water in horrible weather), and I knew the sorrow of my hero from losing his family.

Writers should dig deep within themselves for inspiration for their books. They use what they know and hope their readers can experience some of the local color of the area they’re trying to capture. If they don’t, how can their stories come alive?


Cara again. Fran is giving away a copy of WINDSWEPT today. The winner can choose either a print or electronic copy. If you’d like to be in the drawing please leave your e-mail address with your comment.

En route to marry the fiancé handpicked by her father, Virginia Ames gets shipwrecked off the coast of the beautiful Florida Keys. Her rescuer, the dashing Captain Slader, is a wrecker who specializes in salvaging cargo from sunken vessels. As a native New Englander, Virginia grew up in wealth but felt most comfortable on the docks, among the ships. This special connection to the sea is one of the few things the privileged heiress and the rugged captain share. But mixed with the captain’s handsome looks, could this passion be enough to drive Virginia’s marriage plans off course?

Captain John Slader is no stranger to the winds of change himself. He’d once lost the thing he held most dear: his family. But now that those same winds have sent him the lovely Virginia, will he risk his heart yet again? Virginia’s fiancé, an up-and-coming politician, may be able to offer her a world of wealth and comfort—but could he cherish her as John would, with a love as boundless as the ocean itself?









69 comments :

  1. I really like this post. It gave me an idea for my current WIP. Thanks so much. :)

    Windswept sounds like a great story - and I love the title!

    nicnac63 AT hotmail DOT com

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  2. Gorgeous cover!

    And love ther heroine's name. :)

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  3. Geez.

    THE heroine's name.

    I get nervous around English teachers.

    And I can't type.

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  4. Oh, what a wonderful cover. I'd grab this book just for that cover alone, but how nice to know your lovely work is inside the pages, Fran!

    (Virginia, English teachers make me nervous too. So does Grammar Queen, so I get passive aggressive, shrug them off and mutter "whatever" because I KNOW they're smarter than me. Than I am. Than....

    Oh, drat. You get it!!!)

    Anyway, I love that image of local color and there's nothing like the images of Southern regions to paint new and different mental pictures for this Yankee.

    Well done! Hey, I brought two half-boxes of candy to share. Save me from myself, PLEASE.

    Also 1/2 of an Italian Cream Cake that is to die for, being offered for the same reasons.

    Hahahahaha! Of course you would love the name, Ginny-Lou-Who! I love that he's loving her with a love as boundless as the ocean itself... I am going to read that line to Dave and see what he has to say for himself.

    Pshaw.

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  5. Oh yes, that cover is beautiful!

    You're so right about local color, Fran. My novels are set in places I've lived or visited. I'd be at a loss to write about the Mississippi coast or the Florida Keys, but a winter morning in Indiana or a summer evening in the Northern Plains? Those are easy.

    And I've read those books where the author has depended only on maps and Google street views. Sometimes you have to rely on those research gems, but the story loses some authenticity.

    Cara, thank you for bringing Fran today!

    And Ruthy, I'm not touching your candy. I'm sneaking some of my own stash into your half empty boxes.

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  6. Cheryl, you made my morning by telling me I gave you an idea for your WIP! Thanks.

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  7. Oh my! Fran and Cara, please put me in the drawing. A ship, a historical dress on the cover? I'm all over that!

    I'd like to recommend a series where setting is done in just such a superb manner= the Sanctuary Point Series by Nike Chillemi. Setting is 1940s Long Island. Oh my, she does a great job!

    I have to say part of my love for historicals is that if I want to 'go away' in a book, I want to go far away. Of course, setting is just as important in contemporaries and kudos to the Seekers who have shifted me in place if not time!

    Hey, I heard a chain saw at 6am --waiting to see by daylight what fell where. I still have electric so I'm not in any hurry.

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  8. Ruthy, did you enjoy your red and green olives on Christmas day?


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  9. Virginia and Ruth, please don't let English teachers intimidate you, especially old, retired ones! I have to get my husband to proof my work before sending it to anyone else to read. He finds all kinds of embarrassing mistakes.

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  10. Jan, a winter morning in Indiana sounds beautiful. I couldn't write about that. This morning along the Gulf Coast it's in the 30's. Brrrr. I thought that was cold until I looked at the weather and saw what you gals up north are dealing with this morning. Stay warm.

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  11. Debra, I write contemporary romances as well, but, like you, I love to get lost in another time with a good historical romance.
    Thanks for the comment.

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  12. Aw, Fran, you're really too stinkin' cute to intimidate me or Ginny...

    She pretends well!

    And I love getting to know the ins and outs of places I write about, cities/towns/lakeshores....

    I've got experience with all of them so that's a great launch point... and then to find out what weird sayings/names/oddities peculiar to a place or town or setting.

    Remember in "A Town Like Alice" where the hero was talking about an "abo" painting that was so true to form? And the hero said, "Of course, he was painting his own place."

    His words made you see that no one else would see Willstown and the Outback quite like that aboriginal artist did.

    Fran, this is solid stuff. And the fact that you're nice to Cara means you get double servings of cake.

    (Cara's dieting so you can have hers. Don't be touchin' mine, the lot o' youse!)

    DEB!!! The olives were so festive... still eating them. Delightful little suckers!

    Naturally festive. Poinsettia friendly, LOL!

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  13. Ruthy, I told you before I'll a have a little piece of the Italian cream cake, diet or not. I prefer the not part of dieting.

    Speaking of local color -- Fran and no doubt her characters find 60 degrees in the winter chilly. But she never complains about the temp being in the high 90s during the summer. That's a sign of a southern and part of local color for a book. Notherners, obviously, are just the opposite.

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  14. As a reader I love to be carried away to other places. In fact, I have a bucket list of 'literary' places to visit based on places I've read about in novels. I get such a thrill when an author succeeds in transporting me into a different place and/or a different time.

    I really struggle with setting when I'm writing though. I'm Canadian and there aren't many romance novels set in Canada (yay to Sandra Orchard for putting Ontario on the map in her romantic suspense novels!) I guess I feel like my part of the world is...well...plain ol' ordinary compared to what I read about in books.

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  15. Morning Fran and fellow Avalon turned to Montlake author. Great article and I so agree. I love to instill the local color in my novels.

    And I love the cover of Windswept. Montlake is doing a terrific job with the covers aren't they?

    Have fun today.

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  16. Hi Cara, Thanks for bringing Fran aboard. Love that you two are friends.

    And I'm not touching the candy. We had our big family gathering yesterday so was able to get rid of all of mine. LOL Lots of children to help me out. (Their mothers weren't watching)

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  17. Enjoyed your post this morning Fran and would love to be entered to win a copy of Windswept. Thank you for your generosity.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

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  18. Place is so important to me--and I avoid writing about any place I haven't at least visited.

    Thankfully, I've lived a LOT of places.

    Would love to be in the drawing.

    shakespeare824(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  19. Hey, FRAN, "local color" is SO essential to a book, so I am glad you wrote a blog about it -- EXCELLENT!!

    Since I don't get the opp to travel much, I use the "local color" option in other ways. For instance, I have a scene in my current WIP set in San Francisco 1903 where the hero and heroine eat cioppino on the docks of Meigg's Wharf (now known as Fisherman's Wharf) with the scent of chocolate in the air from the Ghiradelli Factory, which was a block away. I immediately looked up the ingredients for cioppino (a San Fran. specialty begun by Italian fishermen singing opera) and voila! I could imagine the taste and smell of the rich broth. Of course, all I had to do for the chocolate smell was walk to my pantry ... ;)

    WONDERFUL post!!

    Hugs,
    Julie

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  20. Ruth,gee, I haven't been called "cute" in decades!! Again, my day has been brightened.
    And, it's easy to be nice to Cara. She's a sweetie!

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  21. Yes, Cara makes fun of me when I complain about how cold it is in our southern winters! (Hey, Cara!)

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  22. Kav,
    Sometimes we don't see the beauty of our native surroundings. From what my son told me when he worked there, Canada has some breathtaking scenery. Enjoy!

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  23. The book sounds engaging and I would love to win a copy.

    mistyred1968@yahoo.com

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  24. Cindy and Shakespeare, thanks for stopping by and, yes, you definitely will be included in the drawings.

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  25. So happy to have you in Seekerville, Fran! Windswept sounds like a great story. Love the cover.

    It got down below freezing here last night. Brrr. I remembered the time we camped out with the Cub Scouts and almost got our Polar Badges because it was 31-32 degrees. But they have to document the temp UNDER 30 degrees for Polar Bear Badges.

    Looking back, I'm thinking that camping out in 30 degree weather is 1)Crazy unless you're stranded and 2) For much younger folks than I am now.

    Not happening again in this lifetime. No siree!

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  26. Fran, We are neighbors. I'm on the Alabama Gulf Coast. I love adding local flavor. Shrimp Festival. Mardi Gras. Hurricanes. Your depiction of the marsh grass was spot on. Unfortunately so was the mosquitoes.

    Have you considered writing a story set at Bellingrath Gardens? I think a historical set around the antebellum home would be an awesome read. But alas, I write contemporary.

    Enter me bridgetthenson (at) millry (dot) net

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  27. Sandra, yes, I agree that Montlake is doing a good job with the covers. I'm glad you, Virginia, and Ruth like mine. I really love nautical scenes.

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  28. Shrimp festival????

    I'm so there!

    Oh my stars, it is a different world down there. I've never visited either side of the Gulf Coast, but I bet it's rife with stories waiting to be told.

    Hey, Kav, what about the Canadian wilderness? Oh, my friend, do you know my husband still tells tales (probably slightly LONG ones) of the one time he flew in in a tiny plane, in the snow, to fish and hunt in Canada? Crazy conditions, black flies like crazy (May) and we didn't have black flies then and no phone service... no cell phones back then... and he got bit and reacted. I'm pretty sure his arm FELL OFF and was put back on surgically by a moose or maybe it was a black bear, but clearly it was a near-death experience. :)

    You have amazing settings there. Truly inspiring. And some of those could be flipped to be labeled "northern U.S.".... Like the upper reaches of our Northeast are very much like your central forests....

    :)

    Swap names, use what you know!

    (shh... don't tell Fran I said that!!!!)

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  29. I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong, but my name isn't in blue and my pic isn't showing up. (Duh, it certainly can't be the user's fault!!)
    Thanks for being patient with me.

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  30. Misty,
    Thanks for stopping by this chilly morning.

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  31. Pam,
    I'm with you -- Below 30 degrees -- never!

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  32. Bridgett,
    Hi, fellow Coastian! I, too, love Bellingrath Gardens. I agree it would certainly be inspiration for a novel. I've never visited when the azaleas are in full bloom, but that's on my future wishlist. Thanks for stopping by.

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  33. Bridgett, I love Bellingrath Gardens, too! I've only visited in the spring, but I hear the place is gorgeous this time of year with all the lights.

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  34. One of the reasons I try and work as far ahead as possible is, local color. If you're writing a three book series, set in the same place, details keep developing as the town takes shape and minor characters have tiny, passing moments in the book. Not just the General Store, but the NAME of the General Store and who owns it and who they are.
    These things may play next to no role in one book and have slightly bigger moments in later books. So in the later book you create that character a bit, then, if you're working ahead, you can go back and in the passing mention of the store or character, make them three dimensional. Of course you need to still keep that small role, small, but you can do that and make them REAL, too.
    I think this adds such richness to a book.

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  35. When I wrote the Kincaid Brides series it was inspired by a visit to Carlsbad Cavern. That place had a profound affect on me.

    I'd been to the Grand Canyon, too and that was the setting for Deep Trouble. But I'd never been down in it's depths and I couldn't get a feel for what it would be like.
    I ended up buying a First Person non-fiction book written by a man who had hiked the Grand Canyon.
    It was called The Man Who Walked Through Time. And I used a lot of his impressions and emotions, the strange things he saw, and how they impacted him, I had my characters see and be impacted similarly.
    It was strange to read a book and be on the look out for plants/rock/animal references rather than read it for the story.
    So if you're trying to use a location you're not familiar with, you might consider some journal or diary about the place, to get ONE MAN'S opinion.
    And of course you then need to put it in your own words!!!!!!!!
    I also used a book of pictures and a book of trails and I have never written a book where I cross referenced three books like I did with that one.
    And, the final magical touch, I used our own SANDRA who has hiked the Grand Canyon and lives near it.
    It made me want to go there, and go down to the bottom of the canyon, badly!!!
    All the reference books assured me I am too old and fat to survive the hike, though. I appreciate the warning.
    They have actual signs on the more heavily used hiking trails that say some very polite version of, "If you collapse and die on this trail, tough luck."





    I've heard they have helicopters that go down!!! :)

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  36. Fran, welcome back! I really enjoyed your post. I'm already thinking of ways to add more color to my stories. My small town settings is something I often get positive comments on, but not something I really think about much as I write. I imagine I could enhance it if I focus on this aspect while polishing.

    Thanks for the ideas!

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  37. Welcome to Seekerville, Fran! I enjoyed hanging out with you and Cara when she was up for the Golden Heart. Thanks for the excellent post. Fun to be transported to new places in a well researched novel.

    Windswept's cover is lovely and the story sounds terrific! I visited Key West only once but loved the colorful houses and blossoming plants, the gorgeous sunsets and of course, Hemingway's house. It's quite a drive to get there but well worth the trip.

    Janet

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  38. Great post and perfect timing. My current wip takes place in an historical town near my home. We paid a visit there this past summer and when the tour guide found out about the book project he loaded tons of information onto my USB. I'm still sorting through it. There must be a copy of every picture and news article ever written dating back to the mid 1800's. Priceless

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  39. Sounds like an interesting book and I would really love to read it.

    rdunson AT knology DOT net

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  40. Beautiful cover, Fran--and thanks so much for joining us in Seekerville today! (Cara's pretty special to us, too, BTW!)

    Love your thoughts on adding "local color." I enjoy picking up on details and descriptions when I read about familiar settings. So I always try to bring out a few recognizable details in my own writing.

    And you can always tell when an author has either done EXCELLENT research or has actually experienced a setting or event firsthand. An example is the novel I'm reading right now, A Familiar Shore, by Jennifer Fromke. She makes me feel as if I'm right there on the boat or walking the lake shore with the characters.

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  41. Cara, the lights are gorgeous, but so are the Azaleas. And to see all the trail maids dressed like old fashioned southern belles. Down here it is a GREAT, GREAT honor to be selected as a trail maid.

    Ruthy, the Shrimp Festival is awesome. You'll have to visit.

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  42. As a reader, i can tell you that the best stories are those that immerse the reader into the story.

    Ruth...the arm was put on surgically by a moose or a bear? Great story there.
    Kav, i'm Canadian also, and think that you do great.

    i would love to win Windswept thanks for the chance.

    mitziUNDERSCOREwanhamATyahooDOTcom

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  43. Julie, San Francisco is a wonderful setting for a book. I visited that area many, many years ago and fell in love with that area.

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  44. Yeah! It looks as though I found my problem. I used a different identity to comment.
    Janet, yes, Key West is a long way to drive or even to fly, but it's well worth the time. I love it and so does my husband who is already planning another trip.
    Maybe we'll see each other again along the conference route! Hope so.

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  45. Jamie, you are so lucky to be able to visit where you'll use as a setting. Not everyone can do that, but it sure makes it easier to write about some place you've actually seen.
    Thanks for stopping by.

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  46. Deborah,
    I hope you enjoy the book if you get around to reading it.
    Thanks for stopping by.

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  47. Myra, glad you like my cover. As an author, I guess I'm like all others who worry about the reception of the cover. I'm pleased with it.

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  48. Marianne, good luck with the book drawing. Thank you for saying hello.

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  49. Fran, so glad to see your name in blue and your picture!

    I think the Gulf Coast and southern Mississippi have more local color than many other places I've been to. They're not so mainstreet America. And the food is delicious.

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  50. Put me down for loving your cover too.

    I definitely believe writing about local places is easier. From the setting, to the speech people use, to the common beliefs of the locals is much easier.

    I live in North Texas, but for several years we lived in Midland, TX. The air is so dry there, trees are sparse, and the stickers are huge. But what really sticks in my mind was when you hang towels out to dry, they wind up stiff and full of sand. Nothing like stepping out of shower and drying off w/a gritty towel. That's something you wouldn't find by googling West Texas.

    Connie Queen
    bcountryqueen6 at msn dot com

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  51. Hi, Fran! Welcome back to the Village.

    I looove doing this. I like to create fictional towns based on real ones and then use the local flavor. It's actually a lot of fun.

    Congratulations on your latest release.

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  52. Connie, I grinned when I read your towel-with-sand story. We get that, too, but usually on one of the islands after a day in the water. Hate it when everyone, including the dogs, walk over your towel. Not exactly what you were talking about, but that's what came to my mind.

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  53. Tina, I agree about the fictional town based on real ones. I always do this because if you use a real town, someone will always find something that you described incorrectly. It's better to create one based on the parts of a town that fits your story! And, yes, that's fun.

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  54. Hi Rita,
    Glad to see you dropped in. You're a busy girl these days. I've been reading your own blog and enjoying it.

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  55. Great post Fran. Having read several of your books I can attest to the fact that they are full of local color--and well written!

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  56. Thanks for the sweet words, Roni. (For those of you who don't know Roni, she's another Avalon writer who will be with Montlake.)

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  57. Great post, Fran--thank you for sharing with us today! ~ Love your book cover, and the story sounds very intriguing. (Also really like that title...so romantic *smile*). Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo

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  58. Patti Jo, I love the name "Cat Mom." I've always been a cat lover and still miss my 14-yr-old cat that we lost 2 years ago.
    Thanks for the comments tonight.

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  59. I've got to get away from the computer so I'm calling it a night! Thank you so much for allowing me to participate on one of the best blogs around. Have a wonderful New Year.

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  60. WINDSWEPT is a must read for me.

    Loved the post thank you.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  61. Thank you, Mary, and good luck with the drawing.

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  62. Loved the article! As a teen (a thousand years ago) I used to love Janet Dailey's Americana series because you could learn so much about the "local color" when reading one her stories. Capturing what makes an area special is so important in drawing in your readers.
    Please enter me in the drawing! writerzkorner@gmail.com

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  63. I found the suggestions about adding local color invaluable. Thanks.

    prompt[underscore]return[at]bellsouth[dot]net

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  64. Great post, Fran. I love these tips. Sounds like a wonderful read.

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  65. Sounds like a great read and a wonderful interview, too. Please enter me in the drawing.
    Linda Cacaci
    LinCaca3[at]aol[dot]com

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  66. Great cover!! Local color ... gotta have it. One of the joys of reading is either going places I've never been or re-visiting favorite places (and recognizing references to details like smells or even the cadence of local speech).

    Thanks for sharing,
    Nancy C

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  67. I would love to win,Enter me!!
    Thanks for the giveaway and God Bless!!
    Sarah Richmond
    sarahrichmond.12@gmail.com
    If I win I well pick the print.

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  68. Love to win a print copy of your book! E-mail is sheliarha64@yahoo.com

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