Thursday, August 28, 2014

More Than a Setting with Guest Blogger Mindy Obenhaus

Despite what some people may think, stories don’t just happen. They’re comprised of many different components, such as plot, characters and setting. Yet every writer writes differently.

Some start with plot. Others start with characters and then create a plot that will generate the most conflict possible. Then there are those of us who start with a setting. 

When my mother-in-law first introduced me to Ouray, Colorado, I knew I had to write a story set there. The town was so beautiful and so unlike any place I’d ever been. I wanted to tell people about Ouray. Better yet, I wanted them to experience Ouray. But how do I do that? 

 Give at least one character a job or hobby that is unique to your setting

 In my debut novel, The Doctor’s Family Reunion, my hero is a doctor. He could have been a doctor anywhere. But my heroine…she owned a Jeep tour company. Why? Because Ouray is the Jeeping capital of the world and Jeep tours are big business during the summer months. 

 In my current release, Rescuing the Texan’s Heart, my heroine is a mountain guide and avid ice climber. Okay, she also works in a store—a store that’s a one-stop shop for outdoor
enthusiasts. 

Think about the setting in your manuscript. Are there any jobs or hobbies that are unique to your setting? Put your setting to work for you. I have to be careful here. Don’t want to accidently insert any spoilers. 

 When I was writing The Doctor’s Family Reunion, I knew that something potentially dangerous was going to happen to a particular character. I researched diseases and ailments until I was blue in the face before I finally decided what was wrong with them. But when I told my husband, he said, “Well, that’s silly. Why not use your setting?” Don’t you hate it when normals start to sound like writers?

But he was so right. I was trying to contrive something that could grow organically out of my setting. Which, in the end, made a much stronger story. Going back to your manuscript, how can your setting wreak havoc with your characters? 

Get to know your setting 

 As I said earlier, I wanted my readers to experience Ouray. To do that, I had to highlight the uniqueness of the town. What makes it special? If it’s a real place, how do locals view things versus how the town’s guests view them? Having a waterfall within walking distance of Main Street is no big deal for people who live in Ouray, but a photo op in front of those same falls is Christmas card worthy for guests. Whether fictional or real, think about what makes your setting special. The added bonus for fictional settings is that you can always create something special. 

(Yes, that’s my son behind Cascade Falls) 

 Explore your setting 

Because Ouray is a real place, I had to get to know it not only as the guest that I usually am, but also through the eyes of the people who live in Ouray. In other words, I had to learn what they might do or where they might go. While all the tourists are flocking to Yankee Boy Basin, the locals might head to some little known place like Clear Lake. Had it not been for my friend Brandy who owns a Jeep tour company in Ouray, I wouldn’t even know Clear Lake existed. 

Setting can be a powerful tool. With a little thought and planning or research and exploration, it can be more than a setting. Done well, it can be a secondary character. What’s your first step in creating a story? Plot, characters or setting?

 Giveaway! 

If you’d like to win a copy of my latest release, Rescuing the Texan’s Heart, be sure to leave a comment. 

 Rescuing the Texan’s Heart

Cash Coble is desperate for a change. 
After working in the family business for ten years, he's stressed
out and overworked. When he heads to Colorado to visit his ailing grandfather, he finds his mood lifted by the beautiful woman living next door. After a troubled past, ice climber Taryn Purcell isn't looking for love. Especially not with a charming Texan who's consumed by work. But there's something about Cash that captures her heart. Never one to back down from a challenge, Taryn promises to show Cash how to carve out a happy life—one that includes her.



 Mindy Obenhaus lives in Texas with her husband and two of her five children. Her debut novel, The Doctor’s Family Reunion, is a finalist in ACFW’s 2014 Carol Awards and her second book, Rescuing the Texan’s Heart, is a September release. When she’s not writing, Mindy enjoys cooking, reading and spending time with her grandkids.

94 comments:

Marianne Barkman said...

So Mindy, will I be going on a Jeep Tour if I read the book? I'm not a fan of walking on ice, except when I'm sitting in my recliner. I'm really looking forward to read this one. Please add my name to the draw!

Lyndee H said...

Ha, Mindy! I love that you called your dh one of the 'normals' because that's how I feel about 'them,' too, lol. Great post and reminder that sometimes we have to bloom our characters where they are planted!

Cindy W. said...

Hi Mindy! I love to read a story where the setting becomes one of the characters and invites me in.

I would LOVE to win a copy of your book. Ouray sounds wonderful.

Have a blessed day!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

This setting is GORGEOUS!!!! I love it Mindy!

And sometimes setting gets a story going in my head. My Men of Allegany County was like that, I visited Wellsville, NY, tucked in the mountains of Northern Appalachia, and knew there were stories to tell...

And there were!

But sometimes it's circumstance that gets my brain going, and then the Holy Spirit nudges it along, saying things like TELL HER STORY, RUTHY!!!!!

And that Holy Spirit guy is hard to ignore.

That's how "Refuge of His Heart" came about, a chance circumstance in a Sams' Club parking lot and the story just unfolded from there....

That's a total gift from God experience! The writing mind is a fun and sometimes SCARY!!!! place to be.

Back to work for me, so nice to have you here, Mind-O!!!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Gorgeous pictures! I have your book, WOOT! and look forward to devouring it!

Tina Radcliffe said...

And I love how you mixed a Coloradoan and a Texan in this story. A perfect match.

Wilani Wahl said...

Your book has me intrigued. I love Colorado. Thank you for taking the time to share with us.

Mary Curry said...

Good morning, Mindy!!!
I saw your book at my B&N last weekend. When I first saw the Sept. Love Inspired books on the shelf, I couldn't find yours - so I went digging.

Lo and behold, your books were BEHIND Tina's! Oh the shame. Some things just need rearranging, you know.

Maybe they just knew you were friends. ;)

DebH said...

morning Mindy
you had me at Ouray, Colorado. as a Colorado native, I ADORE books about my native State (currently transplanted to Virginia, but my roots are pulling hard for my return).

I love it when authors use settings. I personally am always attracted to the mountain settings of books. Since marrying an avid scuba diver, the ocean setting is growing on me as well. I actually used that for my first manuscript that I'm currently revising (note to self: integrate ocean more into story...) Yep, great advice.

would love to win a copy of your book. must put your debut book on my Wish List for birthday purchases so my hubby won't have to think too hard on what to get me.

Thanks for the visit and the gorgeous pictures - even if they did make me a little homesick. (in a good way though, so no apologizing *grin*)

Pamela Tracy said...

Mindy,
I did a jeep tour near Ouray this summer! Right up to the Tomboy ghost town. But, eh, we talked about that at RWA. Rocking post.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Marianne, I'm afraid you'll have to read my first book, The Doctor's Family Reunion, if you want a Jeep tour. Even the Jeeps can't handle the mountain roads in the winter. :)

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Lyndee H, I love how stated that. Bloom where they are planted. Hmm...I just might have to steal that phrase. With your permission, of course. ;)

Yes, bless his heart, hubby is a normal. However, he's used to me discussing my characters as though they were family and loves to brainstorm with me, so he gets lots of brownie points.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Cindy W., Ouray is wonderful. Best of luck in the drawing.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Ruthy, you are so right. When the Holy Spirit takes over, we don't stand a chance. In the story I'm working on now, I was power washing the porch at our camphouse when the heroine walked onto the stage of my brain, introduced herself and proceeded to tell me her story. I wasn't exactly in a position to take notes, you know. That was three years ago and she's been bugging me ever since to give her an HEA. Looks like she's finally getting her way.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Tina, it seems that most of those who live in Ouray aren't native to Ouray or Colorado are either from Texas or Arizona. Go figure.

I'm actually in the process of reading your book right now. Good stuff, and not too far from Ouray. :)

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Hi, Wilani! What's not to love. Gorgeous scenery, moderate temperatures... Sigh :)

Mindy Obenhaus said...

That is too funny, Mary Curry. And Tina doesn't even like to be in front, as we learned time and time again at RWA. Although, she certainly should be in the front. She's a beautiful lady and a wonderful writer (just don't tell her I said that). :P

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Deb H., glad I could give you a little taste of home (we won't call it homesick, because that just sounds depressing). And, oh yes, I can see where you could have tons of fun incorporating things about the ocean into your story. The sights, the sounds, the smell... Wait, I think I just went on my own personal beach day. So thank YOU, Deb. :)

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Pamela, did we discuss that? I don't remember you mentioning Tomboy, because I was there this summer, too! Would you believe I was the driver? Invigorating, to say the least. Definitely keeps you on your toes.

Cindy Regnier said...

Thanks Mindy. I love Ouray and Colorado too. And your book sounds wonderful. Looking forward to reading it!

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Hi, Cindy R.! I hope you enjoy the story.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Husbands are the best asset we have. ManO does the same thing.

So beautiful.What great inspiration.

Peace, Julie

Mindy Obenhaus said...

We are blessed, aren't we Julie? Hugs, my friend.

Lisa Jordan said...

I love how you've created a character of sorts out of your setting. The more I hear about it, the more I want to visit. So proud of you, and so super excited to read your next book!!!

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Aw, shucks. Thank you, Lisa. And you should go. Matter of fact, we could make a girls trip out of it. A retreat, perhaps. :)

See you at ACFW!

Mary Connealy said...

This is great advice, Mindy. The setting and the jobs and hobbies all intertwined.

Mary Connealy said...

Love that picture of your son behind the waterfall. Just spectacular!

Mary Connealy said...

btw on the Ouray, Colorado website, they're raffling off a Jeep. :)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Mindy, Welcome to Seekerville and thanks for sharing the lovely photos of Ourey.

I'm a big fan of putting my settings first. I travel so much and some settings just demand a story. smile

Have fun today.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Thanks, Mary Connealy. Yeah, both boys feel the need to trek their way behind that waterfall every time we're there. Never mind the fact that it involves making their way along a narrow cliff and that they nearly give their mother a heart attack each and every time. Boys.

The Jeep raffle has been going on for 50 years. I have my tickets. You'll hear shouting from the mountain tops if I win. :D

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Well said, Sandra. Ouray was that way for me. And as long as it keeps demanding, I'm happy to comply, even though the research trips are absolutely torturous. (wink) :P

Susan Anne Mason said...

I love it, Mindy! That's how I get to visit unique places in the States, through books like yours!

Guess I'll have to plan more road trips in the future!

I'd love a chance to win your book.

Cheers,
Sue

Lyndee H said...

Oh, Mindy, I WISH I could take cred for Bloom Where You are Planted! I heard that phrase at least 20 years ago. I liked it because we moved about every four years and my introverted self had a hard time reestablishing in new communities. That phase became my rally call.

Laney4 said...

I got all mushy looking at those pictures/reading the blog. I have family who live in the Rocky Mountains area in Alberta, and your pictures are very similar to what I see whenever I visit them there. Ahhhh. Even though I've lived in Ontario all my life, seeing your pictures makes me feel like I'm home. I bet reading your book will do the same thing for me. I can hardly wait! Thanks for sharing!

Jeanne T said...

MIndy, what a great post! I loved this. I never thought about tying a character's job to the setting. Fabulous idea! I think the last time I visited Ouray I was too small to remember. Of course, I'll have to confirm this with my parents. It's definitely time to go back!

I love how your husband knows enough about writing to help you out. I've spoiled movies for my "normal" husband forever. He talks alternative endings, obstacles and all sorts of other writing things now. :)

Debby Giusti said...

Mindy,
What beautiful pictures! I want to visit Ouray. Sounds and looks delightful!

Can't wait to ready your story. Love the tie in with setting and job...so perfect!

I've always loved your writing. Glad the world can enjoy it now as well.

So fun visiting in San Antonio. Looking forward to more Mindy time in St Louis!

Hugs!

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Mindy! I love your idea of connecting setting to your story on more than one level. It's great when setting becomes a secondary character. I'm not fond of generic settings.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Hi, Sue! That's one of the wonderful things about books. They can take us to places without ever leaving home.

Good luck in the drawing.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Lyndee H., that's a great story. I love how it became your rally call. You could build a whole book around that. ;D

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Laney4, I know exactly how you feel. We're as flat as we can be here in Texas, yet every time I got to Ouray, I feel as though I come home.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Jeanne T., since you live in Colorado, you have no excuse not to go back.

Isn't it funny how our writing has rubbed off on those around us. Of course, my kids will no longer let me what movies with them. They say I talk to much. Ornery boys.

See you in a few weeks. :D

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Debby G., you are too kind for your own good. That's why we all love you so much.

Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks, too.

BTW, my oldest daughter says you should bring Mary to NYC next year. Then she and my Amy can go have fun while we're at RWA.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Cara, I think I stumbled on it by accident. My passion for Ouray just spilled over. Then again, it's usually our passion for something that draws others.

Good to "see" you again.

Marianne said...

Dear friend Mindy,
You definitely made me want to see and experience Ouray, CO with your book and I can't wait to get your new one on my Kindle! God bless you as you continue to honor Him with your heartfelt writing :-) If I win your book I want it autographed :-) Blessings!!

Mary Curry said...

Mindy, I'm thinking Ouray should pay you a finder's fee or something. Look at all the people you have wanting to visit and I imagine your book will multiply the Ouray Effect!
Go you!

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Hi, Marianne! So glad you stopped by. Girl, you know you can get an autograph from me any time. Not to mention a hug. Hope you enjoy the story.

Hugs.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Mary Curry, if you could arrange that, that would be awesome. :D

Debby Giusti said...

Mindy,

Mary is going to NYC! I know she'd love meeting your daughter. What fun!

Watch out New York! LOL!

Sherida Stewart said...

Please enjoy a few flavored (and colorful) truffles from Mouse's Chocolates and Coffee Shop of Ouray, Colorado. I thought these treats would be appropriate for snacking on today since we're talking about the setting of Mindy's books. Delicious!

Mindy, Ouray is one of my favorite places! We lived near enough to spend many fun days soaking in the hot spring pool. I just finished The Doctor's Family Reunion.....and simply LOVED it! Great to read about many familiar places. You captured Ouray perfectly. Everyone should experience alpenglow...one of God's treasured blessings!

I'm a setting-inspired writer. The spark of my published story came from seeing an old hotel next to a railroad track.

Please enter my name in the drawing for your new book.

Congratulations on all your success! Cheering next month for you and Tina!

Janet Dean said...

Great post, Mindy! I've been to Colorado several times, but I've never come across Ouray. You're pictures are beautiful! Must look it up on a map.

I mostly write small town historicals, pretty tame compared to your settings. Still, every setting offers unique opportunities for characterization and plot.

I sometimes start with a historical tidbit that leads to a "what if" when comtemplating a new story. But not always.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Oops, your pictures, not you're pictures. I must be half asleep. Where's the coffee?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Looking forward to seeing everyone in St. Louis! Then NYC next year. Writers conferences rock!

Janet

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Oh, Sherida, why didn't I think of bringing the chocolate. Thank you! Mouse's is simply the best and will be revisited often in my stories.

It does my heart good to hear you say that I captured Ouray. I did my best, but you know how things can get lost in translation.

I like your inspiration. Do you write historicals? Many a hotel used to face the railroad tracks since it was how most folks arrived in town.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Janet, I can only imagine how those tidbits from long ago can spark ideas. Ouray is rich in history and I am intrigued by some of the real people from its past. Don't know if it'll push to write an historical one day, but the spark is definitely there.

Pam Hillman said...

Sometimes a story starts with the character, sometimes the setting, sometimes an event, sometimes a season. It just depends.

But once I start melding it all together, I do try to remember that my setting can play a very important role in the story. Except when I FORGET, like last week. I spent a week wrestling with a major plot point, then BOOM, something organic to the setting popped into my head and everything fell into place. :)

I'm in the very early thought stages on a story, and I'm thinking more about the setting than the characters. Hmmm, that's not true. I have a picture of the characters in my head, too. Maybe it's the circumstances that I hinge everything on.

Hmmm, I'll let you know if I ever figure it out! lol

Myra Johnson said...

What a great choice for a story setting, Mindy! It's really fun when you can actually visit a place and get to know it as the locals would. Insider info is the best and brings so much realism to the story.

Deb Kastner said...

Mindy lives in Texas and writes books set in Colorado. I live in Colorado and write books set in Texas. ;) Go figure.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

You are so right, Pam H. Ideas can come from anywhere. And don't you hate that, when you feel like you're banging your head against a wall, trying to figure out what's supposed to happen? Then suddenly it's there. Guess that means we're over-thinking. I do a lot of that. Been doing a lot of head banging this week. Sigh.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Myra, the locals really are key to bringing the town to life. Seems I learn something new every time we go out there. Which, of course, isn't often enough.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Deb K., maybe we were switched at birth. :)

Anna Weaver Hurtt said...

Thanks for sharing today, Mindy. I've been worried about making my setting for my WIP authentic enough (it's in Rio de Janeiro; a place I've never been), so this has been very helpful. :)

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Anna, except for talking to the locals, you can glean a lot from the Internet. Just research that place to death. Newspaper articles might help you get a bit of that local flavor.

Other than that, simply play up what you DO know about Rio.

Meghan Carver said...

Oh, Mindy, your cover is GORGEOUS!!! Come on, winter! I love stories with strong settings, but I don't think about it much when I'm writing. Thanks for the terrific tips.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Meghan, I was so excited when I saw this cover. The art department at Harlequin did a fabulous job.

I'm with you on winter, though. this 100 degree stuff is for the birds.

Missy Tippens said...

Mindy, this is such a great idea! I've mostly used fictional settings. But I could still create a setting that I could use to come up with plot ideas, etc.

Thank for sharing! I've loved all your photos of Ouray.

Sandy Smith said...

I have not been to Colorado for awhile, but I will definitely need to visit Ouray someday. I agree that it makes sense to use setting to provide occupations and other plot details in a novel. Please put me in the drawing for your book.

Chill N said...

Setting is a huge thing for me, both in reading and writing. Experiencing that setting through the characters is a wonderful way to travel :-)

Lovely pictures -- and definitely a book I'm adding to my 'buy budget.'

Nancy C (agreeing wholeheartedly that this 100 degree stuff is for the birds)

Becke said...

Mindy,
Fabulous pictures. I love anything outdoors so your books sound wonderful. You just can't beat the beauty of our western states. Each one has its own appeal.

My favorite is Utah, but all have wonderful aspects.
b

Tanya Agler said...

Mindy, Thanks for your post.

For my past two books, I started with characters, and with my next book, I'm starting with plot more.

I've never been to Colorado, but the pictures are gorgeous.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Missy, even with fictional settings you can create an element or elements that are unique to the town. Matter of fact, you have way more freedom with fiction settings. Just play and have fun with it. :)

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Hi, Sandy! If you ever visit Ouray, be sure tell them where you heard about it. :)

Good luck in the drawing.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Nancy C., looks like we'll be sweltering together a while longer. Perhaps a "chilly" story will help cool you down. :) I hope you enjoy it.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Becke, I've not been to Utah, but have heard it's beautiful. Not really all that far from Ouray, actually. And when a setting so beautiful, it's easy to take great pix. Wish I were that photogenic.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Tanya, both plot and characterization can be powerful catalysts for story. Whatever drives the story forward. And, like you said, it can change from one story to the next. :)

Sandy Smith said...

Mindy, I will have to take your book and show them how I knew about them!

Julie Lessman said...

MINDY!!! I can't believe it took me this long to get here!!! PLEASE forgive me, girlfriend! :|

Setting is SO crucial, my friend, and I'm SO glad your blog brings the proper attention to it.

When I think of setting, the first author who comes to mind is Laura Frantz, because most of her books are set in Colonial times in Kentucky, and I swear on a stack of Bibles that Kentucky as a setting is SO strong, it's like another character.

I tried to do that with San Francisco in my last series a wee bit, and it was SO much fun to delve into the history and idiosyncrosies of that city, ESPECIALLY the tragedy and travail of the Barbary Coast.

My next series is set in Isle of Hope, Georgia, which is SO apropos because it's a story of hope restored, so I'm taking full advantage of that locale, believe me.

Can't wait to give you a hug at ACFW, you sweet thing, so till then,

HUGS!!
Julie

Candee Fick said...

Chiming in late because of internet issues, but I can completely relate to the idea of a setting causing trouble.

Last fall, I was starting to brainstorm a story set in Estes Park, Colorado when we had a flood that washed 18 miles of highway out of one access canyon, destroyed another major road, and left the town stranded and under water. Nature changed both the physical setting and the history of the people who live there. Yet, if I have a big rainstorm in my future story, it could cause flashbacks about the flood. (And that's not counting the "normal" encounters with local wildlife, etc.)

So fun when the setting itself adds to the plot possibilities!

Walt Mussell said...

So did you change the name of the city and use Ouray as a model for the setting.

Have to admit that I really like the job roles you give your heroines.

Mary Preston said...

I love it when the setting can help steer the story.

Heidi Robbins said...

I adore the cover of your new book! For some reason it's more compelling to me without people included. Please put my name in the hat for your giveaway! :)

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Sandy Smith, that sounds like a deal to me. :)

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Julie, I'm looking forward to that hug and seeing you, too. :D

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Ah, yes, Candee, nothing quite like life experience to lend a hand to our writing. Sometimes using those things can be healing. But I know what you mean about flashbacks. In the story I'm working on now, there's an element I planned to use and, lo and behold, it actually happened late last year. Sometimes life really is stranger than fiction. ;)

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Hi, Walt! Nope, Ouray is on the page, just as it is in real life. I did fictionalize some of the places in town (shops, etc), but I left a couple of real ones in there, too. Those folks in town who are aware of the books get a real kick out of it.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Mary Preston, it's fun for me as a writer. Especially since I always said that setting isn't my forte. Nothing like a challenge.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Hi, Heidi! Thanks for stopping by and good luck in the drawing.

Carolyn Chambers Clark said...

This is fantastic information about setting. I've never read or heard anything like it. Kudos, Mindy.

Please put my name in the drawing. I'd love to see how you weave in setting and character identities.

All Best,

Carolyn

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Aw, thanks, Carolyn. Good luck in the drawing. :)

DiAnn said...

Oh, Mindy, I remember when! So admire and (proud) of all you've accomplished. Can't wait to see whatis next!

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Thank you, DiAnn. So glad you had a part in it. :)

And I'm also glad I got to see you at RWA. Hugs.

Dana McNeely said...

Mindy, how fun to read about Ourey, Colorado. I visited there about 20 years ago and you've got me hankering to go back. It was lovely.

annalabno.com said...

For me it's all about characters. But I do write literary fiction so my five senses are fully awake.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

You should go, Dana. While the scenery hasn't changed, the town might be a little different. Don't worry, ithough, its maintained all of its charm.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Annalabno, the senses are good. And oft overlooked until we totally immerse ourselves in a scene. Gotta have all the layers.