Friday, November 11, 2016

Best of The Archives: Setting Your Scenes

Sandra here to talk about setting. But before I get started, I want to honor our Veterans and thank them for their service to our wonderful country. Please know we appreciate your sacrifices and time you spent to protect and serve this great nation. Tina and Cara, thank you. 

Grab some coffee and let's chat. I have plenty of Chocolate Mocha Swirl coffee. smile

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The strangest thing happened on the road on our way to Roper Lake State Park. We were driving down a four lane highway out of Apache Junction into the desert.  A red sedan passed us, but as they passed, they must have startled a red-tailed hawk eating carrion on their side of the road because the giant bird flew up, barely missing the red car and smacked into the motor home.

View from my motor home of sunrise over Roper Lake

We heard this loud thump and I was just heartsick. I prayed like crazy, hoping the bird had died quickly and wasn’t suffering.  I really prayed hard, mainly because I felt so badly that we had hit such a beautiful bird. His wingspan practically covered the width of the motor home.

The road narrowed and after about fifteen minutes, we discovered we needed to secure a loose door.  There were steep rock walls around us so not much room to pull over. Finally, we came to a pull out and stopped the motor home. The minute we stopped the hawk flew up from the front of the motor home and landed on a rocky outcrop above us. He looked amazingly fine—kind of glaring at us like ‘what were we thinking?’

Redtailed hawk at High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. He was injured and rescued.
We checked the front of the motor home and there were a few small feathers on the grill and one of the plastic/fiberglass grill bars was broken. Evidently, the bird had grasped the grill with his sharp claws and held on as we drove down the highway. From ranger talks about birds of prey, we knew that the bird had powerful claws. He must have used all that power to hold on to the grill.

But do you ever have those experiences when you know that there is more involved than just the incident? I had been thinking about the power of prayer and how God works in so many different and amazing ways. I had this strong feeling that this incident was meant to show me the power of prayer. If God would answer my prayer that the beautiful creature had survived unscathed, wouldn’t He be answering all of my other prayers?

Don’t you love how He uses our life situations to teach us?

This incident impacted me so strongly that you know it is going to have to go into one of my future books. Our life experiences add up to make us who we are. I spend most of my non-working time outdoors. I love nature and the lessons I have learned there. So it stands to reason that the Lord will use experiences in the outdoors to teach me.

Because of my love for the outdoors, I put my experiences into my books. Most of my reviews comment on how I have captured the settings. Our Seeker friend Vince who reviewed LOVE’S DREAM SONG, wrote “Her descriptions of the landscape are the next best thing to being on location yourself. I know this because I've been in many of the same locations described in her books.  Well, of course, I have because that is what I love. The settings are what I observe.

My settings come alive because I have been there and experienced them. Vince also stated “Leesmith loves, lives and breathes the southwest in her personal life and in each word she writes. Her home is in the southwest but she mostly lives out of her RV home so she can go to the locations she writes about.
Photo taken on Sunset Hike at Lost Dutchman State Park of the Superstition Mountains

Yes, I have lived most of my whole life in the Southwest, so it stands to reason I will be able to bring my experience to my writing. Vince wrote, “Sandra Leesmith depicts the ever-changing southwest light to perfection. She also captures the amazing variety of sounds the desert makes -- an abundance of sounds for all who will really listen. Then there are the desert fragrances carried on the wind and which change as the humidity changes. Leesmith also knows all the wildlife that roams at night. She reports sleeping outdoors and noting the tracks of all the night creatures that have walked around and over her sleeping bag. My favorite is when her characters are laying down at night and looking up at the stars. Each constellation has a Native American folktale to explain it.” Thank you, Vince, for appreciating my descriptions and setting.

I have lived in many different places and have traveled as Vince mentioned. So I can have settings in different places. My husband and I traveled a lot in our motor home. LOVE’S REFUGE takes place in the Pacific Northwest where we spent many summers escaping the desert heat. I Blog 4 Books wrote in her review, “Love's Refuge takes place on a secluded island in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The scenery and the simple lifestyle drew me right in and nearly had me packing my bags for a visit.”

Pacific Northwest
The setting for LOVE’S PROMISES is Lake Tahoe located in California and Nevada. We owned a home there for twenty years and my parents also lived there. So we visited often. The experiences we had working on our home there are found in this book. Miranda A. Uyeh, in her review wrote, “The setting was truly breathtaking. Lake Tahoe sounds like somewhere I’d truly like to visit someday. Sandra wove in the environmental issues of this place within this romance story so that a reader can understand the value of nature in our lives and how the beauty of it can add to the riches of human living/existence.”

Bigstock photo of Lake Tahoe
Hubby and I won a trip to New Orleans in 2002 and while there we took a cruise up the Mississippi on the Delta Queen. While aboard ship, I interviewed the crew and CURRENT OF  LOVE was the result. Seeker friend Kav writes, “And the exotic setting -- a steamboat ride down the Mississippi -- added to my fascination. The author made me feel and smell and plain ol' experience the trip right along with the hero and heroine. Honestly, I'm pretty certain I know exactly what Mississippi mud smells like now!  Readers of that book tell me they felt like they had been on the cruise themselves. I tell shoppers that this book is my feel good, fluffy Hallmark movie romance.

My current WIP is set in Hawaii and La Jolla in Southern California. The hero and heroine are surfers. My family lived on the beach in Southern California during my high school years and I surfed. So you can imagine how much fun it has been to bring up all of those memories. Btw the heroine is Debbie Martin from last year's Christmas novella, HOLIDAY HOMECOMING and it appears she might have found a new love while visiting her son in Hawaii.

Bigstock photo
So my experiences are unique to me. What are your experiences? They will all be different. That is what I love about hanging with writers because we all come from different parts of the world. We all have different backgrounds and interesting aspects of life.

Bigstock photo Maui surf
You don’t have to travel to write an interesting setting. You just need to be observant of the environment you are in. Julie Lessman wrote a whole series in a setting she had never been to, but she brought into her settings the experiences of sound, smells, tastes and sights of home that she knew from her own experiences in her home setting.

Ruth Logan Herne’s books are mostly set in Western New York where she lives. When you read one of her books, you feel like you are in the small town she establishes and you feel like you know those characters. She captures the emotional drama that occurs between people in a small town because she observes where she lives.

Audra Harders and Tina Radcliffe bring the Rocky Mountains to life.  Glynna Kaye puts you in the heart of the Arizona high country.

When you read books written by Missy Tippens, Pam Hillman, and Myra Johnson, you know you are in the South. They bring their own experience into the setting that brings it alive.

So how do you do that?

·      Observe the settings around you. Are you outdoors, indoors, in a small town, large city, a farm or the beach?

  • ·      Write down what you experience in that setting.
  • ·      Document the five senses. What do you see, hear, smell, feel and taste?
  • ·      Note unique features of the setting
  • ·      Research historical information about the setting.
  • ·      Study the geological history of the setting.
  • ·      Take note of the environmental issues of the setting.
  • ·      Gather photos of your setting.
Once you have done this, start incorporating all of the information into your story. Often I discover information that will become plot twists that I incorporate in the story. For example, research into the setting of the Mississippi Steamboat gave me the dark moment in CURRENT OF LOVE.  Much of the suspense in LOVE’S PROMISES derived from environmental issues that were unique to the Tahoe Basin. Janet Deans historical, COURTING MISS ADELAIDE, revolves around the orphan trains that she learned about in her research of her neighborhood.

You will have your own experiences and deep profound loves. Please comment and let us know something about your setting where you live. Maybe some interesting history.

 I picked the last of the oranges off my tree so please help yourself to a fresh orange. They are so sweet and delicious. 

Oranges off my tree. (I have plenty more - smile)

Before you go, Sandra wants to jump up on her soapbox for a minute. Christmas is coming and I want to remind you that autographed books make delightful gifts. We are writers. We need to support our industry. Go to your local author groups and get signed books to give as gifts. If you see an author's book in the store that you know, buy it for a friend. Support the authors in your community and buy their books as gifts. Check out the links of Seeker authors in this post. A book is a priceless gift. It not only is a lovely present to unwrap, but it opens up a whole new world for your family members and friends. Happy shopping.

This post originally posted April 26, 2016.  There will be no comments today so we can write.  Yay.

In Tucson with Mt Lemmon in background

Sandra Leesmith writes sweet romances to warm the heart. Sandra loves to play pickleball, hike, read, bicycle and write. She is based in Arizona, but she and her husband travel throughout the United States in their motor home and enjoy the outdoors. You can find Sandra's books here on Amazon. Three of Sandra's most popular books are also audio books at Audible. You can read more of Sandra's posts here.