My settings are always set around somewhere I’ve visited or lived. I always know my setting before I know my characters. The characters have to fit my locale.
Alaskan Nights takes place in a cabin on a remote lake north of Fairbanks. When I was seventeen, my sister was going to take a client of her husband on a fly-in fishing trip, but he cancelled at the last minute. My sister called my brother, where I happened to be early that morning. Bro couldn’t go because he had to work, so my sister asked me if I wanted to go.
Heck yeah! I love fishing, and I love flying, and I’d never been in a float plane.
We flew out to this little lake, landed on the water – that was awesome! – and spent the day in a little row boat catching trout and grayling. Midway through the day, we pulled up on shore to have our packed lunch and found a ton of blueberry and lowbush cranberry bushes and after dumping out the worm can, we used that to bring home a bunch of berries, eating our fill as we went.
It was a wonderful day, and years later it became the setting in one of my earlier works, one of my favorites as a matter of fact.
The hero is loosely based on my brother-in-law who was a bush pilot in Alaska who introduced me to flying.
I have written a myriad of cowboy romances, set between the Canadian Okanagan around Cache Creek, BC and Montana at the base of the Rockies. I broke my contemporary romance teeth on the Harlequin Desire line, when most of them were the poor country cowboy and the city girl. I grew up on a farm. I hate the smell of cows, cow feed, cow sh**. But I love a hard workin’ man, and I know for a fact no one works harder than a farmer/cowboy, and that’s why I love them.
The reason I set a trilogy (now out of print) near Cache Creek, BC was because the first time I drove through there, I thought my husband had made a wrong turn. I had just had a medical procedure and was on some rather strong pain killers. We were heading up to Alaska, and I fell asleep as soon as we hit the highway around Hope, BC. In hope, you’re in the Cascade Mountains, driving along the Fraser River in a canyon. When I woke up we’d gone about 100 miles north. My husband had slammed on the breaks, which is what woke me up. We were sitting slightly sideways in our lane, a big ol wolf standing on the side of the road staring at us. It was a gray, overcast day, and everything around us was brown. Brown trees, brown hills, just brown. Sandy dirt was blowing across the road in the rather strong crosswind. I thought we were in Arizona. As it turns out, through research, the desert belt that makes the swath up the USA from Mexico goes all the way up into Canada for a couple of hundred miles. Who knew? Not this dumb American. *grin
The story started forming right then and there. The wolf and wind and brown are the opening scene to For the Love of a Family, the first in the Double H trilogy.
I absolutely love the Rockies and the land directly at the base on both sides. I have yet to set anything in Northern Idaho – though I have some ideas, but I’ve used the Montana side on a couple of books and short stories.
My To Serve and Protect series is set in a fictional town in Middle America Wisconsin. Most of my father’s family is from the Midwest, small towns, farmers and such. I like the Midwest because you can go from city to small town to the middle of nowhere in an hour.
My favorite locale right now, though has to be right here in the area I live. The Pacific Northwest, this side of the Rockies. I love, love, love the Cascades in Washington, and demanded that Madi and I set our shifter series – Puma Nights – in the Leavenworth area. I have been through there countless times and am completely in love with the place. I also set a two-book series about woodland ferries in the Olympic National Park, another place of wonder and mystery to me with the ancient trees in the boreal rainforest, coated in hanging moss on a bed of ferns.
I have set a couple of books in Seattle, because it’s a city I love and feel comfortable in. I really don’t like big cities, but Seattle never feels like a “big” city when I visit.
I wrote a paranormal called Phantom Lover set in a fictional town based on Canon City, Oregon, and I am working on a couple of more books set on Oregon on the coast. For seven years, I took my daughter for at least a week, sometimes two, during spring break to the Oregon coast. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more relaxing to me than sitting on the shore, listening to the roar of the ocean. It’s a great place to think, but I do believe it’s the only place in the world that I have ever been able to completely empty my mind and just “be.”
The next question I’m usually asked is where do the characters come from, if my stories start with a location.
The only answer I have is that first I have a setting, and then I ask…who would be there and why?
I let my subconscious do the rest, sometimes ruminating on a story line or location for weeks, months and in some cases years, before coming up with a story that will work. And I found out I cannot, my writer’s brain doesn’t let me, put characters somewhere they don’t belong. I found that one out the hard way with a book that never got written.