Contemporary Romance Writer: You are Here — Choosing the Setting of Your Novel

I spent a few days in Estes Park, CO right before Christmas. While wandering through town, my 11-year-old daughter looked up at me and said, “You should write a book set in Estes Park.”

My reply? “I have.”

To which she replied, “Oh. Well … I haven’t read your romance novel yet.”

Perhaps she now understood why we were traipsing through Estes Park with both my camera and my Flip video camera. And why I stopped at certain places and asked my husband to tape me talking about Estes Park and my debut novel, Wish You Were Here (Howard Books, May 2012).

Why is Wish You Were Here (WYWH) set in Colorado in general — and more specifically, in Colorado Springs and Estes Park? Because I live in Colorado Springs and because my family loves spending time in Estes Park. It’s as simple as that.

Keeping it simple. That’s another reason Colorado is the setting for WYWH. As a non-fiction writer transitioning to the Dark Side (learning to write fiction), I had so much to learn. I wrote and rewrote WYWH … well, I lost track of how many times. If I had set my story in Kentucky or Michigan or even Tahiti or Sweden, researching those locations would have taken a huge amount of time. And I needed to focus my attention on other aspects of the novel.

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll write a contemporary romance set in some exotic locale.  But for now — books one and two — I’m staying on home ground.

Note: Yes, that’s me making snow angels with my daughter while wearing snow shoes. Yes, snow and snow shoes figure into WYWH. No snow angels, though.

In Your Words: Do you enjoy reading novels set in your hometown? Or do you like visiting new places? What’s the most favorite location an author’s story has taken you?

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  1. January 3, 2012, 2:01 am   /  Reply

    Oh, I hope you will share some of that video, Beth. Your hometown looks so pretty. And you’ve inspired me to consider the potential in my hometown. Oh…..the drama of small town southern living! =)

    • Beth Vogt
      January 3, 2012, 6:34 am   /  Reply

      That’s the goal, Patricia: to share a few short vlogs of Estes Park as we go along here. Need to download them and see what we produced.
      And, yes, small town southern living has a lot of potential. Rachel Hauck has a wonderful series of “low country romances.”

  2. January 3, 2012, 5:32 am   /  Reply

    I set a book in Costa Rica, but now I’ve returned to my long-time roots of Kentucky.

    I’ve learned in recent years that CBA isn’t always super excited about novels set in foreign locations. It’s done, but it’s not the popular choice. However, I absolutely love being transported into an exotic location I don’t know lots about. I even like the exotic state of Colorado as long as I can feel the cold through your words and not my own skin. 🙂

    • January 3, 2012, 8:44 am   /  Reply

      Heather, I’ve heard that too, when I was halfway finished with my novel set partly in Scotland. I also heard it again on my way to ACFW conference last fall. First night, I went to a publisher’s spotlight with Ramona Richards from Abingdon Press and when she said she LOVES foreign settings, I made a point to talk to her afterward about my book.) So you might find a few foreign settings amongst their titles, just a thought.

      • Beth Vogt
        January 3, 2012, 9:25 am   /  Reply

        Hhhm. Now I’m curious as to why CBA doesn’t like novels set in foreign locales.

  3. Jeanne T
    January 3, 2012, 6:25 am   /  Reply

    I was laughing out loud at part of your post today. 🙂 Your daughter says some fun things. She must get it from her mom. 🙂 My current story is set in Denver, a city I’m very familiar with. Since it’s my first attempt at writing a novel, I want to keep it sorta simple, at least where setting is concerned.

    I enjoy reading novels set in other locales. I read one set in Finland, which was great fun. But I also enjoy reading novels set in places I’m familiar with. I can picture where certain aspects of the story are taking place.

    • Beth Vogt
      January 3, 2012, 6:38 am   /  Reply

      I’ve often thanked God for the joy (and laughter) he brought to our family when he sent Christa our way.
      I’m with you, Jeanne. I love reading novels set in familiar locales and unfamiliar ones. It’s fun to think,”I’ve been there!” and it’s just as fun to think, “I hope to visit there some day.”

  4. Beth Vogt
    January 3, 2012, 6:34 am   /  Reply

    Looking forward to reading about Kentucky through your eyes (and all the other senses), Heather.

  5. Delores Topliff
    January 3, 2012, 7:23 am   /  Reply

    Writing my first unpublished novel and the several following it, it was important to me to set it in Washington & Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge area where I grew up, though I haven’t lived there fulltime during most years since I left for college. There’s just something about home ground. I don’t feel that same need for what I’ll write in future–though the wide-ranging historical I’m doing now does end up in that same locale.

    • Beth Vogt
      January 3, 2012, 8:24 am   /  Reply

      Your love for your home ground is evident if your conversation and in your writing, Dee.

  6. January 3, 2012, 7:24 am   /  Reply

    Yay for WYWH…I can’t wait to read it. Yay for snow angels, too. Iowa didn’t have any snow over Christmas. The practical woman in me applauded; the whimsical, Bing Crosby-lovin’ gal had her whiny moments. 🙂

    I set my first book in Iowa. Because it’s my home…and I love it…and farmers. So it was an obvious choice. My next book is in the Blue Ridge mountains. Because I love them…been there…and frankly, wanted an excuse to go back. Next book is also set in the Midwest but I’m waffling on the state. 🙂 I love both familiar settings and new in books, but I’ll confess – really tropical or foreign-to-me locations do take me longer to connect with in a story. Once I’m connected, though, I enjoy feeling like I’m in a new place.

    • Beth Vogt
      January 3, 2012, 8:23 am   /  Reply

      Oh, Melissa, I can’t wait to hear you say, “I landed a contract!” I’m already counting the days to reading your novels.
      And picking the locale for my novels is one of the big questions for me.

  7. January 3, 2012, 7:32 am   /  Reply

    I laughed at your “dark side” comment. Your logic on the location makes sense to me. I read the book Empty Arms by Erika Liodice and was delighted to see a mention of a small town in Texas where I lived. Oddly, for a second, I got more absorbed in the details (to see if they matched reality) than the story. I quickly returned to the story, because the details checked out. Loved the snow angels pix.

    • Beth Vogt
      January 3, 2012, 8:22 am   /  Reply

      I’m more and more comfortable here on the Dark Side, Stacy. 😉 I even have a T-shirt welcoming me here and promising cookies!
      Interesting thing about writing about Estes Park: Most of my details are true, but I wove a few fictional details in too.

  8. January 3, 2012, 8:37 am   /  Reply

    I set my first novel in Phoenix for the same reasons you set yours in Colorado. But I must say, it’s not a very popular setting for novels…I don’t think I’ve ever read one set there before. I like to read about other places too, though. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      January 3, 2012, 9:25 am   /  Reply

      Well, Lindsay, maybe your novel will be the first one set in Phoenix! 🙂

  9. January 3, 2012, 8:51 am   /  Reply

    I totally get your thinking, Beth. I set my two novels in a place I am very familiar with for the same reason, central Oregon’s high desert (I fictionalized the remote town of Christmas Valley, a place I’ve visited a lot over the last 30 years). My first novel of the two, however, is set partly in “Juniper Valley” and partly in the lowlands of Scotland, something I’ve heard will make it more difficult to sell. I haven’t been there but did my best to “get there” via Google, Google Earth, blogs, books, video, etc. After all that, I wanted to go there more than ever. I could so see the area I set my book in (also fictionalized) that I expect to find it when I travel there on a book advance someday. 🙂 I’ve had folks read the ms and ask when I’ve been to Scotland, so that’s gratifying. Like Heather, I like the sense of visiting someplace I’ve never been. Fortunately, we can all write “where we know” and still offer the sense of travel for those who are stranger to our beloved places, especially if we highlight what we love about them most.

    • Beth Vogt
      January 3, 2012, 9:27 am   /  Reply

      “Write where you know.”
      Great spin on the phrase “write what you know.”
      And so many people are challenged to not limit themselves to what they know … to find out what they don’t know and write about that! If I limited myself to writing what I know, I’d still be writing non-fiction.

  10. Karen S. Elliott
    January 3, 2012, 9:27 am   /  Reply

    I’m much more comfortable writing about places I have lived, or at least visited. Also, from having lived in a place, you know about local stuff that visitors don’t know. Like the liquor store that used to be an Acme market or an elementary school that is now a National Guard armory. And that Jake’s burgers on Rt. 40 is the best burger place along that corridor. Plus you know how people talk and what they talk about.

    • Beth Vogt
      January 3, 2012, 2:38 pm   /  Reply

      All good reasons to write about places you know, Karen. Siri Mitchell, one of my favorite authors, wrote her first novels based on places she and her husband had been stationed, including here in the Springs (or nearby Manitou.) She did a stellar job at pulling the reader into the story with details of life specific to this area. Ex: Manitou has a fruitcake toss every January!

  11. Barb Geraghty
    January 3, 2012, 6:21 pm   /  Reply

    Beth, one of my favorite authors is LaVyrl Spencer and she set one novel in my hometown of Burnsville, MN. I ate in the restaurants she had the characters eat in, visited the same places. It made me connect with the story at a deeper level. She lived in Stillwater and set a couple of books there and I felt they were more real because of it. Can’t wait until WYWH is available in May!

    • Beth Vogt
      January 3, 2012, 8:05 pm   /  Reply

      Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation. 🙂
      I’ve enjoyed your view on the whole “You are Here” topic. I think I’ll be sticking with Colorado for a while. I’ll keep everyone posted.

  12. Patti Mallett
    January 4, 2012, 6:00 am   /  Reply

    Some great food for thought here, Beth. It’s encouraging in several ways!!

    I didn’t know you have a book coming out SOON!! How exciting! Congratulations!!!

    • Beth Vogt
      January 4, 2012, 7:47 am   /  Reply

      Thanks, Patti — yes, I do have my first novel coming out in May! (I’m just a little excited.) 😉

  13. Sonia Meeter
    January 4, 2012, 8:29 am   /  Reply

    Okay, I will leave the non-writer take on it. (AKA “Preferred Reader.”) I love to read books that are set in places that I know. It makes me feel even more intimately woven into the story as a character and not only an observer.

    • Beth Vogt
      January 4, 2012, 8:35 am   /  Reply

      Sonia, aka Preferred Reader:
      Your input is highly valued. You have no idea –wait! maybe you do! — how much writers value readers!
      Thanks for dropping by and chiming in. (And for being my PR!)

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