I grew up in the military, and currently have several novels in various stages from drafts to complete, set in places I've lived: Virginia, Duluth, and Boston. Ironically, however, the Blue Bells Trilogy, my first published novel, is set in Scotland, one place I have never lived. The country club where I worked in high school makes a brief appearance in one novel, although it got moved from Minnesota to Boston. My work in music shows up the most, with musicians in small groups or full orchestras, in performances and rehearsals, and in the green room waiting to go on.
When I write, I can't seem to prevent myself from choosing locales where I've lived or have visited. Maybe it’s because they say "write what you know," but I also think it is often that those places inspire me. For instance, the town of Rustic Woods in my Barbara Marr novels, is in reality, my suburban town of Reston , Virginia. I changed the name to protect the innocent. Actually, I fictionalized the name to give all readers a more visual feel for what this unique suburban town is like. It is rustic and it is wooded. And it is filled with character, so I just knew when I wrote my first novel, I would have to set it in this funny, quirky little place I call home. I also lived in Naples, Italy (far longer ago than I care to admit), and plan to set a novel or short story there one day, because it just screams to have its stories told.
Maybe I'm justifying my use of known settings, and I'm really just being lazy, but I prefer to think that I'm introducing readers to those places that I love so much.
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Consuelo Saah Baehr:
They say write about what you know and it certainly is easier that way. My third book, “Nothing To Lose” was set in a large department store in New Jersey and was directly based on my experience as a copywriter for the Macy Corp. I knew facts about being a copywriter in a department store that I could not have gleaned any other way. It gave the book authenticity even though it was a book about a fat girl, not a department store. One Hundred Open Houses, my latest book talks about work at a Film Festival (I worked for a film festival). Report From The Heart, non-fiction, is literally about one day in my life as a wife and mother. Best Friends is made up of whole cloth although it begins in a convent boarding school (Guess who went to a convent boarding school?) Daughters, a family saga set in turn-of-the-century Jerusalem, was not based on my personal experience but loosely based on the lives of my paternal grandfather and grandmother who grew up in a small Christian village ten miles north of Jerusalem. Even my short story: What People Pray For, comes from a stretch in my life when I attended early morning mass and heard all of the petitions people called out. Those sincere and poignant petitions made me want to write about an event in my life.. Bottom line, I have used “places” and “jobs” and my family shamelessly in my fiction and non-fiction. And yes, all are still speaking to me.
I think it is terribly difficult to write with conviction about places you've never been. I know people do that all of the time, but everywhere I've been has a distinct atmosphere. The inhabitants are shaped by their surroundings if they've been there any length of time. You can't pick things like that up from travel books.
My novel begins outside a hospital in Edinburgh. I worked there for almost a year. Then I burn down a house in North Queensferry where I lived for two years. The house still stands today. After that the characters move to Northern Ireland where I was raised. Then off to Washington state in USA where I've resided for more than twenty years. There is an incident in Alaska where I lived for seven years, and the incident is based on fact. Alex's mother works in a job I worked in for twenty-three years. I did make up the Caribbean because I've not been there yet. I had to ask many questions and pour over travel books. The novel is not about me, but I bring as much real life into it as I can. Several of my characters have Irish or Scottish backgrounds. My next novel will be more American, but I worry about it.
I grew up in SW Florida in a small coastal town and later moved back there from Central Florida. As a child I was fortunate enough to own horses and after we moved back, we bought acreage and got horses for my own children. When I wrote my first mystery, Talented Horsewoman, it featured Leigh McRae, a woman sleuth who lives in a small, SW Florida coastal town. The heroine owns horses and shows them with her daughter. I used what I knew of the area--heat, humidity, alligators. orange groves, etc.--as the backdrop for my story. I'd also had a word processing job for a while and this is the profession I gave to my heroine. Her boyfriend is a charter boat owner and fishing guide. This is a job some of my Florida relatives have had. I chose this career for him because it was a little out of the ordinary and it gave Adam some control over the hours he worked. After I left SW Florida, I moved to North Carolina and have lived here since 1992. My novels Jobless Recovery is set in North Carolina, though the background in this novel was less important than that of Talented Horsewoman and so is very generic.
I find it is much easier for me to visualize and write about locations and jobs that I'm familiar with than it is to research the unfamiliar. Little details that don't seem like much by themselves can really add atmosphere and authenticity to scenes and make them seem more real to readers. The best way I've found for me to actually bring out these details is to actually experience a place or a job. I'm not saying I can't do that when I write about places I haven't lived or jobs I haven't done. It just takes more work.
Jobless Recovery, Second Edition