Settings are something that, in a story, are a crucial element, and part of the reader’s sensory experience, but for the most part should be unobtrusive. You want the reader to feel as if they’re in the same time and place as the characters, but you don’t want the setting details to overshadow the story.
Don’t ask me how this happened, but over the past four or five years I’ve found myself firmly planted in the American West. I’ve written Demon Westerns in a dystopian future. I’ve got a paranormal “Cowboys and Aliens” alternate history story coming out soon. And my current release, Her Secret Love (#3 in the Secrets of Cherry Lake series from Tule Publishing), is a contemporary romance set on the shores of Flathead Lake, Montana. (Check out those images. My husband wants us to move there.)
I’m fairly confident my love affair with the West began the same way as that of most western romance fans—by reading Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. (How can those author names not appeal to romance readers?)My father recently gave me his entire Louis L’Amour collection—heaven. I tell him they’re Harlequin romances for men. I mean, come on. There’s always a strong woman character who needs a helping hand from the hero, but who can ultimately stand on her own.
The problem for me as a writer, however, is that I’m seriously setting-challenged. I’m an abstract thinker and not at all visual. I can’t read a map. (I once wrote an entire book with the locations upside down and backward from what they are in reality. So far, no one’s noticed.)Descriptive details bore me. And I live on the East Coast of Canada, surrounded by the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean. We have a large dairy industry here, but if you try to compare our farms to Montana ranches…no.
This is what my world looks like:
Here’s my personal experience with the American West:
Mix those with the chase scenes from Mad Max: Fury Road and I’m sure you can understand the challenge I face.
There are details about the world we each live in that, in our heads, are universal truths, but in reality, are anything but. When my youngest son began university, we took a few of his friends from Oman to see Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. They kept asking if we could stop the car so they could explore the boggy wetlands that surround the Atlantic beach areas here. They live in the desert. They’d never seen wetlands before.
Cherry Lake, Montana might be a fictional town, but the location is not. Every time I had a bird chirp in Her Secret Love, I had to look up what kind of bird it might be. The trees are different. The grass is different. I had no idea what the seasons might be like. They turn at different times from what I’m used to. Sunrise and sunset aren’t the same. Not to mention, school starts so much earlier in Montana than it does here.
There are four books and one novella in the Secrets of Cherry Lake series. (Small Town Secrets is free on Amazon.com if anyone wants to check out the series.) That’s four authors who all had to coordinate setting details for the town and its inhabitants. We were lucky in that one of our authors, Jeannie Watts (The Secret Bride), is actually from the area. She’s the Tule Publishing resident expert on All Things Cherry Lake.
Writing this series was a lot of fun. Creating Cherry Lake was a great learning experience, too. I hope to write more stories in this particular setting.
If you want to learn more about the Montana Born books offered by Tule Publishing, I’m giving away an e-copy of Cinderella’s Cowboy by USA Today Bestselling author Roxanne Snopek:
Sometimes princes look a lot like cowboys…
Chad Anders doesn’t know why mousy Cynthia Henley trips all over her tongue when she’s around him. Nor does he understand his undeniable attraction to this good girl. Wild and sexy is his type, like the dream-girl he caught a glimpse of years earlier he’s never forgotten.
Cynthia’s superpower is invisibility, especially with men. It’s better for everyone that way. Besides, she’s got a cat. She’s okay. But when playboy-rancher Chad hires her, she’s got a chance to shine. Professionally, at least. Until she learns of his fascination with a mysterious dream-girl, who was actually nothing more than a shy teenager on an ill-advised dare all those years ago. Cynthia knows she’s no man’s dream-girl and never will be.
But there’s magic at the ball. Princesses glow in the starlight, princes appear out of nowhere, and, sometimes, they look a lot like cowboys…