May 4 – 10: How do you select and research exotic locations?

thriller-roundtable-logo5It’s standing room only this week! Join ITW members R.G. Belsky, Ian Pisarcik, Paul D. Brazill, Paul Levine, Diane Byington, Elena Taylor, Tom Young, Tim Tigner, Mary Lawrence, Joe Ricker, Dana King, Arthur Kerns, Ann Simas, Kaye D. Schmitz, Nick Thacker and JoAnn Smith Ainsworth as they discuss the use of exotic locations in thrillers. How do you select and research those places? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss it!

 

Tom Young, an Air National Guard veteran who flew in Iraq and Afghanistan, has written several novels set in present-day conflicts. More recently, he has turned his attention to historical fiction, writing thrillers set in World War II. Young spent more than twenty years as a flight engineer on the C-5 Galaxy and the C-130 Hercules. He retired at the rank of Senior Master Sergeant. When not writing, he works as an airline pilot.

 

A Special Forces veteran and former biotech CEO, Tim Tigner lived and worked all over the world before turning to writing full-time. He now has a dozen bestsellers to his name, including the Watch What You Wish For series, which begins with The Price of Time, an Amazon Top-100 Bestseller of 2019. His latest novel, Boundless Ambition, is the fifth in the popular Kyle Achilles series. Google “Tigner” to learn more.

 

Kaye Schmitz, author of the award-winning novel, THE CONSORT CONSPIRACY, releases her second novel, ON DEADLY GROUNDS, on May 8, 2020. Active in the writing community, she is a member of the Florida Writers’ Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is an active speaker and teaches a writer’s workshop, “We All Have a Story to Tell.” Ms. Schmitz makes her home in St. Augustine, FL, where she lives with her husband, Michael.

 

Paul D. Brazill’s books include Last Year’s Man, Gumshoe Blues, and Kill Me Quick. He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, Polish, German, and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime.

 

 

Dana King writes the Penns River novels, or which the newest, Pushing Water, drops on May 4, is the fifth. His Nick Forte series has two Shamus Award nominations from the Private Eye Writers of America, for A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window. His short work appears in the anthologies The Black Car Business, Unloaded 2, and Down to the River. He is a member of ITW, PWA, and Sisters in Crime.

 

R. G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His newest mystery, THE LAST SCOOP, will be published in May 2020 by Oceanview. It is the third in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station. The first Clare Carlson book, YESTERDAY’S NEWS, came out in 2018. It won the David Award at Deadly Ink for Best Mystery of 2018.  The second Clare Carlson book, BELOW THE FOLD, was in 2019. He also is the author of two thrillers written under the pen name of Dana Perry – THE SILENT VICTIM 2019) and THE GOLDEN GIRL (June, 2020).

 

Ian Pisarcik was born and raised in rural New England. His stories and poems have appeared in the Roanoke Review, Lullwater Review, Maine Review, and the Flyway Journal of Writing and Environment. He currently lives in Washington State with his wife, newborn daughter, and Labrador retriever. BEFORE FAMILIAR WOODS is his first novel.

 

Paul Levine worked as a newspaper reporter, a law professor and a trial lawyer before becoming a full-time novelist. Obviously, he cannot hold a job. Paul claims that writing fiction comes naturally: he told whoppers for many years in his legal briefs. His books have been translated into 23 languages, none of which he can read. In Germany, his first novel, “TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD,” has recently been published as “In Vertretung Der Toten.”

 

Diane Byington has been a tenured college professor, yoga teacher, psychotherapist, and executive coach. Also, she raised goats for fiber and once took a job cooking hot dogs for a NASCAR event. She still enjoys spinning and weaving, but she hasn’t eaten a hot dog or watched a car race since. Besides reading and writing, Diane loves to hike, kayak, and photograph sunsets. She and her husband divide their time between Boulder, Colorado, and Dunedin, Florida.

 

Elena Taylor wrote the humorous Eddie Shoes Mystery Series under the name Elena Hartwell. Now she returns to her dramatic roots—she spent over 20 years in the theater—with this darker, more psychological tale. When she’s not writing, she’s either working with writers one-on-one as a developmental editor with Allegory Editing, or spending time with her two horses at the stables or her two cats, one dog, and one husband at their home in beautiful Snoqualmie Valley, Washington.

 

Mary Lawrence is author of the Bianca Goddard Mysteries set in the final years of King Henry VIII’s England. The series has been commended for its realistic portrayal of commoners and careful research. She lives in Maine and runs a berry farm with her husband. Other books in the series include The Alchemist’s Daughter, Death of an Alchemist, Death at St. Vedast, and The Alchemist of Lost Souls.

 

Joe Ricker is a former bartender for Southern literary legends Barry Hannah and Larry Brown. He has also worked as a cab driver, innkeeper, acquisitions specialist, professor, and in the Maine timber industry. He currently lives in Reno, Nevada, and spends much of his free time walking uphill.

 

 

Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterespionage and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with the Director of Central Intelligence and the Department of State. His lengthy assignments took him to over 65 countries. He earned degrees in International Relations from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia and an MBA from New York University. He spent a year studying Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. A past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, he is married with two sons. His award-winning short stories have been published in a number of anthologies.

 

Ann Simas lives in Oregon, but she is a Colorado girl at heart, having grown up in the Rocky Mountains. The author of 29 novels, one novella, and one short-story collection, she particularly likes to write a mix of mystery/thriller/suspense, with a love story and paranormal or supernatural elements. Three of her books have been Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalists.

 

 

Nick Thacker is the USA Today bestselling author of action-adventure thrillers and mysteries, including the Harvey Bennett Thrillers series. Often mentioned as a cross between Clive Cussler and James Rollins, his stories are written in a fast-paced, punchy style. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, two kids, two dogs, and a tortoise.

 

JoAnn Smith Ainsworth experienced food-rationing, victory gardens, and blackout sirens as a child in WWII. These memories help create vivid descriptions of time and place, which makes you a participant in a fast-paced journey through paranormal realms as US psychics hunt down Nazi spies. Ms. Ainsworth lives in California. She has B.A. and M.A.T. degrees in English and has completed her M.B.A. studies. She has published six previous novels.

 

 

42 Comments
  1. After retirement from the FBI, I lucked out and started traveling overseas to exotic places for another government agency. At the same time, I began writing travel stories. After a while, I thought, why not use these travel experiences in an adventure story? Then watching Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, the idea came for The Riviera Contract. When I wrote the novel, I’d watch the film off and on so I could capture the scenery and ambience. In addition, a few years ago I’d been lucky enough to visit the Riviera. All I needed was an action storyline and some interesting characters and it started coming together.
    I decided on a fresh approach for the second novel, The African Contract. The French Riviera is well known, but what of locales that most Americans don’t have on one’s bucket list. Thus I used as background the off-the-beaten-track African countries I worked in over the years, like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Cameroon. Same for Yemen, the Horn of Africa, Cyprus, Beirut, and the Near East. I used the journals I kept on my visits and my photographs to help me with the backgrounds of the stories. The library and librarians were excellent sources as well as Google and its maps and language translations.
    Exotic locations are useful to have as a character in your novel, but you still need an enjoyable story and solid major characters for the reader to connect with.

  2. EXPECT BETRAYAL’s exotic location is a setting: 1943 Great Britain. The Operation Delphi series is normally set in Philadelphia and neighboring states. In Book 3 of this award winning paranormal suspense series (wherein the U.S. government recruits psychics to hunt down Nazi spies), I moved the main characters (clairvoyant WAVES Lt. Delacourt and skeptic Commander Drew), to war torn England in search of her relocated cousin who is fleeing from Nazi spies. Cousin Etta is caretaker of the family grimoire, an ancient book of spells and charms the U.S. government to ward off the destructive power of Hitler’s occult unit.

    Much of my research came from childhood memories of blackouts and food shortages, and the memories of the daily newspaper’s b&w photos of Europe after bombing raids. The Internet provided 1940’s road maps, weather, train routes, and structures. I also did Internet research on various British cities because, as the U.S. team runs down leads, a Nazi spy with Remote Viewing talent is chasing them. Hitler covets the grimoire and intends to get his hands on it.

  3. I don’t write a traditional thriller. My work can be identified as suspense, mystery, police procedural, or female sleuth. But I love this question because location is incredibly important in All We Buried and I love research. All We Buried is set in a fictional town I named Collier, Washington. High in the Cascade Mountain range, the hanging, glaciated valley plays a huge role in the unfolding story. My protagonist, Bet Rivers, has to contend with not just a killer, but also the geography of her hometown. The isolation means she’s a sheriff on her own with very little backup. She is often out of cell phone range. The environment is an obstacle. I set the location there for those very reasons. It heightens the drama and takes readers to a place many have never visited.

    Research was a blast. First, real world research. I live in a hanging valley in the Cascade Mountains. Snoqualmie Valley is on the western, wetter side of the mountains, but there are a lot of similarities. Second, although my town is fictional, it’s loosely based on Roslyn, Washington, made famous as the shooting location for Northern Exposure. Roslyn is about an hour away to the east of me, so I visit for research to add in real world details. Third, I did a lot of research on glacial lakes and some of the other geology that would create spoilers, so I’m not going to get more detailed. For those details, I used the internet and advice from a scientist/expert from the University of Washington.

    What do you like best about traveling to unusual locations in your reading?

  4. I’m a firm believer that so-called exotic locations are not always destined to be the setting for thrillers. In other words, jet-setting is fine for James Bond, Jack Ryan, and Robert Langdon, but personally, I love setting books in the Colorado Rockies. They’re majestic, beautiful, and full of surprises.

    Some might not consider mountains exotic, but for those who’ve never experienced their grandeur, or seen a glacier up close, or walked among columbines and aspens, they are. If I do my job right, readers will feel like they’re right there in the mountains with my characters. As a writer, I could never know everything about the Rockies, so when I set a book in the mountains, I always have research to do. That ranges from fishing licenses to guns to flora and fauna to altitude to police departments. How do I accomplish that? I read books, articles, blogs, and even posts on the Internet. I would issue a word of caution about the Web—never believe what you find there unless you can find it on at least three other substantiated sources. I also make personal contact with people who have specialties I know nothing about.

    I grew up in the Rocky Mountains. Every time I set a book there, I fall in love with them all over again. I feel an affinity with them. I’m blown away when I think about how they were formed. I’m in awe when I look up at the night sky and get a glimpse of the great beyond without the interference of city lights. When I die, my family knows that’s where I want my ashes scattered. You can’t get much more exotic than that.

  5. Lately, I’ve been writing thrillers set in World War II. Most of those battles took place in what we’d now consider exotic locations. For a historical novel, of course, the history behind the story dictates the setting. To a certain extent, the setting dictates the research methods. Some places are so far-flung that it’s prohibitively expensive in money and time to get there. Even if you have unlimited time and cash, you still face restrictions. Access to Iwo Jima, for example, is limited. Fortunately, most World War II battles were so well documented that you can find plenty of photos, film, and first-person accounts.

    But for the places you can visit, there’s no substitute for writers’ boots on the ground. To feel the weather, to see the way the light looks at a certain time of day, is invaluable. Even if the place looks different now, a visit can still inform your writing. If you visit the World War I site of Verdun, you’ll find it no longer looks anything like the muddy hellscape of 1916. The contrast gives you some idea of the amount of destruction brought to bear at Verdun.

  6. I have my own approach to this. I never “research” the locations for my thrillers. I only write about places that I have already visited and know well. All of my 14 books have been set in New York City, where I’ve lived and worked in the media world for most of my adult life.

    For me, this is a lot better – writing about a location that I’m so familiar with – than doing a bunch of research on a place. And what about when events happen outside New York City? Well, my solution to that is to continue only using locations that I already know about without any research.

    I’ve done scenes in Cleveland, where I grew up; in Los Angeles, where I visited frequently as an entertainment journalist; at interesting places like New Orleans where I attend writers’ conferences, etc.

    I know there are writers who visit locations for research while they’re writing a book -but that’s not me.

    I also try not to write about any place that I’ve learned about just online through Google or whatever: a lot of things can go wrong for a writer by doing that.

    But that’s something I’ll post about later….

    1. R.G. I can’t wait to hear about what went wrong! Those are the best stories.

      New York City is such an iconic location, what do you like better, that you get to show people the sights they have heard about but might not have visited? Or to show people aspects of the city they might not know?

      1. I generally try to show people the New York City I know, Elena – not necessarily the one they know about from TV, movies and other books. I write about the neighborhoods – and the people and things in those neighborhoods – where I’ve lived and worked and spent time myself. I just feel it makes a book stronger when an author can do that,

        As far as things that go wrong by researching on Google, that’s a discussion for us to have in a bar sometime! Seriously, I’ve been pretty lucky. The biggest issue is Google will not tell you everything about a city. In New York for instance, you have to know stuff like that the street called Houston is NOT pronounced like the city in Texas. So Google -or even a quick visit to a location – could result in some embarrassing mistakes.

  7. I suspect I’ve always played it safe with regard to locations, choosing places that I’d actually been to or lived in for stories. The first couple of books that I wrote were set in the UK – either a variation of my hometown, Hartlepool, or London, a city I lived in for 10 years. So, it wasn’t a great stretch.

    A few years ago, an Italian publisher aske me to write an international noir story for them and I set it in Warsaw, Poland – a city I’d also lived in for a few years. This story eventually became a novella – A Case Of Noir – and I set the protagonist moving around Europe a little bit. He went to Madrid in Spain, where I’d spent a hot summer in 2001, Cambridge, England, where I’d spent a few summers, as well as Granada, Spain, and Toulouse, France, where I’d also visited. I’ve used a few of those locations in my latest book, Man Of The World, too, so I was on pretty safe ground regarding locale.

    However, I’ve now lived in Poland since 2001 and I have barely left the country over the last few years. So, if I were to write a true globetrotting novel – like SJI Holliday’s brilliant Violet – I may have to rely on the help of Uncle Google –or get out more. And that’s not so easy at the moment, of course.

  8. I really try to pick places I’ve never written about before. That’s typically most important, because it’s such an easy way to diversify your fiction. Most of the time it’s random, as far as selection. I’ll write a character into a setting while I’m doing research on a particular place, and this is always the most tentative aspect of my writing if I’ve never actually put my feet on the ground in the setting I’m trying to incorporate.

    Research for places is usually the longest phase of my story’s development. I’ll look at travel guides, city web-pages, crime reports, bar hours, church hours, tourist attractions, everything that’s basically a schedule for the people who live there. I’ll do Google searches on how many payphones and convenience stores are in the town, what the gas prices are, how many car dealerships, what the median income is, racial diversity, types of restaurants, rent prices. I’ll buy a map and pin as much as I can to that. After I put all the numbers down, I start to do more personal research – Yelp reviews, Craigslist ads, support groups, etc. That gives me a more personal approach to a particular place – what their vices and preferences and interests are. This usually gives me a better insight into the cultural aspect of a particular place.

    There’s practically no end to the research that can be done about a foreign/exotic place with the Internet resources we have, so I try to use that to be as creative as possible if I can’t actually put my feet on the ground somewhere.

    If I CAN actually put my feet on the ground, the question I ask is always the same: Where is the sketchiest place in this city?

    1. Google maps are great. Also, for checking how much a place has changed. I’ve put a few pubs and bars in stories that I’ve later found out closed down years ago and are now smartphone shops.

  9. My idea of exotic may differ from most people’s. “Exotic” often conjures images of sandy beaches and palm trees and young women in grass skirts serving you drinks in coconut shells. To me, exotic means “places people don’t ordinarily go,” and in that regard I tend to focus on the places folks don’t often care to go, such as beaten-down post-industrial mill towns. What the average person doesn’t know about these is probably just as much, or as misguided, as what they “know” about Tahiti or Bora Bora or even Sedona.

    Regardless of your idea of “exotic,” to me the research needs to be more than places, unless you’re writing a Castaway type of story and there won’t be but one or two characters in it and they’re from somewhere else. Characters are what make books memorable, and they’re also what will make a story exotic. If a story is set in the Louisiana bayous and all the people talk and act like they’re in New York, no one will suspend disbelief no matter how well the author describes the flora and fauna.

    I set my Penns River novels in Western Pennsylvania in large part because I grew up there and maintained close ties to the area, especially the three small cities along the Allegheny River that make up my fictional Penns River. Yes, the geography and buildings and businesses are right, but what makes the location pop for me are the people: How they speak, how they act, and how they respond to things. Not to capture that is to create a book that is the literary equivalent of actors reading lines in front of a green screen. No matter what you put behind them, no one is going to take it seriously.

    1. Dana, my previous comment about Google was for Paul. I love this. I spent an hour trying to figure out the connotation for exotic, which is way less time than it takes me to trace a straight line in a coloring book. This is spot-on. I love it.

      1. Thanks, Joe. It probably says something that the two places I’ like most to visit (aside from wide open spaces such as Yellowstone) are boat and bait shops in Cajun Louisiana and the old coal towns of Harlan County, Kentucky. I’m far more interested in talking to those folks than in visiting some “Destination.”

  10. Yeah. I never use Google maps to find anything in the past, but mostly to get a layout for the land. Google Earth is the same. Also, any smartphone shop that used to be a bar should be ashamed of itself.

  11. I approach location research backwards. I travel constantly (pre C-19) to places and experiences that I find interesting, thus creating a reservoir of locations to call on for my stories. For example, not just Fiji, but shark diving in Fiji. Not just Uganda, but gorilla trekking in Uganda.

    Part of the value of “constantly getting out there” is that I get plot and people ideas as well. I think the backwards approach also helps the quality of my writing as I’m not trying to justify a trip by adding details the story doesn’t really need.

    In general, I aim for exciting and exotic places because good fiction is escapist, and it’s not really an escape if everything is familiar, is it?

  12. I have some writer friends who take trips to all the exotic places they write about. And that’s definitely what I’m working toward. But for me, regardless of the fact that I’ve been writing all my life, being published is still fairly new, so I’m not able to spend the amount of money necessary to walk the streets of my exotic places in person. While I understand physical presence at the location is certainly the best way to do research, I believe the vast majority of writers out there are more like I am and rely on the Internet and Google Earth for their research.
    In my latest book, the main setting for the story—read that, the murder—takes place in a rather mundane setting—a small town just east of Asheville, NC. But when we have to try and find the heirs of the murdered man, the action moves to both Rogue Bluffs, Maine and Corfu, Greece. While Maine may not be as exotic as Corfu, I chose that area specifically because it received the first rays of sun on each new morning and the topography just appealed to me. No, I’ve never been to Maine, but I found everything I needed to describe it, including Google Earth pictures that showed me quaint streets with pull-in parking and no meters. I was even able to describe its stores and landscaping.
    I chose Greece because I knew the bad guys had gone there and I would need to bring them back to the United States. And Greece has an extradition policy with the U.S. Again, Google Earth showed me the area and with the knowledge I gained from other parts of the Internet, I simply elaborated to describe my villian’s villa.

    1. Google Earth can certainly help. Right now I’m writing a WWII novel that takes place mainly in a small village in Serbia. It was a tiny, remote community back then. And when I found it on Google Earth, I saw that it’s STILL tiny and remote.

  13. Exotic locations are always fun. But every location is exotic to somebody. Since we’re not allowed to travel right now, an author has two choices: to research a location online or to think about the exotic nature of where you live. If you decide to research a location where you haven’t been or don’t know well, you risk getting it wrong or missing something important. For example, in my current novel, IF SHE HAD STAYED, I needed to set it somewhere that Nikola Tesla lived. He lived most of his life in New York City, so my first draft was set there. I did the best I could, given that I didn’t know NYC well, but my editor told me my lack of knowledge showed. So I learned that Tesla had also lived briefly in Colorado Springs, which is only a couple of hours from my home. I set most of the book there, where I could easily go to explore the locations I picked, and I think it worked well. So consider setting your thriller somewhere close to home, at least for now.

    1. Good point, Diane. Part of an author’s job is to make wherever the book takes place seem exotic in some way to those who are unfamiliar with it.

  14. My fictional linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter lives on Kumquat Avenue in Coconut Grove (Miami). I lived about six blocks away on Utopia Court, so I really took the easy way out. He tries cases in the county courthouse on Flagler Street and the Justice Building near the Miami River. I plied my trade there, too. Only in the newest book, “Cheater’s Game,” does he go to trial in the new, gleaming federal courthouse. I’ve never set foot inside, but there are ample descriptions on-line to make it seem as if I live there.

    About 10 years ago, I wrote a border-crossing thriller titled “Illegal.” I traveled to the Mexican border but didn’t go farther south, though I set many scenes in Mexico. I found Google Earth HIGHLY useful for tracing a path to a town in the mountains. And, of course, Google itself is a priceless tool for writers seeking to accurately describe places they’ve never been. I don’t know how got along without it.

  15. As Diane says, every location is exotic to somebody. Elena’s Cascade Mountains and Ann’s Rockies sound fantastic! I’ve never heard of a hanging valley and I’ve only ever flown over the Rockies or seen them from the Denver area.

    I only use Australian settings. I know Sydney well even though I’ve never lived there, so have set several books there. At the moment rural romantic suspense is popular here so I’ve done a few road trips to specific places to check roads, geography etc but mainly draw on my knowledge of what those towns and country people are like. Australia doesn’t have regional accents but people do use different terms for things from state to state.

    I’ve travelled the world quite a bit but I’m not game to set a book in say Namibia or Cuba because I don’t know what those countries are like beyond the superficial tourist visit. I’d have to write a stranded and bewildered tourist in trouble type story. Hmm…

    1. Hi Elisabeth, I’ve recently read a couple books set in Australia, most recently The Silence by Susan Allott. I find the locations (and the history) fascinating. One day I’d like to visit.

      And yes, my local mountains are pretty amazing!

  16. Google Earth can certainly help. Right now I’m writing a WWII novel that takes place mainly in a small village in Serbia. It was a tiny, remote community back then. And when I found it on Google Earth, I saw that it’s STILL tiny and remote.

  17. Dana King makes a nice point with reference to her series set in small towns in western PA. (I grew up in a small town in central PA). While it’s great to accurately describe the setting, it’s the PEOPLE, the CHARACTERS, who make the novel sing. And while I might be stretching the word “exotic,” characters can make Scranton, PA exotic, if well drawn.

  18. Good point by Paul Levine. Any setting can seem exotic if described well. And everywhere is exotic to someone. Years ago I was in a B&B in Great Britain, chatting with other guests. Somehow we got on the topic of where we’d learned to drive. I said I’d learned to drive by driving a tractor in a tobacco field in North Carolina. One of the Brits said, “That sounds so exotic.” To me, it was anything but.

  19. Another issue that’s worth raising is whether or not an exotic location needs to be a real place. Mostly I use real locations in my books, but not always. You can make up an imaginary exotic island or resort instead of putting in an actual spot. Or (and I’ve done this) create a rural or suburban town for your novel that does not exist. The advantage of doing this is you don’t have to worry about offending anyone, or getting anything wrong. And, of course, you don’t really have to do any kind of research!

    1. I sometimes use fictional locations that are patterned after real locations. At the same time, I mention actual locations surrounding my fictional location. I took a chance with my Grace Gabbiano mysteries and used a real small town, which seems to be working out okay. I don’t name real businesses, but I do reference the surrounds. However, even if I use a fictional town, it still involves research.

      1. Ann, when I wrote the first book in my current Clare Carlson series, I had a big scene set in a small New Hampshire town that I had visited – and knew pretty well. But because there was a lot of bad stuff happening in the book with this town, I changed the name during the editing process to a fictional one. Like I said, you can avoid a lot of problems that way.

        1. RG, that’s why I created Edgerton for my Andi Comstock books! I wasn’t sure Eugene was ready for a series about a woman show talks to the cremated dead.

          I got an email from the wife of the current police chief of Coburg, where my Grace books are set. She said her husband says they’ve never seen crime like what I write about in Coburg. As far as I know, they’ve never had a murder in Coburg, but people dying of natural death don’t a mystery make.

          I have one series that’s all romance and it’s set in Christmas Valley, Anywhere. There’s a Christmas Valley in Oregon, but that’s not the same place. I made my choices, so now I stick with them.

  20. Re: R.G. Belsky’s and Ann Simas’s comments re creating fictional locations. Scott Turow created Kindle County which of course was Cook County (Chicago). Sue Grafton’s Santa Teresa was Santa Barbara, CA, my home for the past three years and Sue’s for much longer. (She was also paying homage to Ross Macdonald who created the fictional Santa Teresa). It certainly gives you freedom to fiddle with details of your fictional locale. Put a freeway where none exists, create a high-rise in a town (Santa Barbara) without any. My preference, though, is to take a real place, call it by its name, and accurately describe it.

    1. Paul, I was thinking about Sue Grafton and Santa Teresa too when I made that post. Knew the town was fictional, but didn’t realize the connection with the Ross Macdonald books. I read them all too, but that was a long time ago. Two of my favorite mystery writers…

    2. Paul, when I use a real place, I make sure to comment in my Author Note at the end of every book that certain things are fictionalized. My latest release takes place in Fossil, Colorado, which doesn’t exist, but all the other towns I reference do. I find a mix of the fictional and the real can work well together.

  21. You can certainly use a fictional location. The great novel by Edward P. Jones, THE KNOWN WORLD, was set in fictional Manchester County, Virginia.

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