by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
This cycle at GBC we're talking about settings.
In terms of setting, the books I've had traditionally published break down as follows:
CONNECTICUT: A Little Change of Face; Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes; Crazy Beautiful; Angel's Choice; Secrets of My Suburban Life; Me, In Between
MASSACHUSETTS: Little Women and Me
ENGLAND: The Thin Pink Line; Crossing the Line; Vertigo: The Education of Bet; The Twin's Daughter
ICELAND: How Nancy Drew Saved My Life
LOCATION UNKNOWN: The Sisters 8 series
When I look back on this, I realize there was no big advance planning in any of it. It was more that I would get an idea for a book and the voice combined with the concept would dictate setting. Plotwise, the books I've set in England could have just as easily been set in the U.S., save for one small thing. When you choose a setting, there's so much more that comes with it than just location. There's all the nuances of accents, tone, cadence, even word choices. If you're writing a contemporary comedy, as a rule, people in the U.S. don't get gobsmacked or feel knackered, and they certainly never say "You stupid cow!" to insult someone, not unless they also want to provoke a bout of anorexia.
There was a lot of deliberation behind my choice to set How Nancy Drew Saved My Life in Iceland. I wanted my heroine to become the nanny to an ambassador in an unusual place; I wanted it to be far away and completely isolated; and I'd been to Iceland.
Similarly, it was a deliberate decision to never identify just where it is The Sisters 8 live. Like the prologue in Book 1: Annie's Adventures says: "And where was this magnificent stone house? Why, it might have been anywhere in the world - even right next door to you - so why quibble? However, if there were octuplets in your class at school, you would probably have noticed by now, so perhaps that's not the case."
The books I've set in Connecticut are mostly set in Danbury, where I live, although occasionally I use other towns. Of course I change things to suit my own purposes. Every time a reader asks if there really is a bar here where a person can shoot pool that goes by the name of Chalk Is Cheap, I have to admit that, sadly, Chalk Is Cheap only exists in my mind.
When you get down to it, I suppose it all comes down to my mind, really. As a writer, it's all about going to the places - physical and emotional and conceptual - that I'm most interested in going to at the time. And I'm the same as a reader.
I love reading books that take place in different states and regions in the U.S. and I love books from other countries, Some of my favorites, by location, from the past year?
SCOTLAND: Gods and Beasts, by Denise Mina
DENMARK: A Conspiracy of Faith, by Jussi Adler-Olsen
NORTH DAKOTA: Let Him Go, by Larry Watson
ENGLAND: The Hive, by Gill Hornby
NORWAY: Police, by Jo Nesbo
FRANCE: The Mouse-Proof Kitchen, by Saira Shah
SPAIN: Mr. Lynch's Holiday, by Catherine O'Flynn
PORTUGAL: The Two Hotel Francforts, by David Leavitt
MINNESOTA: Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger
So how about you? What's your favorite setting to write about? What's your favorite setting to read about? Or what's the name of a really great book you've read that has a strong sense of place?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of a bunch of books for adults, teens and children. Visit her at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com, check out The Sisters 8 at www.sisterseight.com, or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBaratzL