When deciding where to set a novel, an author has a choice of restricting the story to a single locale or spreading it across a wider tapestry. There are several factors to consider in making the selection. Sticking to a single location, which is one of the hallmarks of cozies, has the advantage of requiring a minimum of research. If you are like me and choose the city where you've spent most of your life, it's an easy choice.
My seven books in two mystery series featuring PI's are set primarily in Nashville. Since I've spent most of my 87 years here, it makes describing the locale simple. During the early part of my writing life, I was a newspaper reporter or a local magazine editor, giving me total familiarity with the area. The city has changed considerably in recent years, but I've watched it grow and develop. When I need to, I do a drive-by in a particular area to check out recent changes.
The first two books in the Greg McKenzie series are set only partly in Nashville. The first takes place also in the Holy Land, which I had just visited before I started writing. The second starts in Nashville and then goes to Perdido Key and the Pensacola area. Part of it was written at my brother's condo on Perdido Key, which my wife and I visited twice a year.
Both of my Sid Chance PI stories are set in the Nashville area. But I didn't start out locating books in my home town. My first novels were a trilogy of post Cold War political thrillers. I spread the action across the map.
Research is a major consideration when choosing a widespread setting. Getting an unfamiliar area right can be a problem. I set the first two books mostly in locations I was familiar with.
|Star Ferry in Hong Kong Harbor|
The third book, written in 1993 but never published, will be out next month. Overture to Disaster required the greatest amount of research, since much of it is set in areas I had never visited. A portion of it takes place in Mexico, mostly in the area of Guadalajara. I had been to Mexico City and taken a bus tour from there to Acapulco, so I knew the countryside fairly well. To get the flavor of Guadalajara and Lake Chapala to the south, the number one destination for retired U.S. servicemen, I corresponded with the editor of a retiree newspaper. She provided loads of helpful information.
The home of a character who was an investigator for the Minsk prosecutor proved the most challenging area to portray. The time was shortly after breakup of the Soviet Union and formation of the new Commonwealth of Independent States. Things were changing in the capital of the Republic of Belarus. I corresponded with an attache at the American Embassy there who provided me with answers to all my questions, including political conditions and locations of various government offices.
The important thing in spreading your setting around the globe is to do everything possible to get it right. So far I've had no problem with readers taking potshots at my descriptions. What's your take on how to handle unfamiliar settings?
Visit me at Mystery Mania