Sunday, April 12, 2009

Location, Location, Location

I’m a New Yorker and proud of it. An Upstate New Yorker. More specifically a native Western New Yorker. These delineations are important as being from Upstate is much different than being from downstate, i.e., New York City. For the many people who don’t realize that New York is much more than the city, I set my books in Upstate New York with its small villages of 2,000 or so, dairy farms, orchards, and mountains. Let’s take a tour.

LOVE UNDERCOVER is set in the fictional village of Genesee in Wyoming County, where I grew up. The county is largely rural, dotted with small villages, ranging in size from Gainesville (pop. 304) to Perry (pop. 3,945). Much of the area is wooded, used for lumber. Maple stands are tapped each spring to make maple syrup. Let me insert here that I was once runner up Wyoming County Maple Princess. Agriculture is mostly small family dairy farms — I’ll insert here that there are more cows than people in the county — or hobby farms for people who work in Buffalo or Batavia. Old no-longer-harvested apple orchards — some planted by Johnny Appleseed, according to stories my father-in-law told — are all that are left of a once-thriving industry. The area is well known for outdoor sports, being an excellent area for fishing, hunting, and snowmobiling.

MANDY AND THE MAYOR is set in Whitmore Mills, another fictional small village in the scenic Adirondack Mountains. Check them out here: The Adirondacks are home to Lake Placid, the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics (

My first book, BACHELOR FATHER, and my most recent book, CANDY KISSES, are both set in Albany. If you’ve read my books’ cover flap copy, you know I now live south of Albany in 170-year-old farmhouse that we are continually renovating. We also currently have 12 of the cutest little piglets.

But I digress. Although, it’s the capital of one of the largest states, Albany has a population of less than 100,000. I have several writer friends from large metropolitan areas who laugh when I refer to going in to Albany as going to the city. Here’s an introduction from the Albany County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau,

How important is a book’s setting to you? Do you notice where the story is taking place or it is just background?


I.J. Parnham said...

That's a good question. If it's important to the writer then it's important to me as the reader, I guess is my answer.

So books in which there is little description of the setting is fine with me if that's the kind of story being told, but if it's one of those stories that's integral to the area and could only be set there, then I like to live and breathe the culture and feel as if I'm there.

Debby Mayne said...

It all depends on the story. If the book is about an issue or topic that can happen anywhere, setting isn't important. However, in some books, the setting is almost as important as the characters. For example, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series needs the New Jersey setting to make them seem real. Kristin Billerbeck's Ashley Stockingdale books wouldn't have the same effect if they were set in the Midwest or South.

Sandy Cody said...

Since all of us are shaped at least in part by our surroundings, I think setting is extremely important. That doesn't mean I like a lot of description. My favorite books convey setting in bits and pieces, giving a sense of place so subtly that I'm there without my being aware of how I got there.

By the way, Jean, your part of NY is one of my family's favorite places. We camped for years in the Fingers Lakes area and love it.

Zelda Benjamin said...

Yes, yes, yes. My stories are set in Brooklyn NY and as Debbie said, the setting can be as important as the characters. There are events in a big city that might not happen in a small town and characters react to the situations of their surroundings. Just because I write about city characters doesn't mean I don't love to read books set in small towns. Cynthia Thomason who writes for HQN sets her stories in small towns . Her characters often clash with big city ideas and are fun to read.

Elisabeth Rose said...

Settings are very important to me both in reading and writing. The background conveys a mood to the story and affects the characters.
My December release Outback Hero is a fish out of water story with a city girl stuck in a tiny outback town in Australia. Describing that little country town is crucial-- the heat, the duat, the isolation, the camaraderie of the locals. Those places have a uniquely Australian. flavour.

By the way we're driving across your part of the country Jean, from Buffalo to Boston in July on our way to the Washington conference. Very excited!

cynthia thomason said...

I develop settings right after I get a handle on my characters. And I adore small town settings. Most of my Harlequin superromances are set in small towns including the latest, Christmas in Key West. The island of Key West is only 6 square miles - pretty small. The Adirondack setting sounds yummy to me. I love Zelda Benjamin's Brooklyn stories too. I feel like I'm on vacation in a warm and comfy NY neighborhood when I read them.
Cynthia Thomason

Christine Bush said...

Yes, settings can be a lot of fun. Sometimes I love to read a book set in a location that is absolutely new to me. Sometimes I get a real kick out of a location that brings back memories, like Zelda's chocolate shop in Brooklyn. Setting adds a nice dimension.

Jean?? Wyoming County Maple Princess?? Do we get to see a picture? I think we really need a picture!

Carol Hutchens said...

I've read books where the setting was almost a main character and loved them. Other books could happen anywhere and the characters rule. I guess it depends on the book as to what matters.

I loved your descriptions of NY. You're right, we do forget the rest of your state sad. I loved your descriptions.

Carol Hutchens said...

Another thought on setting...Stephanie Plum would not be the same character if set in any other place...I love those books. Janet has perfected the blend of character and place to make Stephanie real...

I think that's a good goal for all writers.