I’ve been lucky enough in my life to live in several beautiful places. I grew up in Norway, which is considered one of the loveliest places in the world. Mountains, forests, fairytale landscapes with rocks and rivers—not to mention the coast, long enough to reach from Mexico to Canada and beyond.
My last stop so far has been Nashville, which is different again. There’s the Parthenon, of course, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Ryman Auditorium, the Opryland Hotel, the Belle Meade and Belmont Plantations... To me, the beauty of Nashville is all about buildings. And not buildings plural, like New York’s skyline. Buildings singular, one at a time. Gorgeous Victorian cottages, rambling Arts and Crafts bungalows, quaint fairytale Tudors with towers and points...
We’re talking about moving again, this time to Saint Augustine, Florida. The oldest town in the United States, settled in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Gorgeous little town with narrow cobblestoned streets, old French Quarter-style buildings made of coquina shell mixture, a fort guarding the harbor, and of course the beautiful Anastasia Island beach, with white sands and azure water. Dolphins breaking the surface on the intracoastal waterway, slow manatees bobbing, graceful sailing boat and—yes—some rather attractively muscled people in skimpy clothes.
Where I am is a big deal to me. What I see around me, what the place smells like, sounds like, feels like. How hot or cold it is. Each place is different, distinctive.
And it’s the same when I write. The setting becomes almost like a character in the book. Distinctive and different. And like the characters, it drives the plot forward. The fact that Waterfield is on the coast of Maine has influenced the kinds of stories I include in the DIY-series; there are subjects I just wouldn’t have been able to tackle had the books been set elsewhere. Smuggling, human trafficking, the US Navy, Marie Antoinette’s cats...
Same thing with A Cutthroat Business. Savannah Martin is who she is because of where she grew up; setting very literally influenced the character, and setting continues to influence the plot and background in that book, and in the ones that will follow. It’s all about the Southern setting, Southern mores, a Southern background.
It probably goes without saying that I also enjoy reading books with a distinctive setting, be it domestic or foreign, real or imagined. Elizabeth Peters’s Egypt in the last century. JD Robb’s New York City anno 2060. Lois McMaster Bujold’s planet of Barrayar. JK Rowling’s Hogwarts. Deborah Crombie’s London and Carla Neggers’s Boston. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Miller’s Kill. Frank Baum's Land of Oz.
So what about you? Is setting important to you when you read? Do you have any favorite authors whose settings you enjoy? Have you ever read a book specifically because it was set in a certain place? (I have to confess to gobbling up books set in Cornwall. Comes from growing up on Daphne de Maurier, I expect.)