Wednesday, June 30, 2010

IT’S ALL IN THE PLACE (and Book Giveaway!)

By Dee Davis

When I read, one of the most important things to me about the novel is the setting. When I escape I like to go places I haven’t been. Whether it’s somewhere far away or somewhere created by an author’s imagination, part of the reading journey for me is all about the place. Whether it’s Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Mary Stewart’s Greece, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, Austen’s Bath or WWII as seen through the eyes of Herman Wouk, I love the feeling of visiting some place I’ve never been before. And in many cases, the settings of favorite books have inspired trips to those locales--Scotland, England, Vienna, and Italy to name a few.

Not surprisingly, as a writer I also feel that setting is important. Often times for me the setting becomes a character. Almost as important as the hero and heroine. In A MATCH MADE ON MADISON, my romantic comedy set in Manhattan, the city is central to the story line. The places that Vanessa and her friends go are all actual places that I love, parts of the city I wanted to share with readers.

But setting can also be important in establishing the tone of a story. A hot steamy love story will work much better if it’s set in a similar local. Miami, New Orleans, or as is the case with my new release DANGEROUS DESIRES, the jungles of Colombia. The jungle provides not just a backdrop for the characters, but an integral component of the story line. It is because of the setting that things heat up in the way that they do. Conversely, sometimes it’s cold that makes a story work, when Annie Gallagher’s child (DARK DECEPTIONS) is kidnapped, it is the desolation of the mountain she lives on combined with the falling snow that lends an eerie tenor to the story.

Sometimes the type of tale drives the setting. A gothic set in a high rise in Manhattan doesn’t work as well as one set in a fog shrouded estate on the Cornish coast. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD wouldn’t have had the same resonance if it had been set outside the deep south. Try to imagine any of Larry McMurtry’s books set in say Connecticut. Or Sex in the City in Peoria. Can you imagine Jack London’s books set in any urban area? Or a Regency set in the 1950’s? Setting is sometimes the defining element of a novel.

So when I begin a book, a lot of thought goes into where it should be set. Some books are easy to define—the setting practically demanding its place in the story. Others are harder to get a handle on. But always it’s important to match the setting to the tone and pacing of the story. And once the decision is made it’s equally important to work to bring that chosen setting to life. If you have the luxury of writing about somewhere you’ve lived or visited, it makes your job much easier. But just because you haven’t been to a place, doesn’t mean you can do the research and still bring it to life.

All three of my time travel novels were set in the past. Two in fourteenth century Scotland and on in the late 1880’s in Colorado. Of course I’ve never visited the past, and yet with the right research I still was able to write authoritatively about those specific times and places. The same is true of contemporary settings. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received concerned the setting of DARK OF THE NIGHT. The woman, a bookseller, wrote to say that she thought the book was so realistic she was certain that I was a native of Atlanta. I’ve never lived there at all. I just did my homework.

Part of a writer’s job is to carry the reader away. And one of the most useful tools in our arsenal is setting. There’s a reason “It was a dark and stormy night…” is the way Snoopy always begins his novels—it sets the tone and allows the reader to anticipate the coming ride. So choose your settings carefully—they have the potential to make or break your books. And when done right, they’ll provide intriguing portals to the world you’ve created for your readers. ♥

BOOK EXCERPT: Read a book excerpt from Dee’s latest thriller DANGEROUS DESIRES at

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment for Dee and you will be entered to win a signed ARC of her third book, DESPERATE DEEDS.

On the brink of turning forty, award winning author Dee Davis realized that life only happens once. In total panic, she decided it was time to stop talking about writing a book and “just do it”. To that end she sat down at the computer and hasn’t left since. The transplanted Texan now lives in Manhattan. The time she doesn’t spend writing is spent with her husband, her daughter, her cat and her Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Visit her online at


  1. Congrats on the new release, Dee. I can't wait to read Drake's story. Settings are definitely important and it's exciting to see how well an author describes my hometown.

  2. Dee, I have been looking forward to this one!

  3. Dee,

    I agree that the setting is key element. It really places readers right along side the characters, so essential to keep them flipping the pages. Congrats on DESPERATE DEEDS.

  4. You explain beautifully just how integral setting is to a successful story and to enhancing the tone. Though I think "Sex In Peoria" might actually play, well, in Peoria!

    And equally important for me, as a writer who does not travel, is to be aware of what I don't know and particularly focus on creating the setting via research, and make sure I don't fall into the trap of guessing or creating a caricaturish "place" based on generalizations. Currently working on a noir short mystery story, I've set it in New Orleans (it has to have a southern setting). And I have a NO friend who'll be reading it to guarantee it sounds like the Big Easy!

    Thanks for a great post, Dee, and can't wait for the latest Deceptions! Keep 'em comign.

  5. I do think having a reader from wherever you're setting your book is a wonderful way to make sure you've got accuracy.I remember when I was writing Everything In Its Time, I was worried about my use of Gaelic (just a smattering). And found a professor of Gaelic and he really really helped me to make sure I was doing it right.

  6. Congratulations on your latest publication! I haven't been to Colombia but I've been to Panama (the next one up!) and the forest is as sticky and tricky to walk in as everyone imagines.

  7. I can tesify to Dee's masterful use of setting. "Set-Up in So-Ho" was New York to a "T." Maybe almost a little too familiar to a native New Yorker like myself! Unbeilievable use of amazingly well integrated detail. Dee is truly a "mistress" of setting. Someone struggling with this issue in their own writing would do well to study her books.

  8. Mary you just made my day :) !!!

  9. There is nothing more delicious - to me - than discovering a new author. Dee spoke to our chapter earlier this year and BAM her book is here!

    Can't wait!

  10. Wonderful post, Dee. As a reader, I love a book that immerses me in the setting and as a writer, I hope to be able to convey that same sense in my own stories.
    Thanks for sharing your post with us! Very informative and congrats on the new release!

  11. I love the idea of Sex in Peoria -- all things are possible for those with romance in their souls. Lovely post, Dee.


  12. Well, now one of you has simply got to write Sex in Peoria!

  13. Congratulations on the new book, Dee. Great post making the connections between setting and tone/pacing. Karen K.