Where are my places of power? Where do I fill up creatively and spiritually? Where do I feel most confident, most peaceful, most like me?
When I choose a setting, I think of these questions because the setting I choose affects my books in an integral way. In my first few books, I chose the town where I grew up to be my backdrop for many reasons. Garnering local publicity was a big one. But I believe I mainly chose it for familiarity. I knew what shops and businesses were located downtown. I had a host of suburbs to choose from. The town was large enough so I could weave in anything I needed. Most of all, I knew it so well I could concentrate on all the other elements necessary to sell those books. Years later when I set a more expansive book there that dealt with the 1970's, I realized my heart was in my hometown and that shone through whether or not I'd realized the fact in my earlier books.
Sometimes I choose a setting because of my hero or heroine's background or career path. If I want to write about a venture capitalist, I could choose Chicago or New York City. A trauma surgeon would lead me to a more heavily populated area and have hundreds of patient contacts whereas a small town doctor would be involved with fewer patients over his or her lifetime. If I select a large city, I still create a community of characters because friendships and family bonds are critical in my novels. A hometown gives my hero or heroine roots. If my character is a newcomer, he or she can feel estranged from the residents, or see this place with a sense of exploration. My hero and heroine can shade a reader's opinion of any setting.
A fictional setting is often the easiest to use. I can give the town a flavor all of its own. My street names can be picturesque or utilitarian. I can build a hospital with a specialized Neonatal Intensive Care unit or create a lake for boating. Anything and everything I will need for my plot can be a product of my imagination.
For my Reunion Brides series that began in February, I chose a setting that is as important as any character. Miners Bluff is a fictional former copper mining town near Flagstaff, Arizona. Forests, canyons and mountains are infusing the books with their own special magic while I write. My heroes and heroines are surrounded by a natural beauty that infiltrates not merely the descriptions but the imagery I use as well. Because this is one of my favorite destinations that fills up my creative spirit—particularly Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon--my feelings about the area seep into the emotion and conflict. This setting becomes a character in itself.
Every setting should have a purpose. Before beginning a project, I ask myself—What does this setting accomplish? If I'm mindful of its purpose, it can become a major influence in whatever I write.
(For another of my favorite settings, my garden, check out my e-zine--IN TOUCH with Karen Rose Smith.)