When I’m starting a book, sometimes I already have a very clear idea in my mind of the setting for the story. Other times it takes me a while to decide where I’ll place the book. And occasionally, especially in a trilogy, the decision also takes into consideration where the other two books in the series are set. I don’t want the story places to be too similar, and make the reader feel like she just read that story.
I was very clear on the setting for Waking Nightmare. For some reason, I was fixed on having it set in Savannah. There’s something about the city that evokes a certain mood, and I wanted that tone for the story. I still haven’t been there, but after all the research I did for the book it has elevated itself to one of the top spots on my places-to-be-visited lists. Savannah was also the right size town for the story I had in mind. And—important for this book—the police department would be the perfect size, as well.
But for some books I’ll purposefully choose a fictional setting. For the second book in the trilogy, Waking Evil I had very definite requirements in mind for the story, in terms of history, locale and population. Because there’s a small supernatural element in the book, it would have been difficult to place it in a real place.
I wrote a SWAT trilogy recently for Silhouette where I also planfully used a made up setting. Because SWAT units function so differently from location to location, I decided it made more sense to use a fictional city that was the right size for my story so SWAT protocol for that area couldn’t be contradicted. Such is the advantage of telling lies for a living.
But my favorite stories to write are those that take place in an area I visited for research. In book 3 of the Mindhunter series—Waking the Dead—I traveled to Oregon and hiked through the Willamette Forest that my heroine would be scouring for clues. I crawled through four caves before my mind made the association of :caves: bats. And then I ‘looked’ at a few more. And the most wonderful thing happened when I was doing this research-- I was walking through the forest, near the caves we were exploring and the entire final scene of the story just sort of unfurled in my head. It was like watching a movie clip of the ending—and I wrote it exactly that way. If visiting the setting of the story I’m writing guarantees that sort of inspiration, I’m definitely going to try to get more travel in before starting the books!