Friday, April 6, 2012

Setting as Character

Our guest blogger today, Trish Milburn, writes paranormal young adult fiction for Bell Bridge Books, contemporary romance for Harlequin American and paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne as well as independently publishing her romantic suspense and women's fiction titles. She's a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart award. Welcome to Book Blather, Trish.

I was thrilled recently when Bell Bridge Books released White Witch, the first in my Coven series. It’s a book that I have loved since I typed the first word and is set in a place that has a lot of natural beauty, the mountains of North Carolina. It’s also a setting with which I’m familiar, so it was easy to infuse it with the sights, sounds and smells of the mountains.
I like to make setting a living, breathing part of my books, a character in and of itself. I tend to write about places that really interest me, ones that have captured my imagination in some way. For Elly: Cowgirl Bride from Harlequin American, it was rural Wyoming, ranch country. I loved bringing in the things I’d seen and experienced when I visited that area a few years ago. There are the soaring mountains, the long miles of emptiness, and the classic western tourist town of Cody with its western d├ęcor shops and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

For the next two books in the Coven series, Bane and Magick, I was facing writing about a place I hadn’t been – Salem, Massachusetts. So last July, I made a trip to Salem so that I could see it firsthand. I spent a day walking all over town, visiting the tourist attractions, poking around the shops, exploring the parks and the harbor, and taking photos. So when I sat down to write those books, I wasn’t picturing Salem as two-dimensional photographs and maps. It was alive, colorful, full of sounds and scents in my memory. I think the books will be better for that first-hand experience.

But site research isn’t always possible. For Winter Longing, my second young adult novel written as Tricia Mills, it was more of a challenge since it was set in Alaska and I’d never been there and couldn’t make a trip there as easily as I did Salem. But that’s what research is for, and with things like blogs by people who live there, GoogleEarth, and a friend who’d lived in the area (and whose brain I could pick), it was fun to create a fictional town set in the midst of a real area. I have long been fascinated by Alaska, and as a reader myself I love books set there. One of my favorite mystery series is the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow. I’ve probably learned as much about life in Alaska from these books as I have any other source.
My other published novels are all set in places I’ve been – the Gulf Coast of Florida, the mountains of Northeast Tennessee and Colorado. The Teagues of Texas trilogy that Harlequin American is currently in the middle of releasing is set in the Hill Country of Texas. It was fun to create my own town that took its inspiration from several towns in the Hill Country, Fredericksburg, Gruene and Marble Falls among them. My best friend lives in San Antonio, so I’ve been to the Hill Country three times, gathering great material for these books.

Now, I’m curious. Does a book’s setting matter to you? What are some examples of ones that have really come alive for you?

To buy Trish's books, visit her website at


  1. Hi Trish and Merilee!

    As you know, setting is very important in the books I write and, like you Trish, I find it much easier to make the setting really come alive if I've had first-hand experience visiting the place. ;-) Okay, I'll take any excuse to travel.

    I loved Fredericksburg, Texas when I visited there several years ago. Such GREAT antique shops! Can't wait to read your books set in Texas Hill Country.


  2. I agree. My earliest memory is of my father reading Alice in Wonderland to me. I still remember going down that rabbit hole - probably why I write fantasy!

  3. Thanks, Cindy. Fredericksburg is fun. I have some proposals in with my editor now to hopefully continue with more books in my Texas Hill Country town, and one of the heroines owns a boutique inspired by a couple I visited there.

    That's a cool memory, Marilee.