Monday, June 29, 2015


If you write for a long time, you may find that you repeat yourself.  I mean, how many ways can you have your bad guy try to kill your hero and heroine?

Murder isn’t the only aspect of my stories where I try to be creative.  Yeah, a lot of my heroes are agents for Decorah Security, and a number of them are even werewolves.  Plus a lot of my heroines make their living from the arts, because those are professions I can identify with.  And as an added bonus, when murderers come at them with a knife or a gun, they’re free to pack up their paintbrushes or cameras and disappear.

One thing I try to do in my work is set my stories in interesting places.  I used Washington, DC, a lot because the city has cachet in the world of spy novels.  It also happens to be the city where I grew up, so I know it well.

Similarly, I often use Columbia, Maryland, because I live here now.  And right down the road is two-hundred-year-old Ellicott City, where the kitschy shopping street is wedged between massive cliffs leading down to the Patapsco River.  Another location I go back to again and again is Maryland’s Eastern Shore because of the colonial charm, waterman culture, and opportunities for small-town politics.

I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I don’t know as much about some of the other locations around my state.  But I had an opportunity to remedy that situation at a Blogger Bash sponsored by the Maryland Office of Tourism.  They got a number of writers together with marketing directors from some of the state’s counties and also some interesting vendors.  I knew Maryland had wineries.  In fact I picked up a brochure for the Patuxent Wine Trail, which includes wineries in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Prince George’s and Saint Mary’s counties.  And I had a nice chat with the winemaker from Big Cork Winery, which is thirty minutes west of Frederick.

Talking to the vintners has already got me thinking of a different kind of occupation for one of my heroines.  And something I didn’t know is that we’ve got a distillery, Lyon Distilling Company, in St. Michaels Maryland.  At the reception I tasted some of their wonderful rum, mixed with ginger beer.  Now I’ve got another interesting business to include in my description of St. Michaels, a location I do use frequently, although I call it St. Stephens.  One of my personal rules is that, if I’m going to murder people, I like to do it at a fictitious location.

One of the people I loved talking to at the bash was Betsy DeVore, the Director of Marketing and Digital Communications for the Hagerstown Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
I’ve driven past Hagerstown a lot of times on my way west.  She made me want to stop there.  It might be cool to set some scenes at the Antietam National Battlefield or the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park.

If you’re looking for interesting locations for a book, use your state’s tourism office as a resource.  The same thing goes if you’re looking for a fun day trip or overnight.

And tell me–where do you look for interesting locations to use in books–or simply to enjoy for a quick getaway?


Toby Devens said...

My editors have always appreciated the Maryland settings in my novels because they make for a welcome departure from the overuse of New York and LA in fiction. Baltimore City is rich with ethnic neighborhoods and quirky enclaves, and the state is known as "America in Miniature" because it boasts so many natural features--lakes, mountains, beaches and bays, a wealth of geography to use as backdrops for stories. My latest book "Barefoot Beach"(out in July 2016) is based in a mythical beach town, invented so I can shape the location to the needs of the plot. Brooklyn, NY--where I was born and raised-- always gets referenced in my novels, even if no scenes are actually set there, because I consider it a good luck charm to mention it.

Rebecca York said...

I didn't know Maryland was "American inn Miniature." But it makes sense. I've considered Maryland a wonderful place to live since I moved here. I can't imagine moving far away.

Chassie West said...

I'm embarrassed to admit that it's only been in the last few years that I've come to appreciate just how rich the state of Maryland is - rich in the beauty of nature, variety of landscapes from the Chesapeake and the Eastern Shore to the mountains and lakes that snuggle up against Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. I admire how well you've used our home state in your books, Rebecca. You've introduced me to areas and communities I would have missed otherwise. Thanks.

PatriciaRosemoor said...

If I set a book in Illinois, it's usually in Chicago since I've lived here all my life. I do, however, use different neighborhoods to get different vibes. I've set quite a few novels in bordering Wisconsin, a few in not so bordering New Orleans, and quite a few in New Mexico. And yes, I did travel to these and other places (Paris, Ireland, India) to research them.

Rebecca York said...

Thanks, Chassie. Patricia, I love doing travel research.

cronshi said...

It's true that authors often rely on the familiar, but there are many authors that take a location and offer it to the reader like a gift. We almost become residents of a place that's not our own as the writer mingles real and fictional places in towns like Toronto (Tanya Huff), New Orleans (Sherrilyn Kenyon) or your own Light Street series. There's a certain thrill that you feel when you as a literary tourist, actually visit the locales that are part of the fiction you love.

Rebecca York said...

This is from my friend Nancy Baggett. She tells me the blog won't let her post. Sorry!

I love your rule about not using the real name of towns where you kill your characters--makes sense in a funny way. Also allows you to change things to heighten suspense--like deeper, darker woods, a taller bridge, an empty warehouse at the edge of town....

I enjoyed MD Blogger Bash, too. Learned a lot. Thanks for posting our pic. Nancy Baggett