Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Where I'm At

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

This cycle at GBC we're talking about settings.

In terms of setting, the books I've had traditionally published break down as follows:

CONNECTICUT: A Little Change of Face; Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes; Crazy Beautiful; Angel's Choice; Secrets of My Suburban Life; Me, In Between

MASSACHUSETTS: Little Women and Me

ENGLAND: The Thin Pink Line; Crossing the Line; Vertigo: The Education of Bet; The Twin's Daughter

ICELAND: How Nancy Drew Saved My Life

LOCATION UNKNOWN: The Sisters 8 series

When I look back on this, I realize there was no big advance planning in any of it. It was more that I would get an idea for a book and the voice combined with the concept would dictate setting. Plotwise, the books I've set in England could have just as easily been set in the U.S., save for one small thing. When you choose a setting, there's so much more that comes with it than just location. There's all the nuances of accents, tone, cadence, even word choices. If you're writing a contemporary comedy, as a rule, people in the U.S. don't get gobsmacked or feel knackered, and they certainly never say "You stupid cow!" to insult someone, not unless they also want to provoke a bout of anorexia.

There was a lot of deliberation behind my choice to set How Nancy Drew Saved My Life in Iceland. I wanted my heroine to become the nanny to an ambassador in an unusual place; I wanted it to be far away and completely isolated; and I'd been to Iceland.

Similarly, it was a deliberate decision to never identify just where it is The Sisters 8 live. Like the prologue in Book 1: Annie's Adventures says: "And where was this magnificent stone house? Why, it might have been anywhere in the world - even right next door to you - so why quibble? However, if there were octuplets in your class at school, you would probably have noticed by now, so perhaps that's not the case."

The books I've set in Connecticut are mostly set in Danbury, where I live, although occasionally I use other towns. Of course I change things to suit my own purposes. Every time a reader asks if there really is a bar here where a person can shoot pool that goes by the name of Chalk Is Cheap, I have to admit that, sadly, Chalk Is Cheap only exists in my mind.

When you get down to it, I suppose it all comes down to my mind, really. As a writer, it's all about going to the places - physical and emotional and conceptual - that I'm most interested in going to at the time. And I'm the same as a reader.

I love reading books that take place in different states and regions in the U.S. and I love books from other countries, Some of my favorites, by location, from the past year?

SCOTLAND: Gods and Beasts, by Denise Mina

DENMARK: A Conspiracy of Faith, by Jussi Adler-Olsen

NORTH DAKOTA: Let Him Go, by Larry Watson

ENGLAND: The Hive, by Gill Hornby

NORWAY: Police, by Jo Nesbo

FRANCE: The Mouse-Proof Kitchen, by Saira Shah

SPAIN: Mr. Lynch's Holiday, by Catherine O'Flynn

PORTUGAL: The Two Hotel Francforts, by David Leavitt

MINNESOTA: Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger

So how about you? What's your favorite setting to write about? What's your favorite setting to read about? Or what's the name of a really great book you've read that has a strong sense of place?

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of a bunch of books for adults, teens and children. Visit her at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com, check out The Sisters 8 at www.sisterseight.com, or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBaratzL


  1. Lauren, I'm envious! I've always wanted to go to Iceland. Yet another reason I need to read your Nancy Drew book... Love the title and the premise :).

    When I was an exchange student in high school, I was sent to Brisbane, Australia and I loved it there. I've played around with setting a story in that area. And Europe, esp. Italy, has always been a favorite of mine. I never tire of reading (or writing) about great art and gelato...

    1. Marilyn, I'm intrigued by Australia but - don't laugh! - I'm scared of the spiders. (Blame the movie Arachnophobia for this.) I do love Italy, though.

  2. Great post, Lauren. Readers often wonder whether the author's choice setting is arbitrary or pre-meditated. As you point out, it can be both but anywhere you hang your hat is home.

    1. Hats? Is someone giving out hats? One of my self-pubbed books, Z: A NOVEL, takes place in Danbury and because it's about Zorro, a friend of mine gave me a Zorro hat.

  3. Lauren, I'm impressed, not just with your writing but your reading as well!

    1. Sheila, I just figure that as a writer, reading is the cost of doing business!

  4. I love this post Lauren! I had one of my books set in Mongolia and I did so much research people asked me when I'd been. I've never been, but the Internet is a great research tool!

    1. Leslie, speaking of Mongolia... (How often do you get to say *that* sentence?) The other day on FB, my cousin posted one of those quizzes, something along the lines of, "What country are you most like?" All the people ahead of my got Monaco. I got Mongolia.

  5. Because I'm from and live in New Orleans, it's my favorite place to use in my novels because it can be so quirky--it's almost a character in itself. But I would love to set a novel in Greece just to justify a trip there!

    1. Christa, I just finished Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen - she also wrote Girl, Interrupted - part of which is set in Greece. I haven't been there but I've been to New Orleans, years ago, when I was young(er) and crazy(er).

  6. I've only written two settings across seven titles California and Cleveland. Though I'm from NYC, that always seems too cliche. I'm always envious of writers with exotic settings. My husband has been pestering for a book set abroad, and after reading your post, maybe it's doable. I lived in Connecticut for quite a few years, but haven't written a book there - a scene or two, maybe. Loved your blog post.

    As far as my favorite books, settings-wise? I'm going to really have to think about it. Before I could travel like I do now, reading was how I *saw* the world as a child.

    1. Sylvia, there has been a ton of fiction set in NY and CA, as you well know, CT too. But Cleveland? You could totally own the market on that!