Saturday, March 27, 2010

Where have you set your books and why?

I had a hard time deciding where to set my Ro Com, Love, Hollywood Style. At first, I figured—sure—it made sense to set it in Hollywood since it does take place at a Hollywood movie studio. But so many movies and TV shows are being filmed in other parts of the world these days because they get tax breaks that make it cheaper. There’s even a term for it: “runaway production.” Losing all this production is actually a serious problem in Los Angeles, because entertainment is a big part of the economy out here. But it was tempting to consider writing a book about Hollywood and setting it somewhere else.

Initially, I thought Vancouver would make for a nice setting. So much production is being done in Vancouver these days, like the TV shows Psych, Smallville, Life Unexpected, and Supernatural. But then I realized they were going to have the Olympics, and really Vancouver had enough going for it already. They didn’t need me to set my book there. So, I stuck with Hollywood. You know, for realism.

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be a tour guide at a Paramount Pictures. The Hollywood studio in my book, Sovereign Studios, is modeled after my old workplace, though I changed it around considerably to make it fit into the needs of my story. But still, no matter how much I pictured Sovereign Studios while I was writing, memories of Paramount kept pushing into my mind. For instance…

The scene in the cafeteria reminds me of the Paramount cafeteria, which used to be the old RKO Studios rehearsal hall, where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers came up with all their dance routines for the RKO movies.

The infirmary reminds me of the one on the Paramount lot that is in what we used to call “Star Trek Alley” because that’s where most of the Star Trek TV shows were filmed.

And the soundstage where I set the big finish will, in my mind, always be Paramount’s Stage 5, which is where they filmed The Brady Bunch in the seventies and Angel more recently. (Wouldn’t you have loved it if Angel could have gone back in time and staked cousin Oliver?)

Right now, I’m working on a couple projects that are set in San Francisco. As the other Ro Com authors have noted, it’s useful to have firsthand knowledge of a place you’re setting your stories. I’ve been to San Francisco twice since moving to California. Unfortunately, my visits don’t come in too handy for one of the projects because it’s set over two hundred years in the future. The challenge then becomes for me to decide what’s still there and what is brand new to the city.

The other project set in San Francisco does take place in the current century, and it’s the project that I’ve been teasing in this blog for months. I’m co-writing a new line of comic books based on the TV show Charmed. It’s my first time ever writing comic books, and I’m very excited about it. Though I am considering moving The Charmed Ones to Hollywood, just so I have a shorter commute to work. Driving to San Francisco every time I want to write a scene is murder.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where Have You Set Your Books and Why?

I set my first YA, Getting to Third Date, in an anywhere college town, mainly because I wanted it to be universal. Ever since I went to college at 17, I have lived in a college town. First University of Delaware, and then -- when my husband got his Ph.D. and a "real" job -- the University of Maine. I've taken classes on both campuses, but only earned a degree at University of Delaware. My first job, before I even began classes, was working at the University bookstore during textbook rush. Since then I've worked at both universities in many capacities (one day I'll write my memoirs, which will include my interesting stints working in various University offices at two big state universities).

I set my Salem Witch series (The Salem Witch Tryouts, Competition's a Witch, and She's a Witch Girl) in Salem. Duh. That was incredibly easy to decide, because the first thing I had for that book was the title. Of course, I had read about the Salem Witch Trials, and we'd read The Crucible aloud in high school English, but that was all I knew of Salem. So I had to do research and find out about the modern Salem. Which is awesome, of course. I recommend visiting in the fall -- they really do it up for the tourists. Just be prepared to be touched and a little shocked at how the witch burning craze touched so many innocent lives back in the day.
Must Love Black, my most recent release, is set in coastal Maine. I love coastal Maine, though I don't live there. One day, on a sailboat excursion with DH, I saw a house on a cliff and said, "That's where Philippa goes." There are many beautiful places, but the coast calls to me. The ocean that breaks against the jagged slabs of granite makes me feel like I've come home.

The manuscript I finished recently (title still in flux, though I think I may have hit upon the right one two days ago -- at last!) is also set in Maine. There's something about magic and New England that just go well together.

Of course, I may just hop across the sea to England for the book I'm in the process of drafting. But don't tell anyone I told you so. It's still a secret.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Where have you set your books and why?

Ask me why I don’t have a Jersey Girl accent. Really—you’d be the first! *smirk* But please don’t expect me to do the “fist pump” on the dance floor. That’s not gonna happen.

While I may disappoint some expectations, I really am a bona fide Jersey girl. (I even graduated from Rutgers University.) We are some dynamic, colorful people. And from the woodsy Bear country counties to the more NYC-borough-esque region, our geographically diverse state makes for an awesome setting for a story (or two).

Perfect Shot is set in a fictional town that sits in the shadow of that towering Manhattan island where I was born. A trendy shop like Chic Boutique (the modeling contest’s headquarters in PS) would easily fit into the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the real Bergen County towns that inspired me. And ambitious young ladies like London Abrams and her bff Pam are found in abundance all throughout the garden state.

London’s town is the type of neighborhood I moved to as an adult. But I was raised in East Orange, NJ, the city I wrote about in Hallways Diaries. Here I am with my godmother (great aunt/soulmate) “Dada” outside of our East Orange home.

Ever see that “30 Rock” episode when we learned that Ken the Page sees the world as one big puppet show? Well, my hubby likes to tease that Ken and I are kindred spirits. (Of course, you know that’s an exaggeration--in my mind, the world is more like a Broadway musical.) But so what my POV is a little rose-colored? I know a lot of folks consider New Jersey to be more of a punchline than a home state. That doesn’t bother me. I can’t deny the great memories of growing up there. Like with everyone else, sure there were some off moments, but they certainly don’t come close to outweighing the bad. And at this point in my career, I find myself wanting to write more stories about colorful characters in this colorful region of the country.

But just don’t expect any of my characters to bust out with the “fist pump” dance, either. Not gonna happen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Where have you set your books and why?

I love this question because I think where a story takes place is very important. You want the story to feel real, and one of the ways to do that is to describe the place authentically. Of course, you can make up a place and as long as you stay consistent, that works too. But with my published novels, I chose places I knew well. Then, I build upon those settings and use fake high school names, street names, etc., to build the perfect setting.

The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren takes place in the Denver suburbs, where I moved in the second grade and lived until college (but I went to Colorado State, which is only an hour and a half north). I enjoyed writing about a place I know inside and out, putting in little shout-outs to the Broncos, the Rocky Mountains, etc.

My second Ro-Com, Miss Match, is set in Salt Lake City. There don't seem to be very many books set in Utah, and I wanted to shed light on the amazing place I live in now. Right after college, I got married to a Utah native and now we live in a beautiful town about an hour north of SLC. We're surrounded by 3 ski resorts, a lake, and a river. I put some local tidbits in my story, and it's been fun getting feedback from the people who live here. (The photo to the left shows some of the scenery I enjoy every day.)

As for my third novel (not a Ro-Com, but still with Simon Pulse), I needed a setting that was steeped in religion--the Bible Belt. I was born in Houston (where I lived until 2nd grade) but I wanted a smaller town setting, somewhere where everybody knew everybody's business. So I decided to set it in East Texas, where my parents are from and where my dad and other relatives still live. I was there a couple of years ago so to make sure my settting details rang true, I ran them by my relatives. The main character, Poppy, and her mom move from Boulder, Colorado to Pleasant Acres, Texas (I made up the town name, but it looks a lot like this photo from a real East Texas town) to start a new life, and I think (I hope) it works well. You'll have to let me know! Lifted comes out June 8! (Click HERE to learn more about this book.)

Basically, I choose settings that work best for the story I'm telling and that I can write about with a sense of authenticity.

As a reader, I think it's fun to read a book that is set somewhere familiar to me, such as Nicole Burnham's Scary Beautiful (Colorado), but it's also fun to read a book that takes place somewhere I've never been or somewhere that doesn't really exist. What about you?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We've got the scoop!

Look for these new Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies in 2010! ♥


At First Sight
By Catherine Hapka

Sometimes The One is right before your eyes. . .

Lauren and Riley first meet under the stars, and instantly know they are destined to be together. Okay, so maybe it was on a lame school trip to the planetarium, and maybe they didn't get each others' names, or even a good look at each other. But for the brief moment they are together, the sparks are undeniable.

So when Lauren finds a post on Facebook that a guy named Riley is searching for this amazing girl he met at the planetarium, she feels like the stars have finally aligned in her favor. That is, until Lauren sees that Riley is being pursued by hordes of Planetarium Girl imposters! Will Lauren and Riley be able to find each other again, or will these star crossed lovers remain in the dark?




***COMING MAY 25***

Endless Summer
By Jennifer Echols

Includes The Boys Next Door

Two irresistible boys. One unforgettable summer.

Lori can't wait for her summer at the lake. She loves wakeboarding and hanging with her friends--including the two hotties next door. With the Vader brothers, she's always been just one of the guys. Now that she's turning sixteen, she wants to be seen as one of the girls, especially in the eyes of Sean, the older brother. But that's not going to happen--not if the younger brother, Adam, can help it.

Lori plans to make Sean jealous by spending time with Adam. Adam has plans of his own for Lori. As the air heats up, so does this love triangle. Will Lori's romantic summer melt into one hot mess?





Love, Love, Love
By Deborah Reber and Caroline Goode

Two sweet stories about finding your one true love.

In Language of Love, by Deborah Reber, Janna is quickly adapting to life in Seattle as a high school exchange student from Hungary. Or at least Julian, the cute boy she met in a coffee shop, thinks she is. The truth is, he overheard Janna using a phony accent, and now she’s stuck playing the part….Will Julian want to be with the real Janna? Or will she discover that lies don’t always translate to love?

In Cupidity by Caroline Goode, high school is the single worst place to find a boyfriend. And Laura Sweeney is no exception. She hasn't had a date since...well, ever. So Laura needs guidance. A proven "get the guy" strategy. Luckily she knows exactly the expert to call. He's a matchmaking mastermind who actually has the bow and arrow to prove it. Let's just call him...Cupid.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where have you set your books and why?

I'm a little more limited than most with regards to this question: the setting for most of my fiction books has been decided by my editors. This has resulted in some interesting scenarios: for instance, having to write about California, when I've never been to California. I had to set an entire book in a vineyard in Napa Valley. Not only have I never been to Napa, or a vineyard, I didn't even know what grapes looked like when they were growing. Thank you, Google Images. I also got around this particular problem by renting old Rick Steves Travel DVDs of Napa and looking through big coffeetable books about life on a vineyard.

Then there was the book that was supposed to be set in Palm Springs, CA. Fine, no problem, I told the editor. I've got it under control. Off I go, writing the manuscript. I was used to writing about California by now, and my characters always spent a lot of time at the beach. So I wrote in several key beach scenes, as usual. Oops. I later was informed that Palm Springs is like miles and miles from the beach. It's in the middle of the desert. If this isn't a testament to the value of research, I don't know what is. I had to rewrite every d**n one of those scenes.

That's a big reason why setting Hard to Get in the Midwest was such a relief. At last, I could write about a terrain I was familiar with: daffodils in spring, changing oak trees in fall, cornfields, soybeans. The book I'm working on now is set somewhere in upper Michigan. My best friend's family once owned a vacation house there that had been in their family for generations. I only visited the place once but I've never been able to get it out of my mind. Something about the loons. . .

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where have you set your books and why?

Have you ever watched a movie set in a place you love, only to think, "That's not right!" For the next five minutes, all you can think about is how the filmmakers had the traffic going the wrong direction on your town's main street, past a governor's mansion that's actually located fifty miles away.

As an author, I never wanted to fall into that trap. A perfectly good story with riveting characters, one that has readers flipping pages as fast as possible, can come to a grinding halt when the reader finds an obvious error. To avoid that, I'm very careful when choosing the setting for each of my stories.

In Sticky Fingers, I created a fictional high school in a real town (Framingham, MA), that's not far from where I live. Before the book went to print, I double-checked every fact in the story, driving past each of the locations to ensure that the traffic flowed a certain way, that the views from inside stores matched up with what I wrote, and that the spelling of each street was correct.

I went one step further in both Scary Beautiful and Goddess Games. Because I needed weather, stores, and streets that suited each story, I made up the towns of Vista Verde and Juniper. However, I set them in my home state of Colorado, because I knew it'd be easy for me to describe everything from local plants and wildlife to the real towns located near my fictional settings with accuracy. Anyone from Colorado would recognize the "feel" of the two towns, even if they don't exist.

Finally, in the Royally Jacked series of books, I created an entire fictional country. You'd think a fake country would give a writer unlimited freedom; however, as with my fictional Colorado towns, I spent a lot of time ensuring that the "feel" of the country would resonate with readers. I set the country in Europe, where I lived for six years. Buildings, public transportation, and even the names of secondary characters all came directly from things I experienced while living in southern Germany. Best of all, I was able to incorporate the food! (Strudel, anyone? Gelato?)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Where have you set your books and why?

Endless Summer, the sequel to The Boys Next Door, will be published on May 25--and The Boys Next Door will be reprinted in the same volume. I'm so excited about the perfect pub date because it's just a few days shy of the start of the action in The Boys Next Door, around Memorial Day. And that is a beautiful time of year on Lake Martin, Alabama, where I grew up.

It was not my choice to set a book here. I think Lake Martin is paradise, but it's not for everyone. For instance, country singer Alan Jackson played a concert there for Aquapalooza last August. You could only see it by boat. If I had been 16, all of my friends and I would have been there, believe me. However, before I wrote this book, I assumed New York editors would turn up their noses at a setting like this.

Here's what happened. I wrote a proposal for a book about a girl torn between two adorable brothers who live next door. I wrote another proposal for a book with a suspenseful treasure-hunting plot set on a lake. My editor did not like either proposal, but she told me to take the love triangle plot and set it on the lake.

So I did. But I took out any references to the fact that the lake was in Alabama. It was Lake in a Nameless State so it would have the broadest appeal to the most readers. But in the edits, my editor kept asking me weird questions: Why are you calling their lake cabins houses, as if they live there all year? Why aren't the girls cold at night in their Slinky Cleavage-Revealing Tops? It became apparent to me that when I said "lake," New York heard "Lake Placid." So I revised the book to make it clear that this lake is in Alabama. It is hot as hell in Alabama in the summer, even at night, even in a Slinky Cleavage-Revealing Top, and if we have a house on the lake, we tend to live there all year because there are no blizzards to close the roads in the winter or anything like that going on.

For your enjoyment, here is a beautiful pic my dad took of Lake Martin for a photography class recently. And here is a pic of me waterskiing on the lake when I was 18, because I never get tired of proudly telling people that I did not fall after that shot.