Part One: What happened at Malice …

…doesn’t have to stay at Malice. My panel was “International and Off the Beaten Path Settings. Here’s the low down – in case you couldn’t make it.
Moderator: What is your favorite international or exotic setting and why?
Another panelist said Paris. Italy was my answer – but I stipulated that both should be approached as an idea. Think of the idea of Italy.

What if you want to write about a foreign place but can’t visit in person? What are your favorite research tools (e.g. Google Earth, maps, journals…)
I like Google Earth in the street view. In writing you need to know what your protagonist sees when she races out a door of, say, the Pyramid at the Louvre. I also recommended reading Yelp reviews for very particular details – like, how the garlic parmesan shaved brussels sprouts tasted.

Have you ever completely made up a foreign setting? Nope. Haven’t needed to yet.

How do you insert snippets of a foreign language so your reader can understand the meaning without feeling talked down to and/or overwhelmed? Do you translate foreign words, or assume your reader will get the meaning through the context?
I urged restraint here. Too much will slow the pace of your novel. Use a word or two and let the context explain the meaning.

Do you ever have the feeling that your setting is a “character,” just as much as the people in your story?
No, it’s the canvas of the story, but I find myself thinking of museums as characters with their own personalities.

What kinds of details do you look for/research to make an exotic or foreign setting come alive for the reader?
I ask myself what sense fired up first when I visited the place in real life. Was it the smell? Or the humidity? Or the quiet? At the Vatican, I first noticed how gritty the floor felt. I find this keeps the tired, old phrases away: smell of mowed grass, freshly baked apple pie, yada, yada.

Your protagonist travels to several countries in each book. What challenges has this caused?
On a practical level, I am constantly figuring out time zones and travel time. For telephone calls to a business, is she calling on a weekend? Or is she calling her contact in the middle of the night? For example, Tokyo is thirteen hours ahead of us in EST, and it takes about twenty hours to get there.

Our moderator, Sarrah Wisseman, was great. As were my fellow panelists, Barry Fulton and Leslie Karst.

Stay in touch,



  1. Great points, Lane. My latest romance, Love Among the Ruins, takes place on a month long tour of romantic Italy. My biggest problem was keeping it from being a travel guide. I struggled with it but I think I got the balance since it’s nominated for two GOLDIE awards.

  2. I’m glad you mentioned Google Earth street view. It’s so helpful to recall what’s exactly where even if you’ve been to a foreign city in your setting.

    I love research and travel and am always told by my workshop colleagues that I have too much ‘travelogue’ in my first drafts…

  3. Sounds like a great panel! I missed Malice, but felt like I was traveling thanks to Connie’s posts about Africa. Loved the detail about the Vatican floor being gritty.

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