That is the advice many give to new authors. What does that mean? As a character driven author, I understood it to mean you shouldn’t write characters outside your own experience. For example, you can’t have doctor as a main character unless you have medical experience, or a detective main character unless you’ve been a police officer. For several reasons, I’ve always ignored that advice. First, I write what I like to read. Second, other than the very first book I wrote where I thought in advance about the characters, my characters and their stories come from my unconscious. Third, I write fiction.
On Memorial Day Sherry and I went out to breakfast at Pier 1, an outdoor restaurant on the Hudson River in Riverside Park, that we haven’t been to since the summer of 2019 because of Covid19. Sherry went to place our order and I found us a table. And, just a few feet away was the table where Darcy and Andrea, the characters from my first romance, had dinner. I looked up and I could see the small park at the top of the long steep path down from Sixty-eighth street. Andrea stopped there before she rolled Darcy’s wheelchair down to the restaurant. Sitting under an umbrella staring at the glistening water as I ate my breakfast, scenes from my other books flashed through my mind. It was then I understood.
I write the settings I know.
Two of my romances are set in the New Jersey town where I grew up. But all the other books are set in the city I live in and love. New York City. The NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli mysteries are set in Manhattan, with scenes in places ranging from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn to Wall Street, to Battery Park City, to the United Nations, to Harlem. The other three romances are also set in Manhattan and either include scenes or take place totally on the Upper West Side, the neighborhood I’m most familiar with.
I guess it’s never too late to learn.
Writers, do you set your books in familiar places?
In addition to publishing multiple mystery and romance short stories in various anthologies, Catherine has authored four romances novels. Her latest book, The Disappearance of Lindy James, was awarded a GOLDIE for Best General Fiction.
I do this, too, Catherine. Right down to rooms I have been in that I think are the right place for a scene. I “borrow” settings from places I have been. I think it’s fun.
It’s fun for your readers too. I love going St. John with Sabrina.
Yes, Catherine, my fictional characters come alive for me if they are placed in locations I know well. And if they are real for me, I hope this helps my readers to imagine them. Hope you don’t mind a mister demeanour butting in.
You are always welcome to butt in, Peter.
I agree you’re characters definitely come alive for me in locations that you bring to life.
I’m drawn to write about the places I know, I think, because I have strong feelings about them. I’ve never written about a place I didn’t care about.
The same here, Susan.
I, too, like to put stories in real places I know. I enjoy it. But I also think it helps readers get caught up in a sometimes far-fetched plot (of mine) if the details around it are more real — like the setting and characters.
P.S. I love the Upper West side references in your books, Catherine.
Your detailed, loving descriptions of Chautauqua, where your Mimi Goldman series is set, bring the place alive for me.