Where a novel is set determines so many things about a story—the landscape, the architecture, the clothing, the food, the customs, the music, the entertainment, and the beliefs of the characters. Time period is part of setting so the form of government, the economy and the language are also elements that need to be reflective of the era. A lot of research goes into writing a historical novel. Where and why an author choses a particular location to set their tale is the question for our Paper Lantern Writers this month.
In college, my studies focused on Europe. On one of my vacations to France, I visited Mont St. Michel. Looking out across the water, Jersey might be visible on a clear day. I was completely unaware that a great-grandfather came from that small island, as did one of my great-great grandmothers (not related). But I also did not know the island even existed.
When I learned about my family history, naturally I was intrigued to learn more about this place and discovered Jersey has a long, fascinating history. My writing gives me a chance to dig in and learn more about this charming place and discover my roots. Release date is scheduled for July 30, 2023.
Edie Cay’s books are set in Regency London, a place chock full of both incredible symmetrical architecture and a filthy, smelly putrid yellow fog off the Thames.
It is a city at the height of an Empire, the heart of global commerce, and also teeming with child labor, starvation, and cholera. I love contradictions, and London is full of them. I have four books set there: A Lady’s Revenge, The Boxer and the Blacksmith, A Lady’s Finder, and my upcoming novel, A Viscount’s Vengeance, will be released on March 1, 2023.
Jill Hamilton’s next novel, The Seamstress on Cider Lane, is based in 1941 London. While the first novel in my Homefront Hearts series was set in Covent Garden in central London, much of The Seamstress on Cider Lane is based in North London—St. John’s Wood, Highgate, and Camden Town.
Although I live in eastern Canada, I have a deep love for London. The mix of ultramodern architecture located directly beside historic buildings dating back hundreds of years is something I’d never seen before I visited London for the first time as a teenager.
I love that you can accidentally stumble across historic locations. When I visited London last spring, we stayed nearby to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. I didn’t know at the time but I recently learned that pub was a regular hangout spot for Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, and other literary greats—I had no idea!
Paula Martinac’s work-in-progress is a historical mystery called A Death on the Mezzanine, which takes place in a Pittsburgh department store during World War I, when female workers replaced men leaving for the front.
I’m a Pittsburgh native, but I’ve never set a novel there, so I wanted to learn more about the history of my hometown—especially during WWI, when it was the “Arsenal of the Allies.”
The department store was a real one that closed 60+ years ago. The Rosenbaum Company fascinates me because in 1917, it actively hired African Americans and had the only food concession in downtown Pittsburgh that would serve blacks. This setting provides a good backdrop for themes that recur in my novels: class differences; racial disparity; the self-determination of women and girls; power struggles in work environments; queer sexuality; community networks and families of choice; and the emotional toll of secrets.
Mari Christie’s next book, The Cub, is the first in a new series called the Lion’s Club.
The series is set in Brooklyn, New York at the turn of the last century, with the first book running from 1897-1904. The setting was a given once I started to write, as the series is (very loosely) based on stories from my grandmother, born in 1921, and her childhood in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The picture here is Flatbush Avenue in 1902.
The action mainly moves across the counties of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. My two main characters are caught up in a fictional Cornish rebellion of 1535, which leads to a climactic scene in Weymouth Harbour. There really were Cornish rebellions in Tudor times – one in 1497 and another in 1549 – so my revolt has a basis in historical fact. And as a writer living in Exeter, Devon, as well as a lover of the modern-day South West, this was a natural place to set my novel. It even draws parallels to the Cornish nationalist sentiments of today!
Publication day for The Lawyer’s Legacy is March 31st 2023.
Michael Ross’s work-in-progress, The Horse of Phantom Beach, is set in and around Santa Barbara, Ca. I chose this setting because it is very different from my main character’s home of origin, Kansas, and has an indigenous tribe, the Chumash, with a long, fascinating history. The setting provides for a clash of cultures that is the main focus of the story.
No Job for a Woman, Book 2 of Alina Rubin’s Hearts and Sails series is set during the Napoleonic war, aboard the British warship, the Neptune. It’s a fictional ship but modeled after six-rate ships of the Royal Navy.
Since watching the Hornblower miniseries during the pandemic, I’ve been in love with sailing ships. The vessels are majestic, and it takes much skill and the labor of so many people to sail them. People live together in close quarters. They risk their lives every day. Storms, battles, fire, wrecks—all could happen to a wooden ship in a boundless sea.
I’m also obsessed with the history of medicine and the role of the surgeon on a ship. Surgeons treated diseases and wounds, often risking their own lives. I enjoy writing about strong women and good men. My characters inspire me with their resilience, resourcefulness, and courage.
Ana Brazil’s work-in-progress–THE MAGNOLIA VOODOO BRAWLER–is set in 1919 New Orleans.
It’s the second book in my Vaudeville Murders trilogy (the first book THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, set in 1919 San Francisco, is waiting-in-the-wings for publication.)
I’ve always loved New Orleans (the locale of my FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER) and when I committed to writing about vaudevillians who performed in cities and towns across America, of course I had to set the second novel in my beloved New Orleans.
I don’t have a book cover to share, but here’s a great photo of one of the important locations in my story, the Orpheum Theatre on St. Charles Avenue. Sadly, this building has been demolished.
Rebecca D’Harlingue’s latest novel, The Map Colorist, coming out in September, is set in 1660 Amsterdam.
My first novel, The Lines Between Us, was set in seventeenth-century Spain, and I wanted to stay in that period. I envisioned a protagonist doing something unusual for women at the time, and the idea of cartographer sprang to mind. I initially assumed that I could stay in Spain, because surely cartography was important to a country that controlled so much of the New World. I was wrong. I soon discovered that Amsterdam was the map-printing capital at that time, partly due to the global trading of the Dutch East India and Dutch West India Companies. I had visited Amsterdam in 2015, but never dreamed I would set a novel there. I’m happy that my reading led me back there. The Dutch Republic was a fascinating place, and I intend to stay put for my next novel.
Pam Nowak is working on a novel. A STRONG HEART (working title) is set in the Dakota Territory.
I lived in South Dakota for a time and have a strong attachment to prairie lands and the Native cultures that are a part of that region. The forgotten stories I explore in this work allow me to dig deep into Lakota culture and its relationship to the land, the buffalo that roamed there, and the vast spaces where I can still imagine Lakota villages. I close my eyes and see the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River and the sacred Black Hills. I visualize shaggy bison emerging from the tall prairie grasses. And I feel the significance of that land for those who once roamed across it all.
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C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.