I’ve just completed a four-book series and am in the process of writing the third book of a five book series, the first two books of which have already been published by Soul Mate Publishing. Both series are specific to a certain geographical locale. The four book series centers around a young woman’s travels in Europe, not unlike my own. The five book series, however, is contained within a specific fictional town, patterned after the small city in northwest Washington where my brother and his family live. This series, the Salmon Run Novels, seems to be a favorite among West Coast readers. Interestingly, my Millicent Winthrop series has had wide appeal among young women readers in Europe, specifically in Germany. Location-specific marketing corresponding to the each of the series’ locale was far from my intention when embarking on these novels. Yet now that they’ve been published and purchased, I notice an interesting trend. Readers like to read something they can relate to, whether that is because of the characters, the circumstances of the plot, or simply the locale.
Luckily, because of my travels I’m extremely familiar with Europe, as well as with northwest Washington. Long before I began writing, I had visited and stayed some length of time in different cities both in the United Kingdom and on the continent, as well as with my brother and his family in Washington. The last 25 years I’ve lived in southern Oregon, but now that my son lives in Berlin, my traveling has increased. With each visit I gained more insight into different cultures, the reading interests within those cultures, and how best to reach those readers.
Location matters on many different levels. First, as a writer I want to be both familiar and bewitched by where I set my stories. I’m not interested in merely Google-ing up information generic to a place. I want nosh on the details – the history, the topography, the cuisine, the current fashions, the political scene, and all the other specific human and environmental factors that go into understanding deeply how place matters.
It’s also interesting to me to know what readers find intriguing. I remember an episode of the British comedy, As Time Goes By, about when Lionel wrote a book about his military stay in a remote area of Africa as a young man. The book was not selling well, so his publisher suggested he go on a book signing tour. Lionel didn’t want to go on the tour, but he did so nonetheless. The humor rested on the fact that no matter where he went, only three people showed up – his girlfriend (played by Judi Dench), his publisher, and him. At first the three were rather embarrassed and were ultra-careful about what they said around for Lionel. But by the end of the tour, all three of the characters were laughing for Lionel finally got the message: as a writer it’s not enough to be entranced with a location, one’s readers must be as well. And how does one achieve that? It’s by gong deep into the details of the story’s setting. As the 17th century humorist Caspar Barlaeus said, “God hides in the smallest places.”