Where Stories Take You…

savannah wsI was interested the other day as I was reading Lisa’s post where she interviewed Tamera Alexander and they talked about the settings of their books.  Settings have always intrigued me. Why did they choose that? How long did it take them to research? Did they know someone from there? Do they wish they knew some one from there? Is that the era they have always wished they were born in? Are they afraid to write about a real place because their mama and her friends will sue them?

Yes, I know. Proof we writers talk to ourselves.

I came about fiction by divine appointment and multiple rejections of my non-fiction book. Asked myself, “I wonder if I can write fiction.” Decided I had been to Savannah, Georgia once and it was a really nice place. Would make a really great setting. Could name the main character Savannah. And that is how my first novel “Savannah from Savannah” came to be and celebrates it 10th anniversary this year! Wow….

I didn’t know anything about writing novels. But what I did know is I had to get to Savannah if I was going to write a novel about it well. I arrived not having any idea what I was going to do. But once there, it was as if the very atmosphere took over. I walked the streets. I ease dropped. I took trolley tours and walking tours. I made conversation with store clerks and inn keepers. I ate food and ate food and ate food. I walked and I walked and I walked. I read articles and books and listened again. And by the time I left Savannah was oozing out of my pores and sweet tea was flowing through my veins.

I have never written a book set in a fictitious location. I have taken the places that I love most on this earth, Charleston, S.C., Franklin, TN, Savannah, GA, Seaside, FL, the Cove resort at The Atlantis hotel, the back roads of SC and brought my readers into the history, humor, and heart of these captivating places.

They have been used as guidebooks for girlfriend get-aways and couples long weekends. And nothing is a greater compliment. Other than when I’m asked, “Did you actually live in Savannah, because you make me feel like I do.”

So, I’m wondering. What do you desire most about the setting of the novels you read? What captures you the most? Have you ever eaten at a restaurant or gone to a city you read about in a novel? Come on, I’d really like to know.


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A southern girl who loves her family, friends and SEC football. I'm crazy about Jesus, Coca-Cola, Mr. Jones, and my bonus-kids. And I write a few books.

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  1. says

    Cute post, Denise! I love using real settings but giving them fictional names. Copper Creek in The Outcast, for instance, was based on the Old Order Mennonite community I used to visit as a child. Dry Hollow in The Midwife is based on a Civil War-era farm that I pass on my walks, but I transferred a partially abandoned community near Muddy Pond to this area and made it all one place. It makes me feel like the director of a movie, and I guess I have to say, I like to be in charge, even if it’s only fiction. 😉

  2. says

    My first novel, MISS DREAMSVILLE, is set in Collier County, Fla. and although I had lived in several parts of Florida, Collier County (Naples) was not among them. However, I had the best-ever source: my husband!!! He grew up there in the precise era in which my novel is set. In fact, a character in my novel is based on my husband as a child, but that’s another story for another day….

  3. says

    Enjoyable post, Denise. I enjoy both, but I do enjoy stumbling across a town or restaurant in a novel that I’ve actually visited! It’s always a neat thing!

  4. says

    As a Southern girl who grew up just outside of Savannah, I have walked the path to the Forsyth Park many, many times. We always called it “The Fountain of the Blind” but I’m not sure why. Maybe because the Garden for the Blind is nearby?? There is just NO PLACE like the squares of Savannah, GA. No place I know of.

    And your book, Savannah from Savannah, will ALWAYS be a favorite of mine! (The judge always called her Betty!!) LOL

    • says

      I wonder if it’s because the fountain is so loud that the blind can see it better in some sense. Lord have mercy, who knows! And your comment, “i can’t get divorced. I’m a baptist” is one of my favorites:)

  5. says

    As a Southern girl who grew up just outside of Savannah, I have walked the path to Forsyth Park many, many times. We always called it “The Fountain of the Blind” but I’m not sure why. Maybe because the Garden for the Blind is nearby?? There is just NO PLACE like the squares of Savannah, GA. No place I know of.

    And your book, Savannah from Savannah, will ALWAYS be a favorite of mine! (The judge always called her Betty!!) LOL

  6. Lisa Wingate says

    I have set many of my books in real places, but given them fictional names. People who know the places “recognize” them in the story and sometimes ask for confirmation. It’s always fun when that happens. It’s like a little private joke between us.

    When I went to the Outer Banks, researching The Prayer Box, one of the hardest things was finding a little spot of land that could potentially be the little marina community of Fairhope. Finally, we found just the right spot. There’s no substitute for actually spending time in your setting!

  7. Rachel Hauck says

    Great question, Denise. I was in north Florida in Feb and thought of you and your seaside book!

    I use both real and fictional locations. Depends on the book. In the royal series I have real and fake places.

    I think readers want a place that “feels” real even if it’s not. I know that’s what matters to me. Can I “see” it in my mind and heart.


  8. Velma Hunsucker says

    I have lived in Georgia my entire life, and the only time I had ever been to Savannah was passing through as a young child. I found your book on a shelf in Barnes & Nobles and thought, “What a cute title!” I love anything set in my home state, so I thought I would give it a try. I adored the book, and I knew I had to visit Savannah, so that year, we spent our vacation there, and I was mesmerized by the beautiful, old city. I found myself looking for all the places mentioned and imagining exactly where the house and coffee shop in the story would be located. Of course, I had to take a trolley tour. Savannah is now my absolute favorite place to vacation. So, yes, the setting of a book definitely makes an impact on me. I want to be able to create the place in my imagination and put myself there in my mind. If it is a real place, I long to go. Any plans for more Savannah books?

  9. Nicole Seitz says

    Hi Denise,
    I like to use places I know very well (the Lowcountry of SC), but also places I’d love to go or have visited once or twice. When I read fiction, I love to read stories set in other countries so I can travel vicariously through them. I do the same when I’m researching a place I just can’t get to. I watch movies, videos, read books, memoirs, maps, etc, and the place begins to live and breathe for me. Only then can I bring it alive for a reader. Thanks for the post!

  10. says

    Coming to the porch a bit late today, but wanted to express how much I loved reading your post and the ensuing discussion sparked by your questions. Is there anything better than “going someplace” via the pages of a novel? Next week, i’ll be filming a promo video inside the historic Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas, the setting for a key scene in A WOMAN OF FORTUNE. I’m excited to showcase the stunning interior of that hotel and tell a little of the history.

  11. Julie Cantrell says

    I’m even later than Kellie tonight, but I’m glad I’m at the tail end b/c I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments! Especially Velma’s. I have never been to Savannah but I sure want to go! Maybe someday I’ll get to that that tour based on Denise’s writings.
    As for me, I have written all three of my novels based on places I have lived and loved. The first was my love song to Mississippi (where I have lived for ten years now, and the “home” town where we have raised our children and launched our farm), Colorado (where we lived for two years and where I found such peace among the pristine mountain landscapes), and Louisiana (the state where I spent my first 24 years of life and where most of my “kinfolk” still call home.) In the first two books, I played a bit (like Jolina did) and gave the settings fictional names, merged some areas together, etc. But in Book Three, I’m sticking more to the real setting and calling things by their real names. It’s fun, but it also means I have to follow more rules .. which y’all should know by now I do not like to do :)
    Great topic, Denise!

    • says

      Yes, it sure holds you accountable. The Savannah Journal made it very clear in their first review that I didn’t know the colors of the University of Georgia! Well, I thought I knew it for certain. Come to realize I had not researched that one enough. Now, I’m an anal retentive researcher:) Because trust me, if we get it wrong, someone will let us know:)

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