Sexing Up Real Settings and History
by Morgan Brice
My new romance novel, Badlands, is set in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Witchbane, the first book in my other new romance series, is set in Richmond, but will move from city to city throughout the series. And in the books I’ve written under my Gail Z. Martin name, I’ve set all kinds of adventures in Charleston, Pittsburgh, the wilds of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.
Ever wonder how writers use real places and real history? It’s more fun—and maybe a little harder—than you might think!
So here’s the gist of my brand-new Badlands, which is the first book in its series: Medium and clairvoyant Simon Kincaide owns a Myrtle Beach boardwalk shop where he runs ghost tours, holds seances, and offers private psychic readings, making a fresh start after his abilities cost him his lover and his job as a folklore professor. Jaded cop Vic D’Amato saw something supernatural he couldn’t explain during a shootout several years ago in Pittsburgh and relocated to Myrtle Beach to leave the past behind, still skeptical about the paranormal. But when the search for a serial killer hits a dead end, Vic battles his skepticism to ask Simon for help. As the body count rises, Simon’s involvement makes him a target, and a suspect. But Simon can’t say no, even if it costs him his life and heart
When I set a book in a real-world location, I want the setting to become a character, giving the story such a sense of personality unique to that city that it couldn’t happen in the same way anywhere else. I also know that other people actually live in that location, so I want to make sure that I get my details right, because I don’t want to throw anyone out of the story. That means I do a lot of research online with maps, photographs and history sites (and in my case, sites about ghost hunting and hauntings). If possible, I visit the city and check out the locations in person, but sometimes I end up adding in a location after the visit, in which case online photos and Google Street View are fantastic!
It helps to have lived in a location (as with Pittsburgh and Richmond) or to have visited frequently (as with Myrtle Beach and Charleston—and the other cities yet to come in the Witchbane series). That’s not always possible, but it definitely lends some street cred to getting the vibe right.
Since my books have some supernatural element to them—magic, hauntings, cursed objects, monsters, psychic abilities—I also try to take into account local legends and lore. When I can weave in local ghost stories, urban legends, and spooky history like ship wrecks, famous disappearances or unsolved mysteries, the book feels a lot more authentic to the location. This is one of the most fun parts of writing, because I love these kinds of tales!
The location determines a lot of aspects of the story, from what the weather is like during different seasons to what kinds of natural disasters pose a threat. That helps me decide what ‘tools’ I have in my writing toolbox to bedevil my characters and cause problems for them or put them in danger. Plus, different cities and regions have very different cultures, whether it’s formal or laid-back, suspicious of strangers or welcoming, open to new things or secretive with a lot of baggage. That’s going to shape the characters and the people around them, and determines how they react and what kinds of obstacles they might encounter.
I really love getting to know new places or digging deeper into favorite locations! That’s why all my books are set in cities where I’m happy to have many reasons for a return visit. I hope you’ll do some ‘arm chair tourism’ through my stories, and maybe even decide you want to go visit the places I’ve mentioned yourself!
I’ll be a Hosting Author at RomCon and a Supporting Author at Gay Romantic Lit Retreat in October, so please look me up and say hello!
Badlands is available in ebook on Kindle, Kobo and Nook and in print. We’re working on audiobook. Please also check out Witchbane, the first in my other urban fantasy MM paranormal romance series!