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Friday, March 24, 2017

When Setting Is a Character

Can setting be a character in a story? You bet. Some places naturally are so exotic, exciting and beautiful that they cry out to star in a movie or book.

I’ve read books, wonderful books, set in faraway places. But the settings served only as a backdrop, mentioned, but forgotten. I’ve always been a little disappointed that I didn’t learn more about the locale during the stories. I love stories where the setting is the framework that holds the story, especially when the story is set in a beautiful place I want to visit or one I want to revisit.

When I traveled to Rome, Italy, in 2006, my second trip there, I was again blown away by the city’s beauty, vibrancy and history. All four of my grandparents came from Italy, so the country itself holds meaning for me.

Rome was bustling as always that June, especially with World Cup fever all around. We stayed at a hotel on one of the most popular and crowded streets, Via Corsi. Trevi Fountain was a short walk away. The Pantheon was around the corner. And so was an amazing gelato shop where we bought too many luscious gelatos, the Italian ice cream. Yum. Kiwi Melon was my favorite. My husband and I ate at least two gelatos a day. Good thing we walked all over the city to shed those extra calories.

Italy is magical and begs to be its own character in books and movies. As we walked the ancient cobbled streets of Rome, ate amazing food (saffron gnocchi with fresh-shaved truffles, anyone?) and drank lots of delicious wine, I just knew I had to set a story there. And I knew the richness of Rome could never fade into the background. It had to be a character.

In the fall of 2009, The Wild Rose Press announced a new romantic suspense series, Jewels of the Night. The stories could be set anywhere in the world, but had to involve a stolen blue diamond. The proverbial light bulb went off in my head. I’d write a romantic suspense set in Rome. My novel, Murder, Mi Amore, was released in December 2010. I’ve since gotten the rights back and have published it myself.

Imagine if you were a young American woman vacationing in Rome to get over a painful breakup, and your Roman holiday is suddenly disrupted by jewel thieves, murder, and one very hot and mysterious Italian guy who may or may not be involved with the strange goings on around you.

That’s the premise of Murder, Mi Amore. Rome and other parts of Italy are as important to my story as my hero and heroine, Dominic and Lexie. Every scene in Murder, Mi Amore is authentic. Even the meals Lexie ate are the same ones we enjoyed on our trip. The hotel on the Via Corsi where Lexie stays is the one where we stayed, but with a different name. I remember well how I felt as I shouldered my way through the throngs of tourists and natives on Via Corsi. I used those feelings to describe Lexie as she makes her way on this same street after she buys the handbag that launches her wild adventure. When Lexie is dragged through dark and narrow streets by her would-be kidnapper, I pictured the little alleyways dotting Rome.

As I wrote about Lexie and Dominic meeting for the first time at Trevi Fountain, I could hear the chattering of the crowds and the snap of cameras and feel the sun’s heat. I could almost taste the wine Lexie orders. When you see pictures of this iconic fountain, it looks as if it’s in the middle of a very wide street. Nope. It’s set in a corner of a narrow cobblestoned street.

While writing Murder, Mi Amore, I was once again in Rome – running my fingers over the walls of the Coliseum, tramping through the Ancient Roman Forum, eating luscious pizza and drinking rich red wine at outdoor cafes while motor scooters darted around us.

A chapter in Murder, Mi Amore is set in the Abruzzo town where my grandparents were raised. Writing that chapter brought me back to the beautiful, mountainous, rural region of my ancestors. On our trip, we traveled the same road to Abruzzo as Lexie and Dominic. However, unlike them, no one was trying to run us off the road into a deep ravine.

Could my story have taken place anywhere else? Yes, but I would have lost a major character – an exciting and exotic character, and one a little bit dangerous. Italy.

My husband and took a Viking River Cruise up the Seine in June, 2016. I plan to write a Gothic romance set in Normandy. The rugged, rainy coast of Normandy is perfect for a dark Gothic.

We spent time in Paris, one of the world's great cities. Here's a picture of a gargoyle at the top of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Because our son lives in Las Vegas, we go there at least once a year. My husband suggested I start writing stories set in Vegas. I loved the idea. I now have two novellas set in Las Vegas, and I’m currently writing a marriage-of-convenience novel set there.

Anyone who has been to Las Vegas knows the place has its own character that can’t be duplicated. The story possibilities set in Vegas are endless.

What do you think? Do you like having a setting as a character in what you read and write?

Here’s the blurb for Murder, Mi Amore:

Danger. Deception. Desire.

Murder, jewel thieves and terrorists intrude on an American woman's Roman holiday; can she trust the sexy, mysterious Italian man who comes to her aid?

Lexie Cortese is in Rome to forget. The last thing she expects is to meet a sexy Interpol agent who suspects her of being part of a terrorist plot involving a stolen diamond. Suddenly thrust into a world of murders, muggings, and kidnappings, Lexie doesn’t know what to think—or who to believe.

Dominic Brioni’s assignment is simple. Befriend the American and bring her to justice. Only Lexie seems the most unlikely terrorist Dominic has ever met. Sweet, determined, and direct, she faces life with courage and fire, a fire that sparks his protective instincts and a longing for something more—something he allowed himself to hope for only once before.

But that woman betrayed him, and his boss isn’t about to let him forget it. With his career on the line and Lexie in danger, will Dominic learn to trust his heart before they both get killed?

  Here’s a little about my Las Vegas story, Bad Luck Partners, in the anthology Season of Promises Holiday Box Set.

Holidays have never brought Las Vegas hotel concierge Laney Sikora anything but bad luck in the romance department. The worst was her fiancĂ© dumping her on Valentine’s Day. Via text. She’s determined to spend New Year's Eve alone with no romantic entanglements. But when her hunky new neighbor locks himself out of his apartment, she can’t leave him standing in the hallway. What's a girl to do?

Las Vegas is just a pit stop for Chicago native and radio personality Chance Carlisle while he waits for his agent to land him something bigger in L.A. But in the meantime, he keeps bumping into—literally—his adorable, but accident-prone, neighbor. Their private New Year’s Eve celebration leads to a plan: they’ll become the Bad Luck Partners, dating only on holidays and special events, avoiding holiday heartbreaks and matchmaking mamas.
But Fate might have something else in mind for the klutzy cutie and the hotshot talk show host. Can their temporary partnership become a forever deal?

And from A Very Vegas Christmas in the anthology Holiday Magic, from The World Romance Writers.

A Las Vegas event planner in need of luck meets a mysterious guy who might be her winning ticket. Will his secret split them apart?

Can things get any worse for Las Vegas event planner Amanda Moreau? Her boyfriend dumped her for a stripper; she’s arranging a Christmas wedding for a Bridezilla; and her mother is playing matchmaker from 2000 miles away. When she meets hunky and ever-so-sweet Erik, who’s in town for a conference, she begins to hope her luck is changing. But Erik has a secret that threatens to split them apart. 


Murder, Mi Amore:

Season of Promises Holiday Box Set:

Holiday Magic:

Visit my website: for more on all my books.


Melissa Keir said...

I've never been to Italy, but when I read a story set there, I want to feel like I have. Settings are very important, even if it's a small town. What a great post and thanks for sharing pieces of your trip with us.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer of sexy and funny fiction, blogger at Handbags, Books...Whatever said...

Hi, Cara! I loved Italy and want to do more cruises. Perhaps, because my stories are set in fictional Sommerville, the setting doesn't stand out like a special local. But it is there giving a nice hometown feel which many of us cherish. Hugs!

Paris said...

I love reading stories set in exotic locales! Becoming so immersed in a story, that the setting is real makes the story so much more enjoyable. Your stories sound wonderful!

Tina Donahue said...

Absolutely, setting is a character. Adds atmosphere to the story. What would a slasher film be without a stormy night in the middle of nowhere? :)

Judy Baker said...

I've never been to Roman and just reading your post makes me want to plan a trip there. I'm sure I would love it.Your story sounds like a great read.

jean hart stewart said...

I love Rome, and southern Italy. Can't imagine anybody not seduced by its charm. I remember learning to cross a busy street by closely following a group of nuns so a car was unlikely to hit us. Traffic was unbelievable, even years ago.

Michele Zurlo said...

How beautiful and amazing! You make me want to visit Rome.

Janice Seagraves said...

I agree that scene can be like a character. In my first book, the background was the Bahamas the weather was like a character.

Good luck with your book. I wish you many sales.

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