There’s a charming town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that I love to use as a setting for romantic suspense stories. It’s called St. Michaels, but when I write about it, I usually change the name to St. Stephens. If I’m going to commit murder in a town, I don’t want to burden the residents with my crimes. And if I want to move a couple of buildings around, nobody is going to write me a letter complaining I got it wrong.
When Patricia Rosemoor, Ann Voss Peterson, and I decided to write a paranormal Christmas trilogy, with a murder mystery running through all three books, I suggested my favorite location. But because we were doing a series that wasn’t connected to any of my other works, we agreed to call the town Jenkins Cove. Then I made another suggestion: “Let’s all take a research trip there. You fly to Baltimore, and my tour director—Norman—will drive us over. We can stay for a few days, eat fabulous Maryland seafood, and steep ourselves in the nautical atmosphere.”
I did a pretty good selling, job, and they both agreed.
It was a wonderful research trip with a lot of great opportunities for adding local color to our stories. (Mine’s called CHRISTMAS SPIRIT, and one of the characters is a desperate ghost who keeps trying to contact my heroine.)
We ate at a rambling crab restaurant where you could come by boat and tie up at the wharf outside. We toured the downtown area with all the touristy shops that sold everything from tee shirts to duck decoys, handmade pottery, and silver jewelry. We found a graveyard and a warehouse to use as locations for foul play. On a boat trip up the Miles River, we spotted the grand estate featured in Ann’s story.
And one evening, I had a truly spooky experience.
We were staying at a B&B right on the Chesapeake Bay, a few miles out of town. After dinner, Ann asked if we wanted to go out and help her look for a location where she could commit murder (fictionally, of course.)
Norman and I went with her. It was a warm summer night, and we tramped around the grounds and out onto the pier. The moon was so full and bright that trees and bushes cast shadows. And as I walked through the silvery light, I kept having very spooky sensations.
When we came back in, I asked, “Did you feel like you were walking through places where the air was colder than others?” Ann said, “Yes.” Norman said, “No.” I think he’s too logical to feel anything spectral.
But I knew those icy spots were going to add a nice touch to the ghost story I was writing.
You can research a place on the Web. But there’s no substitute for actually going there and soaking up the atmosphere for yourself.
Does the setting of a book make a difference for you?