by Pamela Meyers, @pamelameyers
Years ago when I wrote a cozy mystery, I wanted to set the story in my Lake Geneva, Wisconsin hometown, but the police chief in my story was a bungler. If I did that, I ran the risk of causing people to think the real police chief was a inept. I did the only thing I could and made up a small village on a small lake about ten minutes east of my hometown and had my characters drive into Lake Geneva for lunch and shopping.
I admit that having created the small village where my story and its sequel took place I had free reign to design the setting to fit the storyline. I also didn’t have to run the risk of someone saying I got a detail all wrong.
It all worked out for the best because a short time later, I was contracted to write the story Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I’d wanted to write for the Love Finds You line for a long time, and getting to write a story set in my hometown was a dream come true.
You’d think having grown up there, making the setting right would be easy peasy. But I wasn’t alive in 1933, the year when my story takes place, and I had to use other resources to learn what was around back then. I spent an entire summer pouring over microfilms of the Lake Geneva newspaper from 1933, studying ads to make sure the stores I mentioned in my novel were there at that time. The one thing I had trouble with were the restaurants of that time as they did very little advertising. I actually had to look in the 1933 high school yearbook at the library for sponsor ads to find names of the local eateries.
In one case, I mentioned to the town’s historian that I had used the real name of a soda fountain/confectionary that was still there decades later when we were kids. He was doubtful it was there by that name in 1933. To be safe, I changed the name to a fictional one. A couple years later, he told me that he was mistaken. This year, after getting my rights back for the book, I am reissuing the story independently under the new title of Surprised by Love in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (due to copyright issues with the Love Finds You title) and had the opportunity to change the name of the soda fountain back to the real one.
I am now seriously considering writing a sequel to the story. A few weeks ago while I was in Lake Geneva, I drove around the historical neighborhood where my characters would be living and snapped pictures of several homes that I might use for my characters’ homes. The same thing I did for the first book. I don’t use the photos anywhere in my promotional online material but giving my character a real home in the town does help me in describing their house as I write the story.
Looking back, outside of the two cozy mysteries, all my stories have been set in real places. My most recent novella is set on Madeline Island in northwestern Wisconsin, and my January release is set in a small village in downstate Illinois. I love learning all I can about the place—it’s history and how it is today—then setting out to make sure my references to the setting are correct, even if the only way I’ve ever seen the place is on the internet. The challenge to make things right is a great part of why I think I enjoy using actual settings.
I love hearing from someone who lives where I set a story and being told I got it right. That happened when someone from Palestine, Illinois where the rodeo in Second Chance Love takes place said how much she loved how accurate my details were. It didn’t hurt that I’ve attended that rodeo for more than ten consecutive years.
If you are an author, what do you prefer? Using a real place or a fictionalized one? As a reader do you enjoy reading stories set in places you are familiar with?
Will she lose her heart to the intruder who stole her dream?
Originally published as Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Surprised by Love in Lake Geneva is the same story that has been edited and includes an epilogue that was not in the original book.
Local girl Meg Alden works for the local paper and aspires to be a reporter–a job only given to men. When the reporter position opens up, she applies, only to be told that Jack Wallace, son of a Chicago newspaper magnate has already been hired. Jack is drawn to Meg and suggests they work together to uncover a local scandal. But how can she work with the man who stole her job and makes her pulse race?
Anative of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Love is All We Need (the sequel to Thyme for Love) will release soon, and Second Chance Love from Bling!, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, will release in January 2017. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.