I've passed the three-quarter mark in my current manuscript, the third and final book in my female bodyguard Phoenix, Ltd. series, so it's time to start mulling my next project. Actually, I've been thinking about this one for several years. I even wrote the first four chapters of the first book while waiting to see if readers would be interested enough in Unwritten Rules to make it worthwhile to write more books in that series.
The new series will feature three artist sisters who work in different media: a maker of wind sculptures, a raku potter, and a glass-blower. I don't know much more about the stories, except that they'll be set here. And therein lies my dilemma. How real do I make the setting? Do I call #Carmel-by-the-Sea by its real name, or does it become Cypress Cove? What about #Monterey? For the purposes of the books, I'm considering re-naming it Otter Bay.
People love to read books set in areas they know. The descriptions bring back a flood of memories associated with the locales depicted in the story. We've all read and enjoyed books like that--they're accurate right down to the street names. The Monterey Peninsula is a spectacular area, full of wonderful potential settings, but it's also a small, fairly tight-knit community. Any errors or bits of artistic license on my part are bound to be noticed by local readers. By setting my books here, I enjoy an automatic boost in local promotional opportunities, but that might be a double-edged sword.
The benefit of re-naming places is that I can manipulate things, put them where I need them, combine places if I want to. I might use a local restaurant as the basis for a fictional one, but if I name it I'd better be pretty darned accurate in my description. The beach stairs have to be in the correct location. I can't have redwood forest overlooking the ocean within a half-hour drive of town, when in fact, there are rocky outcroppings covered by cypress trees or a sweeping, grassy plain.
Fictionalizing the setting gives me much more leeway but erodes the realism many readers enjoy. Even if the local population here is small, millions of people have visited here from all over the world. Some may even end up reading this book.
As a reader, or a writer, how do you feel about the strict treatment of real places? Do you love authentic detail, or are you satisfied with authentic atmosphere? I need to know how readers feel because I can go either way, but I know already that setting is going to play a huge part in these books.