My Constable Molly Smith series from Poisoned Pen Press is set in the fictional town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, for the same reason Julia created Millers Kill: so she wouldn’t have to worry about annoying people if she made a mistake. The town of Trafalgar is not-at-all loosely based on Nelson, B.C. It is Nelson, but Trafalgar gives me the freedom to move things around as I need to. For example in the fourth book in the series, Negative Image, what the room service waiter sees is critically important. There isn’t a hotel in Nelson that has room service, but under the guise of fiction, I can wave my magic wand and create one. I might have made up a town, but I have tried faithfully to keep to the flavour of the place, its beautiful scenery, isolated setting, wild assortment of eccentric characters. I’ve grounded the fictional location in reality so that readers do have a sense of where the stores take place - the characters go to Trail for autopsies, to Castlegar to catch a plane, even to Nelson to concerts or police meetings.
On the other hand, my Klondike Gold Rush books are set in Dawson City, Yukon, in 1898. As Julia also pointed out, it’s important in historicals to get the details right. In this series the town itself is such an important character I wouldn’t have changed it for the world, nor did I need to. Sometimes you just can’t make better stuff up.
My newest book, a standalone titled More than Sorrow (Sept 4, Poisoned Pen Press), however is set in a place so real, I live there. Prince Edward County, Ontario. The County is an island in Lake Ontario, a place of family farms, gentle hills, long sandy beaches, small villages and meandering country roads. Over the course of the book, I describe the train station in Belleville the nearest city, the main street of Picton, the primary town, the beautiful historic library on Main Street. I have a scene set in the library where, if you look closely, you’ll see me seated at my weekly bridge game in the side room that houses the historical archives.
I was comfortable setting this book in a real setting because not a lot of action takes place in the town itself or other recognizable places. Unlike in the Molly Smith books, the Chief of Police or the Mayor – people known to small town residents as people not just job descriptions - are not characters. More than Sorrow is a modern-Gothic thriller set mainly on a farm and in an old farmhouse. As is the nature of Gothics I wanted a place that feels confined, where one can be isolated even if only in spirit, with a rich history. The real County is becoming an important place in the locavore movement with small scale and organic farms, local food, good restaurants making the most of what the land has to offer. I love all that stuff so hit on the idea of setting the bulk of the story on a small-scale organic vegetable farm. I spent some time at County landmark Vicki’s Veggies (no relation, as they say) learning about how a small family farm operates.
What is now called Prince Edward County was originally settled in 1784 by Loyalists, refugees from the American Revolution. The houses those settlers built initially were small shanties carved out of virgin forest, so not much remains, but the County maintains strong links to the past, essential in any good Gothic thriller. And, again in Gothic tradition, the story of one Loyalist settler provides important background to the book.