Setting a Story in the Real World by Terrie Farley Moran
Hi Debra, thanks so much for inviting me. It is always great fun when you and I get a chance to hang out together.
Happy Labor Day everyone! Today is the day we celebrate the history of workers in America. I found this picture online some years ago. It was taken in 1909 and shows a float of the ladies auxiliary of the typographical union—one of the first unions to admit female members—as early as the 1860s.
I like to think that those hardworking women were the predecessors of Sassy Cabot and Bridgy Mayfield who are the proprietors of a café and bookstore known as the Read ’Em and Eat—breakfast, lunch and all you can read. They are also the protagonists of the Read ’Em and Eat cozy mystery series, including Well Read, Then Dead, Caught Read-Handed and Read to Death.
The series is set in the very real town of Fort Myers Beach which is made up of two barrier islands in the Gulf Coast of South Florida. I can tell you right off the bat that one of the reasons I picked Fort Myers Beach as the location is because it is extremely picturesque but the more compelling reason is that the subplot in the first book of the series, Well Read, Then Dead, involved the history of the Gulf Coast and most especially the Ten Thousand Islands, one the final lawless American communities in the late 1800s and early 1900s.The history is so captivating, I didn’t want to betray it by using a fictitious community anywhere on the Gulf coast.
I suppose there are real advantages to setting a story in a real place. A lot of my short fiction is set in New York City, where I’ve lived my entire life. Still, for accuracy sake, I occasionally have to look stuff up. At which Broadway crossing is the famous statue of Father Duffy, hero of WW I? Does traffic on Third Avenue run uptown or downtown? What is the address of the Waldorf Astoria?
And there are disadvantages when writing about a community that is not as familiar as the back of my hand. I had never been to Fort Myers Beach before I chose it as the location for the Read ’Em and Eat Café and Bookstore. I also knew that thousands of tourists visit the beach twelve months a year. So once again accuracy would be paramount, because the odds were that a goodly number of my readers would have spent far more time at Fort Myers beach than I ever had.
I was fortunate enough to visit the community a couple of times. (My daughter lives a few miles away.) I took pictures and memorized where popular sites were located in relation to other popular sites. One thing that really tickles my fancy is that Fort Myers Beach has its own Times Square. Complete with entertainers and fireworks displays, it is a wide shopping area built around a four sided “square” clock. Times Square leads to The Pier, which stretches far out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Now here is a caveat about describing a real place in your books. I had a scene set in Times Square. (I often do, they sell ice cream there. YUM!) For some reason, I was writing a much longer description of the clock than I needed to. So I was looking at pictures and searching my memory and I couldn’t decide how tall the clock is, other than it is a lot taller than I am. I called the Chamber of Commerce but no one there could help me. Then I called the local newspaper, The Island Sandpaper, and the editor, Missy Layfield drove from down island to Times Square to measure the clock for me. I seem to recall it came in at around fifteen feet.
So the moral of my story is that if you are going to set a story in a real location, either be very familiar with it or have some nice person like Missy Layfield willing to help you out.
Since today is a holiday, we may as well have a giveaway. This notepaper is designed by Florida artist Leoma Lovegrove, who lives a stone’s throw from Fort Myers Beach in the artsy community of Matlacha. (As an aside, Sassy and Bridgy visit Matlacha in Read to Death.) For a chance to win the box of notepaper, please leave a comment saying anything at all about Florida. To be entered, you should include your email in this format: yourname (at) yourserver (dot) com so the spambots can’t pick it up.
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Terrie Farley Moran is the author of the Read ‘Em and Eat cozy mysteries series, including the Agatha Award winner Well Read, Then Dead, Caught Read-Handed and Read to Death.
Terrie’s short mystery fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. Her short story, “A Killing at the Beausoleil” was an Agatha Award Best Short Story nominee.
She also co-writes Laura Childs’ Scrapbooking Mystery series. Together they have written Parchment and Old Lace and Crepe Factor.