Setting is often called the second main character. The place where an author chooses to set the story is just that important. Readers want to feel as though they are part of the character’s life, and that’s where setting play a key role. Author Jean Grant does this so well in her books. Read on for her take on world-building in novels.
By Jean Grant
Whether it’s a historical or contemporary book, I take my setting seriously. And for me, besides endless online or book researching, I love to travel to the locale if possible. Nature stirs the creativity in me and fills me with serenity. I try to transfer this feeling of awe and inspiration into all my books…into a setting that you can feel with all the senses. Setting is another character, and just like I develop my protagonists and villains, I take special care to do the same for my settings. A reader can get lost in the layers of setting…in a good way!
A Hundred Breaths delves into the Norse culture and I was fortunate to tour an actual Viking ship, the Draken Harald Hårfagre, last year. When I heard this ship was coming to a port near us, I messaged the captain and booked myself tour tickets. The researcher in me squealed with delight. I asked questions, walked along the deck (the hull was filled with stones!), and my sons got to “steer” with the steerboard. This ship was built as a fully working replica based on research of Norse vessels. The crew was handpicked and sailed it cross the Atlantic Ocean. Exploring the vessel whisked me back to the time of Vikings. Loved it.
For my historical Scottish romances, I also visited Scotland a few years ago. It was wet, wild, and wonderful. Echoes of yesterday blew on the wind while I explored the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey and Melrose Abbey. They were eerie, exquisite, and inspiring. Aside from the moors and machair of the Western isles, another key location for my “hundred” trilogy is Eilean Donan castle. This castle originated in the 13th century, becoming the future seat of Clan MacKenzie, and has been burned, attacked, and rebuilt numerous times. The sun shone on us during this visit and we snapped some picturesque shots of this highly photographed romantic Scottish castle. To round out our Scottish adventure, we explored mountains, valleys, and lochs by foot, rowboat, or kayak. We talked with locals, stayed in hostels and lighthouses, saw sheep, got lost on hiking trails (and got midges stuck in my hair), had to get a tire replaced, heard ghost stories, drove on winding, bumpy one-lane roads, and ate plenty of meat pies.
For Soul of the Storm, I hightailed it north a few hours to the fictional setting of Willow Springs, Vermont. I donned my boots and hiked a trail that’s in the book, explored farms and weaving backroads, walked through the small towns, chatted with townsfolk, and took many visual snapshots of the quiescent region of the Mad River Valley. Also, the hero in the story is from New Zealand, and I was fortunate to visit the “land of the long white cloud” on my honeymoon. I dug into the memory vault for little bits of authenticity, and when needed, I consulted a few authors and readers for cultural accuracy.
What do I do when I can’t get to the location in a book? I research. Books, online, or I chat with experts in the region/culture. Setting deserves just as much attention as the characters and plot. I hope you enjoy the settings in both A Hundred Breaths and Soul of the Storm.
Photos in the collage: Across the top is Mad River Valley, Vermont. Then a Viking ship we toured. Last two are from Scotland (Glencoe and Eilean Donan Castle).
Jean’s background is in science and she draws from her interests in history, nature, and her family for inspiration. She writes historical and contemporary romances and women’s fiction. She also writes articles for family-oriented travel magazines. When she’s not writing or chasing children, she enjoys tending to her flower gardens, hiking, and doing just about anything in the outdoors.
Read on for excerpts from Jean’s books and links to find out more.
Blurb from A Hundred Breaths (historical romance with paranormal twist):
Healing his heart…with her last breath.
Simon MacCoinneach’s vengeance runs deep. The blade is the only way to end the blood-thirsty Nordmen’s reign upon Scottish soil. His soul might be lost, but the mystical Healer he kidnaps from the isles could be the answer for his ailing mother…and his heart.
Isles-born Gwyn reluctantly agrees to a marriage alliance with this heathen Scot in return for the sanctuary of her younger brother from her abusive Norse father. Her brother’s condition is beyond the scope of her Ancient power, for larger healings steal breaths of life from her own body.
As Simon and Gwyn fight to outwit her madman father and a resentful Norse betrothed, Gwyn softens Simon’s heart with each merciful touch. Gwyn’s Seer sister foresees a bloody battle—and an end to the Nordmen—but Simon will also die. Will Gwyn save Simon on the battlefield even if it means losing her last breath?
“I’m your wife, and still I am guarded?”
Simon shrugged though she couldn’t see. He’d given up on excuses. “What must I do to prove I won’t flee? I signed your marriage contract. I said my vows.” Her voice broke on those words.
Was she crying? He laid the tray of food on her table and approached. He didn’t touch her, as much as he wanted to link his arm within hers as they’d done during their walks. He reached inside his ganache and withdrew her small, simple dagger. Unadorned with jewels or carvings, it possessed a bone hilt and a blade worn from use. Likely from tree limbs, flowers, and household use. His smith had sharpened it and cleaned the hilt.
“Here,” he said, placing it in her lap. Gildy had retrieved the sheath from Gwyn’s laundered gown.
Gwyn stared at it, her fingertips dancing butterfly wings hovering over the hilt. After a moment, she drew her hand around it and pulled it from its leather sheath. She rose and whirled on him, the dagger pointed out before her, barely pressing into his chest.
He didn’t retreat as he met her fiery, misty gaze.
She made no move to remove the dagger’s tip.
Soul of the Storm (contemporary romance novella, part of Deerbourne Inn series):
Charlotte MacGregor lost the thrill of conquering mountains five years ago when her sister disappeared on a hiking adventure without her. Still guilt-ridden, Charlotte heads for a vacation to rustic Vermont with a friend—where she’s surrounded by reminders of her devastating loss and plagued with unanswered questions.
Matiu Christiansen is an outdoors buff. He works multiple jobs to save for his dream of owning an outfitter in New Zealand. He’s never quite felt at home in the United States and he yearns for his Maori roots, but his attraction to Charlotte puts a kink in his plans to move home later this year.
Thrown together by coincidence, Charlotte and Matiu form a kindred bond through their shared love of the outdoors. Can Charlotte surmount her demons to assist Matiu on a rescue when a late-season snowstorm hits? And can Matiu help Charlotte heal from the pain of the past?
She went to feel her ring on her finger with her thumb…but the ring wasn’t there. That old habit would not die even years later.
A dog bark intruded. The man crossed to the back door. “Reka, sweet girl, take your nap. Only a few hours here and then home, okay?” He spoke to her like a father to a toddler. The dog barked again. “A swim and walk this morning weren’t enough for you?”
He approached the dog, petted it, and whispered affections.
Charlotte made a soundless “Aww” and kept perusing.
The man returned, nearer. Residual sweat traced his brow. He pointed to a selection of books in the middle. “These are the best. Depends on what you’re looking for. Honest reviews or glorified fantasies?”
“Honest reviews, always.”
He stroked a hand through his neck-length black hair, the longer top layer falling over his forehead. He squatted and withdrew a few books from the lower shelf. “You could go with the popular or famous names, sure, but I like these authors.” He handed her one.
A book on South America sat in her hands. She muttered, “Thanks. Don’t need that one.”
“Oh, already been there, eh? All good, all good.” He took it and shoved it back on the shelf. “Where do your dreams lie then?”
She swallowed. No, I wasn’t there in that way. I was supposed to have been there. Five years ago. Instead she said, “Well, Vermont for now.”
“You’re in luck. I’m from Willow Springs.”
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130609229?ean=2940161389621
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