by Linda Lovely
People enjoy reading books set in familiar locations—be it hometowns, family vacation spots, or famous resorts they long to visit someday. Novels give readers an inexpensive way to spend time at well-known and beloved locales anytime they want. Settings also can help transport readers deep into the world inhabited by the novel’s characters. They do so by evoking personal memories of sights, sounds, smells, and touch. In some cases, vivid descriptions of a location with weather details impact a novel’s mood and texture almost as strongly as the characters we meet on the pages.
Novels set in real-world locations impact book sales and profits, too. For instance, people who love vacationing in Jamaica may pick up a title by an unknown author simply because the book’s tropical setting promises to let them relive their get-away while seated in a cozy armchair.
All these factors provide authors with strong incentives to choose popular destinations as settings, especially if they have in-depth knowledge of a city or region. That definitely influenced my decision to launch my new Homeowner Association (HOA) Mystery series in the South Carolina Lowcountry. It’s a region I love, and one I called home for a dozen years.
The Lowcountry also checked a number of other boxes for me. My heroine, Kylee Kane, is a retired Coast Guard investigator, who works for an HOA management company. I wanted Kylee’s employer to have at least a dozen HOA clients of varying sizes rather than being concerned with managing a single large HOA. Why? With multiple clients, I avoid the Cabot Cove syndrome. As my series continues, I don’t risk decimating the population of one HOA. Instead, I can spread my mayhem across any number of developments.
Beaufort County fits this need perfectly since it boasts literally hundreds of islands and a wide variety of homeowner and condo associations. Since Kylee lives on a boat at the Downtown Beaufort Marina, I also reap the extra advantage of being able to incorporate adventures at sea as well as on land.
But, while the HOAs Kylee visits are set in a real region, all are fictional. Readers won’t find a single one of these HOAs on an area map. The reason’s obvious. To supply the essential conflict, I need to portray HOA feuds, board power struggles, and owners unhappy enough to be murder suspects. That makes it impossible to use real communities. My characters and feuds are imaginary so there’s no way to assign them to a real community and risk sullying the reputation of actual board members and residents.
So, just as authors wisely never allow a character to suffer from food poisoning in a real restaurant, my villains and pain-in-the-behind property owners don’t live in actual HOAs.
Nonetheless, my heroine and her family members and friends get to tap their toes and feast on shrimp at The Jazz Corner in Hilton Head, buy sweets at Beaufort’s Chocolate Tree, cruise on smooth seas in Calibogue Sound, and marvel at the wildlife within Botany Bay’s nature preserve.
In other words, both characters and readers get to enjoy every aspect of the Lowcountry’s natural beauty and cultural charm despite the fact they’ll never buy property in one of the fictional HOAs. My goal with this marriage of make-believe and reality is to serve up suspense in a setting that makes readers want to visit the Lowcountry often—by book or in person.
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