This month we’re discussing setting and locale. The other night I was at a write-in (sponsored by fabulous Girlfriend Maggie Marr), and another author asked me about the book I was writing. Currently, I’m working on another in the Casey Cort series set in Cleveland.
“Cleveland?” she asked. In my love letter to Cleveland, I discussed why my legal thrillers are set there, so I’ll spare you that part of the conversation.
But five of the other books I’ve written are set right here (where I’m sitting at the moment) in sunny Los Angeles. (Look, it’s not so sunny today. We’re on the cusp of June gloom, and it’s about seventy degrees and partly cloudy at eleven thirty in the morning, but work with me).
I’m from New York City, and a recent transplant to Los Angeles. As I type that, I realize you may wonder why my definition of transplant is. I’ve been here about fourteen years—which I understand may not seem so recent. But in the scope of my life, I still feel like a New Yorker.
Anyway, this other writer was asking if I was from New York and had only lived in Cleveland for a few years, why my books didn’t take place in one of the five boroughs. She, mind you, is a California native.
In light of this subject matter, I’ve been thinking a bit about why my books are set here. Despite the sheer number of stories set in New York City, I think it’s too big a place to squeeze into a book. I’ve ready many a book that have taken place in New York and I feel very few manage to capture the city as it is. It ends up a caricature of itself. Too loud, too pretentious, not enough of what it should be.
Ironically, the only depictions I feel are representative of it are on screen. There was a movie I saw many years ago that brilliantly depicted apartment life and book hoarding as I experienced it, Tadpole. The other was The Sopranos. I know. That was New Jersey, but was so much like the environment I remember from childhood that I could have walked into that world and thought it real.
To be frank, Los Angeles is much easier to capture. Probably because I don’t have my entire childhood invested in its portrayal, I feel like I see it much more objectively and can render it as it is now. And to be perfectly honest, if I have a research question, I can get in my car and get the answer in twenty minutes or less.
I once wondered if my characters from Don’t Judge Me, Raphael and Daisy could walk to The Griddle from his apartment in West Hollywood. So I got in my car drove to his street and walked in the rain from his apartment to the restaurant getting the timing just right. (I should mention I had a camera and umbrella and looked like a paparazza or stalker, alas).
Another time I wondered how Shaken’s reporter heroine Yesenia would sneak up on her husband’s police station, so I found myself navigating Hollywood as if I were driving, and trying to conceal, a satellite truck.
The other reason I write about L.A. is the weather. In my Cleveland stories, I have to worry about heat, cold, wind, rain and what my characters are wearing. I have to worry about them being snowed in, or worse stuck in a four story walkup without air conditioning. Here it’s sunny and seventy. Clothing is flexible (and in my books often optional).
There are probably eight million stories in New York. That’s a nearly endless supply of ideas. But living in a city of nearly four million, there are more stories here than I could ever tell, so for now me and my characters are staying put.
Sylvie Fox is the author of In Plain Sight, Qualified Immunity and The Good Enough Husband. She’s also the author of Unlikely, Impasse, and Shaken from the first two books in the sexy, contemporary L.A. Nights series. Don’t Judge Me, and The Secret Widow from the Judgment series. When she’s not battling traffic on the freeways of Los Angeles, she’s eating her way through Budapest.