My newest book for Samhain, Brand New Me (released December 7), takes place largely in a bar owned by the hero. I know just what that bar looks like because it’s based on a restaurant/bar the hubs and I used to frequent in the Hill Country. I also know just what Docia Toleffson’s bookstore looks like as well as the converted barn where she lives with Cal Toleffson. I know all of these places because, of course, I created them and did my best to describe them to my readers. Coming up with mental images of my settings when I write is usually no problem. I write about places like the Hill Country that I know pretty well, so I’ve got a lot of possibilities to choose from.
But what happens when I’m reading somebody else’s book and I have to picture their settings in my mind? I blush to admit it, but it doesn’t matter how well the author describes the place—the mental images I usually end up with are most frequently based on places that are already cluttering up my brain.
Take apartments, for example. The first apartment I ever saw belonged to my grandmother in Wichita, Kansas. Oddly enough, even now when I read a book that’s set in an apartment, my mental image is frequently based on that rather cramped old lady space. Alternatively, it may be the first apartment the hubs and I lived in when we were grad students in Seattle. All the Stephanie Plum novels have taken place there for some reason, which is sort of difficult because it was a lot further off the ground floor than Stephanie’s place in Janet Evanovich’s novels.
Stories set in houses frequently end up in the house where I grew up. Grand dining halls in regency historicals often shrink down to the table for eight and the built-in china cabinet where my mother used to keep her Fiesta ware.
School rooms are relatively easy—they tend to be in one of the places where I taught. Urban settings sometimes draw on cities where I spent some time: Seattle or Philadelphia or San Antonio, for example. But sometimes they get reduced down to Wichita, which has occasionally subbed in my brain for Los Angeles or New York City.
Let me say here that this tendency of my mind to supply familiar settings has nothing to do with the ability of individual authors to describe their settings. The author may do her job quite skillfully, and I love a meticulous description as much as anybody, but my mind is still going to go straight to a setting I recognize as the story progresses.
I have no idea why my mind works this way, or if it’s just me. I’d guess it’s because I’m too busy following the story to take the time to manufacture a totally new mental image to go along with whatever the author is trying to describe. Classic mysteries, with their meticulous descriptions of the locked room where the murder took place, used to drive me crazy because I could never really picture the action as happening anywhere but my standard settings, and in a lot of books by people like John Dickson Carr, the solution to the mystery depended on having a solid mental image of the room where the murder took place.
So hey, you guys who are really great at descriptions, I appreciate the hell out of what you’re trying to do. But the sad fact is, as far as my reader’s imagination is concerned, your story takes place in my granny’s apartment.
So am I the only one who does this? Does everybody else build a new mental image for each book? Or do you find your brain returning to those same old familiar places time after time?
by Meg Benjamin
A future with the woman of his dreams is within his grasp…if the past will stay that way.
Konigsburg, Book 4
Erik Toleffson wasn’t looking to become Chief of Police. He’s got enough trouble trying to rebuild his relationship with his three brothers who, until just recently, ran the other way when he approached. He’s not the bully they grew up with, but bad memories are tough to overcome.
Morgan Barrett is as worn out as a vat full of crushed grape skins. She never planned to run Cedar Creek Winery, but there’s no one else to shoulder the load as her father recovers from an injury. All she needs is a little sleep. Just a five-minute nap in the booth at the Dew Drop Inn…if that guy across the bar would stop staring at her as if putting her head down on the table is a crime.
After Morgan yawns in Erik’s face, there’s nowhere to go but up. With time, though, their relationship warms like a perfectly blended Bordeaux. Until the shady mayor digs into Erik’s past and dredges up information that could drive a permanent wedge between him and his brothers—and sour any chance of a future with Morgan.
Warning: Contains hot sex with mango sherbet, crooked politicians, yuppie bikers, Bored Ducks, and a Maine Coon Cat with attitude.
Buy it at My Bookstore and More and other ebook retailers.
Meg Benjamin is the author of the Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing. Book #4, Long Time Gone, was a Romantic Times Top Pick for Contemporary, and book #5, Brand New Me, will be released by Samhain on December 7. Meg lives in Colorado with her DH and two rather large Maine coon kitties (well, partly anyway).
Meg’s Web site is http://www.MegBenjamin.com. You can follow her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/meg.benjamin1), MySpace (myspace.com/megbenjamin), and Twitter (http://twitter.com/megbenj1). Meg loves to hear from readers—contact her at meg @ megbenjamin.com.