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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

White Diamonds by Shirley Hailstock Book Tour

Guest Post: Perfect settings for writing stories.

 Often the book determines the setting.  I’ve noticed many authors tend to set their stories where they live or someplace close to where they live.  In my case, I’ve lived in a lot of places, so this gives me several choices of where stories can be set.  Anyone who’s familiar with my body of work knows that some of the stories are set in Washington, D.C.  I went to college there and lived there for many years.  My suspense novels that involve the government or a government official beg to be set in or around the District.

My historical CLARA’S PROMISE set in 1899 is about a woman running away from her home in northern Virginia.  She had attended D.C. Teachers College and went to Montana to teach and find her life and love.  In this case, I needed a totally different world from the one Clara lived in.  They needed teachers out west so west seemed the place to set the book.  Why Montana?  It fascinated me.  I wanted to know more about it and I’d met some people who lived there.  I could use them for research.

Currently, I have a new e-book release entitled LEGACY that is an updated re-issue of a print book.  The hero in this book was traumatized after defending a deranged man.  He turns his back on the world and goes to live on a mountain in Maryland.  I’ve been to the Maryland mountains and know what the terrain looks like.  I didn’t choose Maryland, the character did, but since he did I could write from a place of authority.  To get him off the mountain, I needed to send him to a metropolitan area, but not back to the same environment where he’d been traumatized.  Yet, I didn’t want him too far from his home and family.  They play roles in the plot.  Philadelphia became the setting.

I live in New Jersey an hour from Philadelphia.  I can go there and look at the land if need be.  Truth is I’ve been to Philly a number of times and don’t need to visit it for writing.  Sometimes familiar places are the best.

When I decide on a new story, I want my setting to not only be where the story takes place, but to be part of the definition of character.  Sometimes that means being a fish-out-of-water as in the case of CLARA’S PROMISE.  It could also be a place that is safe for the character.  In MY LOVER, MY FRIEND, the hero has PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).  He returns to his family home in Lighthouse, Maine.  In the telling of his story, we go to a small town where the residents all know each other. The entrance to the town is over a bridge that not only symbolically links two types of lives, but aids in transiting the hero to deal with the event that caused his stress.  The lighthouse, the sea, the homes of the hero and heroine (next door to each other) all play into the character of the town and its people.

I began by saying authors often use places where they live or know very well as settings.  I have never been to Maine and I’ve set two books there.  I’ve never set foot in Montana and I have two books set there -- third one in the works.  Where did I get the information about these places?  The Internet is always the first answer.  But luckily I talked to other romance writers who live in these places.  For Montana it was easy since Robert Redford loves Montana so much that he gives long sweeping visuals of the landscape in his movies.  Visuals and descriptions don’t give a feel for the people, how they speak or how they feel about their area and other sections of the country or how the residents feel about outsiders who come into their environment.  This is where other writers and social media come into play.  Writers are always willing to help with details.  And fans are thrilled to help.

My latest e-book release, LEGACY, is set in Princeton, NJ only fifteen minutes from where I live.  The book I’m working on now for my print publisher called WEDDINGS BY DIANA is set in Princeton.

For readers who may have never been to these places, making the setting a character not only adds to the character of the book, but gives the reader a small trip to a place they haven’t been.  Long ago, before I began to write, I read a novel practically every day.  Many were set in Europe, Greece and Spain.  I so wanted to visit those places because of the books.  I’ve been to Europe a number of times.  Greece and Spain are still on the list.

Closer to home, I read TIME AFTER TIME by Jack Finney.  It’s a time travel set in New York City in the mid 1800’s.  I was so intrigued by the places he mentioned in the story that one night I went to New York to see if a particular building was where the author said it was.  The building was called the Dakota Apartments.  They’re famous now because John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived there.  At the time, it was the place where Rosemary’s Baby had been filmed.  The minute I saw it, I recognized it as Rosemary’s building.

Jack Finney made the building so alive in his book, that I took a trip just to see if it was there, yet it didn’t override the characters in the story.  It enhanced them.  I still have vivid memories of the people.  Readers find settings intriguing, sometimes to the point that they have to go looking for them, even if they’re fictional.

I have a romantic suspense (MORE THAN GOLD) partially set in St. Louis.  In the book there is a fictitious abandoned air force base that I use as a hideaway for the hero and heroine.  At a booksigning after the book was released two women who live in St. Louis told me they went looking for the base and couldn’t find it.  They wanted to know where it was and were totally disappointed when I told them I made it up.  I’m not sure they believed me.

Settings matter to readers -- to those who live near the places and to those who get to vist them vicariously.  Settings are like music in a movie.  They act as background to tell the story and not intrude upon it.  But they bring the story alive.  No matter if the place is around the corner or across the globe, if we’re true to our depiction of the place and the people, readers will see it -- and love it.

How did you come up with the idea of White Diamonds?

            I wanted to write something different, something I didn’t read in every other romantic suspense I picked up.  Since I went to college and spent a lot of time in Washington, D.C., I decided to use that as the backdrop for my book.  D.C. has so much potential with the government there.  They can be the good guys or the bad guys.  So the idea of a guy dying and sending something to his best friend, who is then fighting for his life but doesn’t know why, was too good to ignore.  At the time I was unsure of what the “thing” was.  Then I thought of a communication system that used white diamonds and the book was born.  The world has become so small with the advent of the Internet.  I thought what if someone could ease drop on a device, like a phone or a computer from anywhere in the world.  I knew it was possible but didn't realize how close we were to that reality until after the book was published.

Did you draw inspiration for any of the characters from anybody in particular?

No, I don’t take inspiration from anyone I know.  I tried once to name a character after one of my nieces, but I found myself giving the same traits to the character that my niece had.  I immediately scraped thoughts of doing that.  It took away from the true characters in the story.

I usually work on who I need the character to be in the story.  Eventually, they take on a life of their own and they tell me who they are.  I do extensive character sheets, writing down all their characteristics, hobbies, likes, dislikes, fears, accomplishments, family, including their occupations, whatever is necessary.

I often get my plot first, then I find the people to go with the story.  When it happens the other way around, it may take years to get a story to go with a character.  This happened in the book LEGACY (an e-book that was just released).  The hero dropped in my head one day and said I needed a story for him, but I didn’t have one.  He sat virtually in my head for three years before I found a story that worked for him.

Is there a quirk of yours that translates in your books, something you know is a part of you?

                I tend to build something.  I can rebuild it, decorate it or totally describe it, making it a focal point of the story.  I used to tease and say in a past life I must have been an architect.  After HGTV and the DIY Network became so popular, I started doing some of the small things around my own house and found I love doing it myself.

            I also tend to make my heroines extremely capable, able to handle whatever comes their way.  I think this is part of my makeup.  I’ve had to handle a lot from childhood on and I think that makes for strong characters.


4.5 Stars

Sandra Rutledge stumbles missing Senator Wyatt Randolph, who is in need of help and unconscious,  while taking a mini vacation at her family cabin .  Wyatt awakens wanting the diamonds he was carrying and wishing beyond hope he has not just put the beautiful woman who saved him in harm’s way.  Finding out that she is the daughter of the man he believes is a traitor to his country. 

Sandra doesn’t believe her father is involved, but with evidence mounting against his innocence, Sandra plans to stick by Wyatt’s side until she figures out the truth.  Wyatt is falling hard for Sandra and the feelings are mutual, but every time they have a second to embrace their feelings they are reminded that their lives are in danger and the list of suspects involved in the secret behind the diamonds leads all the way to the White House.

Intense cat and mouse story, I thought the concept was fascinating.  You are pulled into the story right away and it has layers that continue to unravel as you read.  Excellent read, the first book for me of Shirley Hailstock’s, will definitely be reading more.

Author Bio:

Shirley Hailstock began her writing life as a lover of reading.  She likes nothing better than to get lost in a book, explore new worlds and visit places she never expected to see.  As an author, she can not only visit those places, but she can be the heroine of her own stories.  A past president of Romance Writers of America, Shirley’s has authored 29 books and won many awards and accolades for her work.

Connect with Shirley!

Buy the Book!

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  1. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  2. Samantha,

    I'm thrilled to be here. I love seeing my book on other people's site.

    Thanks for the wonderful review.


  3. Great guest post, I love learning about authors' writing processes. Thanks for the review.

    1. Author's processes can be so different. With writing it's what works for that person. I used to want to quite my day job and write during the day. Now that I'm home, I find I don't write until late in the day, sometimes at night.

      There just seems to be so much to do and everything takes more time than you think. But at night I can let it go until the next day and write.

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a message.

  4. Thank you so much for the review. It's wonderful. Would you help me out and post it on Amazon and B&N and any other place you wish.

    Amazon -
    B&N -

    Shirley Hailstock