A story’s setting can make all the difference.
Or at least, that’s the lesson I learned when writing my most recent novel, The Paris Connection.
When my editor called and asked if I’d be willing to tell Cole’s story, a character who was introduced in my first Harlequin Heartwarming novel, Gentle Persuasion, I jumped at the chance to get to know Cole a bit better. I mapped out an entire plot, set entirely in the United States, only to receive feedback from my editor:
“We’d like to see the story set in Paris.”
Paris. A city I’d never been to, though I had heard much about thanks to my Francophile sister’s multiple visits there. This request was outside of my comfort zone.
But I swallowed any misapprehensions I had and said, “Sure.”
I then proceeded to read up on every aspect of the most romantic city on earth: historical sites, food markets, French cuisine, the surrounding countryside, transportation, detailed descriptions of multiple arrondissements, both the métro and bus systems, the business district of La Défense, and everything in between, right down to the type of breakfast most Parisians prefer. I became a walking encyclopedia of random Francophile knowledge, even teaching my sister a thing or two about her favorite place in the world. And somewhere, in the midst of it, I fell in love. With this city I’ve never seen. With the iconography of what it represents: romance.
I realized what my publisher knew all along: setting makes a difference, even if it’s a setting outside your comfort zone. And my imaginary travels through Paris reminded me of what all good stories are about – a journey, either physical or emotional, through the landscape of love, loss, or laughter.
In the case of The Paris Connection, the setting helped shape the characters’ individual journeys and pasts. Cole resists moving to Paris because it was his ex-girlfriend’s dream. It was never part of his plan, but he’s forced into the experience in order to further his career. Emma first came to Paris when she was very young, found love and lost it, but acquired something more precious in the interim – a place she came to know as home. Setting the story in the City of Light influenced my hero and heroine’s motivations: Cole is determined not to fall in love with Paris, and Emma wishes he could see the city through her eyes.
The setting brought this couple together, and in the meantime, taught me what it means to fall in love with a place, even one I’d never seen.
Because, as Emma and Cole learn, falling in love often feels like coming home. Especially when it comes to the City of Light.
(submitted by Cerella Sechrist)
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