BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Guest Post by Author Cathy Pegau: A Sense of Place: Created, Real, and Sort of Real Settings

Cathy Pegau writes romances and mysteries set in eras past, present, and future. She can be found on Twitter discussing coffee, animals, politics, TV shows, and music, amongst other topics. I read and reviewed her current release, Haunted, last week and today she's here with a guest post for you all.

From her website: "I had stories revolving in my head as a kid, but made little effort to get them down on paper. Home computers were rare way back then, and using my Brother Correct-O-Typewriter was a pain. Funny, then, I thought it too time consuming to use a pen and paper. Now, I will most likely write my stuff out by hand before sitting at the computer to input/edit.

Writing was not the career path I chose when the time came. I thought the arts, while enjoyable, was not the way to make a living. So I went into science. Wildlife biology, to be exact. Yep, plenty of prosperous biologists wandering about in the woods, you know. Obviously money was not high on my list of job perks. But I enjoyed the course work (how many college students can say THAT?) and managed to get short-term positions for a few years. It was fun, hard and sweaty work, and gave me the chance to see and do things I wouldn’t have if I had chosen accounting or even writing. Like get lost in the woods overnight. But that’s another story.

I got engaged, then married–to a scientist, assuring perpetual financial uncertainty. We lived in Oregon for a while, and when he was offered a job in Alaska we jumped at it. So, now we live here with our kids and critters and the occasional moose strolling through the yard. I can’t afford therapy, so I write. I want to do what I want to do, so I write. I want my kids to know that pursuing dreams is important, so I write."

Find Cathy online:


A Sense of Place: Created, Real, and Sort of Real Settings

Outside of characters and plot, one of the most crucial aspects of a story a writer decides on is setting. And not just setting, but how to use time and place. You may have a stalwart law enforcement agent searching for a killer, but are they in Wyoming in 1878? New York City in 2020? On a space station in 2378? Depending on when and where you set the story, will influence the atmosphere surrounding the characters, the “flavor” of the novel, the characters themselves.

But choosing a time and place isn’t just a matter of throwing a dart at a map or a calendar. Decisions need to be made. Will your novel be set in a completely made up place, a real place, or somewhere “fictitiously utilized”?

Making It Up As I Go Along

My first published novels are a trio of science fiction romances set on a mining colony a couple of hundred years in the future. Why did I set them there? The idea of a futuristic heist and romance on a distant planet placed itself in my brain alongside the characters and plot. Because the planet didn’t exist, I had free rein (within the laws of physics, for the most part, anyway) to make it what I wanted, how I wanted. Yay!


The beauty of creating something from almost nothing is that YOU decide on how you want every little thing from weather to geology to flora and fauna to societies and cultures, and then some.

The terrifying part is YOU decide on all those things and have to make them make sense.

Before I set word to paper (or electrons to Word file) I had some organization and research to do. What was it about Navarro that drew miners? Colonists? Other groups? Why was it named Navarro? How did the people get there? How did they survive? What elements did they need to deal with? Animals? Parasites? Were there other inhabited planets “nearby”?

Since I was living in Alaska at the time, I decided Navarro was cold, even in the summer. I gathered a lot of information about cold climates and the challenges of living in one. I researched how and why an expedition would decide to check out such a place, let alone settle there. And other than the corporations and their families and support industries, who might come later? What issues and troubles might they encounter?

Even when I thought I was done and had a decent handle on the world, I wasn’t done. Depending on the story and intended audience, you must decide what to put on the page. I’d barely scratched the surface of world building, but these stories weren’t necessarily ABOUT the world. I had to put in enough to make Navarro real in the readers’ minds, to set the stage, but not so much that it would overwhelm. Or worse, bore someone!

Minute details about every little aspect of the world work well in many hard science fiction novels, and I had done a ton of research on many things for my less-dense sci fi heist rom, but little of that actually hit the pages. I’d like to think my audience got the cold feel of Navarro’s climate as well as the heat of the romance.

I Know This Place Like the Back of My Hand

The work necessary when using real places can be as daunting as making one up, especially if you’ve never been there. Thank goodness for Google. There are many locations so well known (think L.A. or NYC or London or Disney World) that the moment it’s mentioned the reader has done most of the work for you. Details need to be worked out (are you setting scenes in a NY diner? L.A. mansion? Space Mountain or the Tea Cup ride?) that can be fudged some, but for the most part, you are using a place as is.

I set my historical murder mysteries in my current home town, 100 years in the past. I know this place well enough, and had access to an amazing historical record (Thank you Cordova Museum!). For the most part, I stuck to the actual locations of streets and building, if not the names of establishments. The few places I moved around (like the building that housed the post office and marshal’s office) I noted in a statement to the reader. I didn’t stick 100% to what was here back then, but I was pleased as punch when locals mentioned that they recognized particular establishments or locations from my descriptions.

That being said, I also needed to make sure Cordova was as real to anyone unfamiliar with town or its history (which is a LOT of people). I wanted them to feel the rain, to smell and taste the salty tang of the ocean, to hear the steamboat whistles and putt-putt-squelch of Model T tires on the muddy road. I wanted these things in their heads as much as I wanted my sci fi rom readers to feel the bite of a Navarro summer wind and the burn of keracite dust in their throats. I wanted them to look for Cordova on a map and feel like they’d been there, to love it as much as I do.

By using a real place, however, you open yourself up to criticism. Things may not be EXACTLY as some know them. Despite your legal warning that places are used in a fictitious manner and acknowledgement that you may have screwed up, someone will likely find something to call you on. Still, grounding a story in a real place, with real sites that exist or existed, requires some deep research, but if you love a location that much, it’s worth it.

This Feels Familiar…

I set my latest book, Haunted, in the Oregon town where we had been living when I first started writing it ages ago (the long path to publication for Haunted is a story for another time). As I was editing and revising, I decided to change the name of the town and university where the bulk of the action takes place. Squint a little and you can probably figure out the original setting if you know anything about the Willamette Valley.

So why did I change the name of this town and not the one in my historical? Basically because I didn’t want to get sued by the State of Oregon : )

Oh, I put in the “used fictitiously” disclaimer all right, and I did use a couple of real locations, but others are made up or changed to protect the guilty (Me. The guilty is me). My association with that particular town is fine and on-going, it’s just that something at the back of my brain squirmed a bit when I used the real place. To alleviate that feeling, I changed the name. I also completely made up certain other state offices as far as location and description. Does any of that matter for the story? I don’t think so, because as with the science fiction romances, the location and time is important, but the feel of it is more critical than the accuracy of what building is where or how it’s named.

I think the mix of real and made up works for this story. I mean, it has a ghost. How realistic do you expect me to be? ; )

Could I have dropped Liv and Zia into a contemporary novel set in a big city? Probably, but there would have been significant changes to the plot. Would Charlotte fit into modern day Alaska? Sure, but her character wouldn’t have had the past and struggles that I wanted to show resonating across the last 100 years. Do Georgie and Min need to have lived in Oregon, driving up and down I-95? Who they are and what they do doesn’t quite fit in a space station or on the Oregon Trail.

Character, play, and setting shouldn’t be easily separated. They should play off each other, working together to make what we hope will be someone’s next favorite read.


Publisher: Cathy Pegau
Formats: ePub, Kindle
Release Date: June 15th, 2020
Buying Links: Amazon* | Apple Books* | Barnes & Noble  | Kobo |
* affiliate links; the blog receives a small commission from purchases made through these links.

Blurb from goodreads:

Environmental consultant Georgie Del Ducco sees dead people. Well, one dead person--her best friend, journalist Min Goldfelder. Min’s latest visit comes as Georgie flees her own wedding in her cheating ex-fiancĂ©’s car. As much as Georgie appreciates Min’s company, she can’t help but wonder why her friend keeps showing up and hasn’t “crossed over.”

While Georgie’s being held for car theft, Min sees a man she knows is somehow connected to her fatal accident. And her accident is connected to a bear poaching story she was working on when she died. Can Georgie and Min solve the mystery of Min’s death so she can continue her journey to the other side? Better question: Can Georgie face having her BFF gone forever?

Content Warnings: scenes of dealing with grief and loss of a close friend and an adult child; brief rough handling by a former romantic partner; recounting fatal automobile accident and images of injuries.


  1. Great interview! I'm not biased at all.

  2. *Waves* Hi Cathy!! We chat all the time on Twitter, but it's been ages since I've read one of your books. I love the premise of the new series and enjoyed Bea's review. Yea!!


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