I live in Helena, Montana. This is a relatively new development. We moved here about two years ago from the Los Angeles area and it is very, very different. Not necessarily different bad or good, just different. Well, there are some things I miss, like really good ethnic food (I dream about it at night, people), and my Grammy and friends. And there are some things that are fascinating and great, like seeing deer walking down your street or looking in your window. But it is certainly different.
Even though it is the capitol of Montana, its still a pretty small city. We have two high schools, two Starbucks, and two McDonald’s – this is what makes us a major city and not a town, I guess (I’m making that up, I have no idea what qualifies anywhere to be considered a city).
A few months ago I had this really odd dream in which I clearly saw about 2/3 of the story idea for a YA paranormal romance. This is different for me because I don’t consider paranormal or ghost stories my forte, but I saw it so clearly – even down to the main character’s name and the first line of the book. And it has stuck with me.
So as I thought through the storyline and what I’d like to do with the project that has literally just fallen into my subconscious, I decided Helena would be the perfect setting for it. However, this leaves me with some issues. I usually set my novels in Los Angeles, which is HUGE and I can make stuff up like names of high schools or food joints, etc. That is harder to do when you’re working with a real life small city…and I hate reading books set places where things DO NOT MAKE SENSE to that location. My biggest pet peeve is when novelists set stories in L.A. but get things like freeways wrong or say that In-N-Out Burgers come with ketchup (they do not).
So I want to be true to the city – I’m setting the story here for a reason. On the other hand, I don’t want anyone to be offended if I talk about mean girls that go to Helena High or any number of plot points which I am MAKING UP INSIDE MY HEAD. I don’t know if mean girls go to Helena High and I don’t really care – I’ve asked around and gotten a general lay out of the major student types – but that’s all sort of vague framework. So, do I use Helena High and just stress that everything is purely fictional (and really, how many people in Helena will likely read this YA paranormal?) or do I risk authenticity and name the rival schools something different than Helena and Capitol?
Do you have any thoughts about books set in real places? I’d love to hear your tips on keeping authenticity while protecting the innocent!