Friday, November 1, 2013




In the simplest terms, the setting of a novel is the time and place in which the action of the narrative takes place. Without place, the characters are just there without reason to act or care. Setting is not only the time, location, and circumstance of where the story takes place, but the social milieu which shapes values and the characters. Not only the mood and texture of the place, but also attitudes, values, and issues of that point in time.

Interesting settings can be a challenge. At best, they can become a character in the story. Since my brand is "Travel to exotic foreign lands for romance and intrigue", my goal is to make my readers feel as though they've been to the place they've read about.

Author Susan Meissner writes:

"We are wired to assign value to places. That's why home is so sweet, Yosomite is so beautiful, Paris so romantic, and a moonlit beach is so calming. It's also why dark houses scare us, crumbling cliffs intimidate us, and foggy moors depress us. Place communicate something to us. A spider doesn't care it if makes a web in a dark, musty cellar or under a chair in an opulent ballroom. But we care!"

You can set a novel in a place you've never been and pull it off, but having been there is better. Physical presence gives you a sense of how the location feels, tastes, and smells. You hear the background sounds, feel the rhythm and pace. These things are often hard to research. Even if you've never been to the location where your novel is set, thinks about those characteristics of place.

I use international travel for the settings in my novels. The uniqueness of each location is my inspiration. When I travel, I look for locations, attitudes, and customs that result in a story that couldn't happen anywhere else and be the same story.


The setting for my latest novel in the romantic suspense series "Tour Director Extraordinaire" is southern Africa. I traveled to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia in 2008. The trip inspired the novel "All For A Blast Of Hot Air."

Everything in Africa moves at its own pace, which tends to be slower and more laid back than the urban parts of the US. When tourists get frustrated about this, the response is a shrug and the words, "This is Africa." The phrase is delivered as more of an explanation rather than an excuse, and they don't understand why we have our panties in a wad.

While I was there, someone we met spoke of having taken a hot air balloon safari. About all that I heard was how wonderful the experience had been—I'm not even sure where in Africa she'd been—but the comment struck a chord, and set the stage for the novel.


I was intrigued by Author MaryLu Tyndall's list of six ways the setting can help or hinder the protagonist in achieving his/her goals in general and in a scene. It's worth the time to read her article. 

Here's a recap of her points.

● The setting as a friend / a comfortable, relaxing place where protagonist can reflect, or a safe place to hide from enemies.

● The setting as an antagonist / introduce conflict, trouble, thwarts protagonist's plans.

● The setting as a mentor / a place to learn or make discoveries, a place to prepare to take something on.

● The setting as a shadow for protagonist / a shadow reflects the deepest flaws of the character / a setting that opens the character's eyes to his/her own flaws.

● The setting as a model of what the protagonist wants to be / a setting that fosters qualities to which the protagonist aspires.

● The setting as an example / a setting that either assists or hinders the character in the particular scene.


So, how does a trip to Africa translate into a unique setting?

We didn't take a hot air balloon safari, but we did go on ground safaris. There were so many amazing locations and activities in those four countries that just didn't fit into my book. I find that unless I have a rough outline already when I visit the setting, I may or may not pay attention to the details that will end up enriching the story. I've learned to be more astute about things that may end up having a place in a novel.

The following are only mentioned in passing in my novel, if at all, but the experience added to my sense of what it is like in Africa. Think about them and see if these minimal descriptions bring any ideas about settings to your mind. In what kind of book would any one of these setting be appropriate?

We rode "rescue" elephants. These are sick or starving elephants that have been abandoned by the herd. When found, they are brought back to health and used for tourist rides. The money earned goes into the upkeep of the animals.

We walked with lions. Walking with the Lions is part of the "ALERT" program which is intended to reintroduce lions into parts of Africa where the population has been reduced due to farmers killing them to protect their farms and livestock. A century ago, the lion population in all of Africa numbered about 200,000. Now the population is between 20,000 and 30,000. Again, the money earned for these tourists walks (which are actually part of training the lions) helps to fund the program.

We visited Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls [Mosi-oa-Tunya of The smoke that thunders] is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

These falls are not the highest or widest in the world, but Mosi-oa-Tunya is the largest falling sheet of water in the world. The full width of the Zambezi River (5,604 feet – over one mile wide) plummets straight down for 354 feet in a single sheet.

Part of the uniqueness of the falls is that there aren't any mountains or deep valleys as you would expect. Just flat land with a wide river…and then you see a billowy column of what looks like white smoke. It's actually the spray from the river plummeting into a deep vertical chasm caused by water erosion over thousands of years in the fracture zones.

We baboon-watched. A baboon actually made it into the novel as a secondary character.

 This is Manny Baz-ac in my novel All For A Blast Of Hot Air

Baboons run free like squirrels. They're incredibly smart, can open most locks, and harass the tourists by breaking into cars and homes looking for food. The one below is in a golf cart at a golf course. They also steal the golf balls. The other photo is in a national park.

We photographed Baobab Trees. These are unusual trees that grow only in Africa and Madagascar. The branches look like spread out like roots, hence the names "upside-down tree".

Every part of the tree can be used, which the primary reason it is called the tree of life. It's fruit, bark, roots, and wood provide innumerable products used by the native African peoples for thousands of years. Food, red dye, Vitamin C, medicine, rope and strings for musical instruments. Canoes are carved from the wood. The list goes on and on.

My heroine ends up spending the night in one of these trees with the baboon.

We ate weird foods. Zebra pate, Mopani worms, and soup with crickets. Oops! That wasn't the way the soup was prepared. The cricket flew into the open-air restaurant at our very nice hotel in Zimbabwe and landed in my friend's soup...but it didn't have anywhere to land in the book.

The Mopani worms, which are actually caterpillars, don't look like this when you eat them...well, not exactly. These are the staple protein for much of Africa.
We slept under Mosquito netting. This definitely made it into the book with some interesting consequences when the hero and heroine make love. Below was our room at one of the Safari Lodges where we stayed.

Ann Siracusa
* * * * *

R. ANN SIRACUSA has been writing fiction and non-fiction for over thirty years. While working in her chosen career of architecture and urban planning, and raising a family, she made time to travel and to write. This talented author combines those loves into novels that transport readers to exotic settings and immerse them in romance, intrigue, and foreign cultures…and give them a good laugh.

Today, she is retired, lives in San Diego, California, and writes full time (which is as many hours as an Italian husband, three grown children, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild will allow on any given day). She has been active in Romance Writers of America since 1985 and served two terms as Co-president of the San Diego RWA Chapter.

Her first novel, a mafia thriller, was published in 2008. After that, she had nine works published by Sapphire Blue Publishing. Breathless Press has published a five book romantic suspense series, Tour Director Extraordinaire, three short stories, and one science fiction romance.


with a novel by R. Ann Siracusa 

* * * * *

By R. Ann Siracusa

Book 5 in the Tour Director Extraordinaire Series

A secret pre-nuptial honeymoon, a hot air balloon safari, and a plot to kill the US president all come together at a Vatican wedding.

97k – eBook Format only

Finally! Harriet Ruby, a bubbly tour director, and Will Talbot, her favorite spy and the love of her life, Will Talbot, are planning to get married despite her lingering concerns about his dangerous profession.

He could get killed!

She doesn't want her children to grow up with an absentee father...or a dead one, but Will's work is his calling. Harriet won't ask him to give it up. When they're together, she knows he'll find a way to make everything right.

To avoid the big wedding her mother is planning in California, Harriet jumps at an offer to get married in the Vatican, only to learn her family will still attend. Now she's not only stuck with a big wedding, she has to plan it in two months without help. When her boss cancels her vacation time scheduled for their honeymoon, she freaks out.

At Will's suggestion, they get married at city hall, hire a wedding planner, and then embark on their honeymoon before the church ceremony. The first leg of their trip is a hot air balloon safari in Africa—well, it sounded like fun at the time—and afterward, they would have two quiet, relaxing weeks totally alone.

When a member of the tour is kidnapped, Harriet learns Will had accepted an assignment from to keep the kidnap victim under surveillance. All her doubts about the marriage raise their ugly heads. Sure, they love each other, but can this marriage work out?
It won't matter if we don't get out of this alive.


"Mom!" In my excitement, I almost yelled into the telephone. "You can stop planning the wedding."

Six simple, everyday words. It's amazing the effect they can have, given the correct―or incorrect―combination.

Silence dropped with a thud that resounded all the way from California to Rome and stretched into an eternity.

Perhaps not eternity, but long enough for me to realize my particular choice of the six words might not have been the best. They had wrought total devastation on a dream my mother had harbored for the last twenty-one years.

A huge Italian wedding for her only daughter. Me. Harriet Ruby.

I heard her draw in a huge gasp of air and let it gush forth. "Oh, Harriet, dear! Why are you calling off the wedding? What―"
I held the receiver away from my ear. "Relax, Mom. It's nothing like that. We―"
"I'm so sorry. Isn't there something―"
"Mom!" The damage was done. She didn't hear another thing I said. I covered the speaker and whispered, for no particular reason, to my fiancé Will Talbot. "She thinks we've broken up and are calling off the wedding."
Shaking his head with resignation, Will took the phone from my hand.
"Hello, Maria?"—that's my mother—"Yes, this is Will. No…no, everything is fine."
I hung onto his arm and leaned into him, unable to decipher the nonstop flood of words bouncing from satellite to satellite and spewing out as an incessant buzz into his ear.
"No, but―"
Oh, boy. Have you ever had those moments you wished never happened? That you could wipe the slate clean and start over, after putting your brain in gear?
"No, but―Maria, stop!"
The buzz ceased. Will Talbot, my über spy extraordinaire, is amazing…in lots of ways, including dealing with my mother.
"Thank you, Maria. Now, listen to me. You can relax. Harriet only wants you to stop planning the wedding because…"―he paused for emphasis―"we're getting married in the Vatican."
Those final six words created another long hiatus, but for a different reason. Why didn't I think of that?
He shook his head and grimaced at me in mock disgust, no doubt wondering the same thing. It might have been real disgust…at least disappointment.
"Yes, I know they only do that for special people." I guessed Will had responded to an astonished protest from my mother. She would never accuse him of lying, because she adores Will. Besides, he never lies…he omits details. Occasionally. But only when he's not allowed to mention them.
Life's a little complicated with him being a spy and all.
"When certain people there heard we were planning to get married, they offered…" he went on. "You know, because we saved the Pope's life a year ago." He glanced at me and winked. "We couldn't possibly reject such an honor."
More buzzing. "The fourth of September." Pause. "Right. The fourth is a Monday." Another pause. "No, I'm afraid they don't do weekends. St. Peter's is pretty well booked."
When he hung up a few minutes later, he put his arms around me, and we snuggled back under the covers, our legs tangled together. I'd waited to call my mother until after dinnertime in California, and it was four o'clock Saturday morning in Rome.
I yawned and molded my body against his, attempting to dispel the tension holding me in thrall. "How'd she take it?"
He chuckled, a deep amused rumble in his throat, and nuzzled my neck, sending ripples of desire skittering through me. "Your Mom's tough. She'll be all right, but you'd better let me do the explaining from now on."
The elephant of despair which had been sitting on my chest seemed to pop and, with a sudden whoosh, a huge weight lifted from me. I heaved a deep sigh of relief from the bottom of my soul. Happiness bubbled through my blood.
"Thank goodness. Even with Mom and Aunt Connie doing all the planning, I couldn't have faced a gargantuan wedding. My nerves are already raw, even with the big day still eight months away." I cuddled tighter against him and buried my face against his muscled chest, savoring the scent of sweet musk and essence of Talbot.
He chuckled with amusement and a tad of relief. "I know. You were already driving me nuts. That's why—"
"You pulled some strings," I finished for him. "You did that for me?" Touched by his concern, I swallowed hard, gulping down the flood of emotion. My eyes filled. I loved this man so much.
"For both of us. Not a totally selfless act, I'm afraid, but it was the one reason your mother couldn't object to. She can recoup her good standing in the Italian community by sending out an announcement that you're getting married at St. Peter's in the Vatican. I doubt anyone she knows can top that."
"You are so good!  That's why I love you so much."
"That's all?"
"We-ll, maybe it's because you're gorgeous, you have great buns, and you're the sexiest man alive. And because you're smart and speak seventeen languages fluently, you smell good and you're gentle and fearless and—"
"Stop talking." His soft lips covered mine, his tongue penetrated, demanding, sucking on mine until my head spun.
"This too." Then my senses overloaded, and I couldn't think, totally lost in shuddering pleasure.
  Available for purchase from BREATHLESS PRESS.


  1. Great post with amazing photos! Best of luck with sales!

  2. Great post. Love the photos and the book cover! But the Mopani worms do NOT look appetizing. *cringes*

  3. Hi Ann,
    Thank you so much for being my guest on the Snarkology. Your pictures are wonderful! What a great adventure you had. :-)