My very first inspirational romance was Preacher Man, published in 2009. I’d written books before, but this was the first time I recognized the nudge from God that I should be writing love stories that give all the glory to Him! It was a story about a newly divorced mom of a teenaged son, maneuvering through life in the big city of Chicago. She’s not a Christian (yet!) and when a unique set of circumstances introduces her to Josh, a pastor, his line of work creates in her a sense of dread. Who is she to date a preacher man?
Many readers enjoyed the book and it was my launching pad into writing many more inspirational romances. I got an invitation from a local assisted living center in my town to come and talk to the ladies who’d chosen to read it in their Book Club. The conversation was lively and positive. One lady had been sitting quietly until she spoke up. “Other than the Chicago skyline pictured on the cover, I’d never know I was reading a book about Chicago. A big city, yes. But you have nothing in there that is unique to that particular city at all.”
My mother (my biggest fan) had attended the gathering with me, and she looked alarmed at the feedback. She didn’t want my feelings to be hurt. But I was glad this insightful reader had given me this critique. In talking more with her, I learned she had been an English teacher for her entire career and knew her literature.
Maybe this comment, and the pondering that resulted, led me to the decision to write books set in the place I love more than anywhere else in the world: the Lowcountry of South Carolina. I’ve now written two entire series (eleven books total) in Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet and the settings, because I adore them, have become so much more than simply where the stories take place. They’ve really become a character within the stories, standing beside the people, forming the stories themselves.
“Setting as Character” is a concept known to authors. Christian author K. M. Weiland describes it this way: “It means: the setting is supposed to come to life—to be rich, vibrant, catalytic. It means: the details of the places in your story are supposed to leap off the page and fill readers’ imaginations so fully they can smell the pastrami sizzling. It means: an excellent setting can spell the difference between a book’s success and failure.”
Starting with my Pawleys Island Paradise series, the beachy settings had their own place at the table. The details weren’t just accurate — they were sensory. Reviews such as these started showing up:
“I feel like I’m there.”
“Laurie should get a commission from the Pawleys Island Chamber of Commerce because I want to book a trip there.”
I present to you, some excerpts from my latest book Seized, the finale of my Murrells Inlet Miracles series, describing real-life settings along with pictures of those places I took recently. You judge if I got them right.
They found vacant Adirondack chairs facing the marsh and sat, letting their delicious meal digest. Tree branches provided a canopy of shade. People milled around on the grounds, and Gloria was glad that this event had been well attended. They finished their drinks and enjoyed the pleasant breeze in the shade, watching the activity all around them.
Off to their left sat Goat Island. She pointed it out to him. “The goats are back for the season.”
He smiled fondly. “Sure sign of spring.” Across the inlet water from the MarshWalk was the island which housed a group of goats. They were removed for hurricane season through the winter and housed somewhere safe, but all MarshWalk visitors enjoyed the goats during the best times of the year.
Murrells Inlet Jetty
He drove south on Ocean Highway 17 to Huntington Beach State Park. He pulled the annual pass out of his glove compartment and waved it at the hut, getting in for free. But where she would normally turn right to go to the beach parking lot, he turned left. “Where are we going?”
He looked at her. “The beach.”
She pointed to the right which was disappearing in the distance.
“Have you ever visited the north beach?”
She shook her head.
“Wait till you do. This whole park is beautiful, but the north beach entrance is more obscure and if we walk further north from there, we hit the jetty, where the inlet blends into the ocean. Really beautiful.”
A wave of excitement flooded her heart. Besides her nephews, he’d hit on the one thing she was most passionate about in her life … the beach. She couldn’t believe she’d never ventured to this point of Huntington Beach considering she’d walked there at least a thousand times.
He was introducing her to new wonders, right in her backyard.
Last but not least, a detail I couldn’t help including …
When my husband and I relocated to Murrells Inlet permanently earlier this year, I discovered that the MarshWalk was offering an opportunity to commemorate your devotion to the area with a bronzed plaque. In Seized, my heroine Gloria buys one to commemorate her nephew’s local band. Here’s our real-life one:
What books do you love to read that contain a strong setting? What makes you love to read them?