I knew I wanted to set my next series in a small town in Iowa, and I knew I wanted a character from my last series to live and own a business there. Because of his background as a musician, I decided early on that I wanted the business to be a restaurant and music venue.
Beyond that, I didn’t know much about the town—certainly not enough about it to make it something of a character of its own in my upcoming series.
Though I’m sure every author has their own unique process for developing a setting, here’s mine!
- Name the town
I looked at a map of Iowa to get a feel for common city names there. There are a lot of names with “City” in them and a number with nature-related terms—and some, such as Forest City, with both!
I’ve always liked nature-related names (my last series was set in fictional Lakeshore, Wisconsin, and other place names included Fox Valley and Havenridge), so I decided to go that route. Since cedar was used in a few real places in Iowa, I wondered about finding a different tree.
I soon landed on the oak tree. Researching Iowa, I learned there are 12 species of Oak native to Iowa and soon settled on the name Twelve Oaks … until someone pointed out that was the name of a plantation in Gone with the Wind.
I adjusted and dubbed my new city Many Oaks.
- Craft a landmark
While visiting relatives in Iowa, I learned that a fair number of them have town squares—something I don’t see as often in Wisconsin. A series of one-way streets surround a small park, forming a (you guessed it) square. On the outside of the square, facing the park, are old brick buildings that house small businesses.
I knew I wanted to have a town square in Many Oaks, and I couldn’t let that fact about oaks native to the state go to waste. So, in the park there stands one of each kind of oak tree, planted almost two hundred years before by city founders. I didn’t manage to set one of my scenes for my prequel novella there, but I’m looking forward to exploring the park with characters in my upcoming novels!
- Consider common businesses for characters to frequent
In the prequel, I did learn a lot about the businesses in town.
There’s a nice Italian restaurant near the square (based on a mashup of restaurants I’ve been to).
There’s the restaurant and music venue my crossover character owns. The Depot was based on a restaurant/music venue I saw on TV once and crossed with a house made from a renovated train depot a few blocks from my own home! (It looks like such a cool place to live!)
I got to visit Dubuque, Iowa, recently, and love to think that The Depot would fit right in among the historic buildings we saw along the Mississippi.
Many Oaks, like lots of towns around, isn’t all old buildings. There are a few newer businesses, such as a medical center, in a more recent business development on the outskirts of town.
- Get to know the community
My stories are character-driven. To develop a coherent series around not only a place, but a group of people, I needed for them to have been through a lot together.
A tragedy ten years before the start of the series shaped the characters you’ll meet in the Many Oaks Romances. Everyone went into the event with different backgrounds and perspectives, so they were all impacted in different ways, but the effects have been lingering all these years. But now, through the love of God and each other, healing is on the way.
I hope you’ll enjoy visiting Many Oaks through the series! The prequel novella, Now or Never, releases in just under a week on April 28th. Pre-order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or other ebook retailers.
In the meantime, what is your favorite fictional setting? What do you like so much about it?