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Thursday, July 15, 2010

With the releases of each of the three previous contemporary novels, I spent quite a lot of time talking about how I created the fictional city of Bonneterre, Louisiana, a place where I’ve “lived” since about 1992.

After finishing A Case for Love, I was ready for a break—from the Guidry clan as well as from Bonneterre . . . with the exception of one short draft of a novel written in four months back in 2003, every contemporary piece I’ve written since 1992 has been set in the ever-growing/evolving city of Bonneterre. Having to draw a map and figure out where things are, and create different parts of this fictional city was, I felt, brain draining when I was trying to focus on just getting the story written. So for this new contemporary series, I decided to use a real city in which I’ve lived for almost as long as I’ve “lived in” Bonneterre: Nashville, Tennessee.

Upon moving to Nashville in 1996, I quickly learned that the stereotype that the rest of the world has of Music City USA is just that: a stereotype. Upon becoming a resident of Nashville, I discovered that though the city’s best-known export is country music, the industry itself actually has a small (though important) footprint inside the city. That’s not saying that the music industry isn’t a huge factor in the city—it is, but it’s all types and genres of music, not just country.

But up until about 50–60 years ago, Nashville was known as “The Athens of the South” for its proliferation of colleges and publishing houses.

Nashville—A Brief History
Fort Nashborough was founded in 1779, named after Revolutionary War hero General Francis Nash, by a group of pioneering settlers including James Robertson and Colonel John Donelson (whose daughter Rachel would go on to marry General Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States). James Robertson arrived with a group of about 200 men overland by horseback on December 25, 1779; Col. Donelson came by water on a flotilla of flatboats carrying the wives and children of the men in Robertson’s party as well as the supplies they would need for the fort, arriving April 24, 1780, bringing together about sixty families.

Because of the British implications of the –borough tag on the end of the name, before the war ended, the settlement was renamed Nashville, using the French suffix to honor America’s greatest ally during the war. (And if you’ve read my historicals, you know how weird it is for me to write positively about America and France being allies during the late 18th and early 19th centuries!)

Tennessee became the sixteenth state of the United States in 1796. During the War of 1812, Tennessee earned its nickname “The Volunteer State” by sending hundreds more volunteers to fight than had been requested.

[There are about five paragraphs of Nashville history I ended up deleting here. I figure if you’re really that interested, you can Google it.]

My Characters Move In
One of the things I hoped to do with the Matchmakers series was to give a little glimpse of what it means to live in Nashville—to dig deeper than the stereotype and let readers see what it means to live here and not be involved in the music industry.

I chose to have a lot of the action in the book take place in the the 12 South, Hillsboro Village, and Lipscomb/Green Hills areas of Nashville—one of the main reasons being that I personally like to spend time in that part of town (no, that’s not where I live).

I focused on the 12 South district as the area of town in which Zarah would live. Not only is it close to midtown (the area of Charlotte Avenue/Church Street/West End Avenue/Music Row/Broadway/21st Avenue south of I-40 from downtown Nashville), but it’s a neighborhood that was in transition about five years ago, around the time Zarah would have been house hunting. I also chose it because in the ten years that I worked in downtown, it’s the area I usually drove through in the evenings going home to avoid traffic on the interstate, so I’m well aware of what’s there and the feel of the neighborhood.

One of the first things I needed to do was find a house for Zarah, and I found a cute one in the real estate listings—a 1920s red-brick cottage, almost fully renovated, which she was able to pick up for a song. But Bobby was a different story. As someone who’d been in the army for most of his early adulthood as well as lived in Los Angeles for the past several years, he struck me less as someone who’d be the suburban type and more as someone who’d be looking for the same modern, urban feel he had in L.A.—but with more space. So I started researching all of the new condo developments in Nashville. And there are a lot of them. But when I saw the Panorama condo at The Enclave, which is right within the neighborhood I wanted him to be (with easy interstate access for his daily commute to the office), I knew that’s where he was supposed to be. (Of course, the decorations on the wall of the office in the photos of the model could have, subconsciously, had something to do with that.)

Real Places in Love Remains
In writing Love Remains, I discovered it actually takes a LOT more brain power to use a real place as a setting than a fictional place. No matter how well I felt I knew Nashville before I started writing, and notwithstanding the fact I made up the names and locations of the agencies for which Zarah and Bobby work, I found myself having to constantly stop and look up places I mentioned—restaurants especially, to make sure they were still in business and that the first thing that came up when Googling them weren’t a bunch of horrible 1- and 2-star reviews.

One of the featured real places in Love Remains is the coffeehouse The Frothy Monkey. I used it for two reasons—I went there to work quite often while writing this book and because it has a genuinely cool, and memorable, name. (They’ve recently opened a new restaurant, Burger Up, also in the 12 South District, which I plan to visit soon . . . because if it’s as good as what I’m seeing on Twitter, it may feature in one of the other two books in this series!).

I also mention a couple of other coffeeshops: Portland Brew and Fido.

Other real places mentioned/featured in Love Remains:
Bluebird Café
Douglas Corner Café
Old Spaghetti Factory
Sam’s Sports Grill
The Cheesecake Factory
Amerigo (which real Nashvillians call Amerigo’s)
“that taco place over on the corner of Edge Hill and Villa Place”

A couple of places in Alexandria, Virginia:
The Fish Market
A red-brick Georgian row house in a previous life, the building housing the restaurant rose three stories above the street, with black box-windows sticking out on either side of white double doors, carved masonry work surrounding them.

And one mention of a real restaurant in Old Town Mesilla, New Mexico: The Double Eagle.

Let’s just say, one book in, that I’m really looking forward to trying to get back to Bonneterre after this series—where, if something doesn’t already exist, I can just make it up and put it where I want it to be!

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  1. Kav permalink
    Thursday, July 15, 2010 9:18 am

    I love traveling to new places when I read fiction. Even in Bonneterre isn’t a real place, I sure got the feel of Louisiana. I’ll look forward to ‘traveling’ to Nashville next. In fact, I have a little wish list of places to visit and they are all on the list because I read a book set in that place. Someday I’ll get around to taking my own ‘Literary Tour’. 🙂


  2. Thursday, July 15, 2010 10:31 am

    I definitely understand the difficulty of writing about a place that exists! In my first manuscript, I have two locations – one is a real place in SC, and one is a place I made up (I even googled the name to see if it exists in KY – it doesn’t!). I had to make a modification to the “real” place, because a major place in the story doesn’t exist, and in fact, if it did, would be in the middle of a state park. I did, however, use some of the history of the state park land to explain things, so I guess upon publication, I’ll have to write a little disclaimer at the beginning! 🙂 It was interesting travelling there, though, and discovering things and details that I wouldn’t ordinarily notice.


  3. Sara Aimee Herrick permalink
    Thursday, July 15, 2010 2:54 pm

    I remember so fondly meeting up with you at Amerigos for lunch last August! Can’t wait to read about “your” Nashville!


  4. Lori C. permalink
    Thursday, July 15, 2010 5:19 pm

    I would have to say that the Frothy Monkey is one of my favorites! Love Remains has such a “it could really happen” vibe to it that I tend to forget its fiction. 🙂

    Hope to catch a cup of coffee with you soon. 🙂



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