24 August 2019

VEGAS, BABY! In which Bad Girl explains how an imaginary Vegas hotel rocks the latest Goddaughter

Whether to use a real setting or make one up? That is the question.

Butchering Shakespeare aside (which I do cheerfully, if not cleverly) all authors have to decide whether to set their novel in a real place or not. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

In the Goddaughter series, I set the books in a real place – Hamilton Ontario, also known as Steeltown, or The Hammer. Everyone who has ever been over the Skyway bridge on the way to Toronto (one hour from Buffalo) will experience a taste of Hamilton.

“I live in The Hammer. Our skyline includes steel plants. We consider smog a condiment,” says Gina Gallo, the mob goddaughter of the series.

I don’t have to describe much to put you in that setting. It’s sort of like New York or Paris. Give a few landmarks we all know, plus in this case assault your mouth and nose with metallic fumes, and the author has put you there without endless sleep-inducing description.

The problem with using a real setting is you need to know the place well, because if you make an innocent error, like forgetting that some streets are one way, you will get hundreds of irate emails from readers who know the place better than you do.

Luckily, I know Hamilton. I know where to buy the best cannoli (always my test re how well you know a place.)

I use real settings whenever I can. Readers who live in the place love to see their town highlighted. You can often get local media interested in your book. And people new to the location often get a kick out of coming to know it, in a literal way.

So when I moved book 6 of the Goddaughter series to Vegas, I had a dilemma. Here’s the thing. So many people have been to Vegas, that you have to be very careful to ‘get it right.’ I was there a few years ago, and am very aware that things change.

It takes about 6 months for me to write a Goddaughter book. Off it goes to the publisher, who takes about 15-18 months to get it out to stores. That’s the thing about books. Anything on the shelves right now was probably written two years ago.

In two years, things in Vegas change. Hotels redecorate, and maybe change ownership. It became clear to me, that while I wanted this book to be clearly ‘Vegas,’ I needed to be careful. I’ve stayed at the Mirage. I could have used that as a base. But when writing the book, I couldn’t predict how things would look there two years from now.

The answer? Create a new hotel! Make it the newest and hippest thing, so of course no one has seen it before. And that’s where I had fun. What hasn’t been done, I thought? What theme would present a whole lot of fun, yet be completely whacky, in keeping with the Goddaughter series?

Whoot! It came to me immediately. Hotel name: The Necropolis! Theme: Morticia meets The Walking Dead. We could ramp up the loopiness by throwing a Zombie convention. And then add a Viking Valhalla casino, a bar called Embalmed, the Crematorium Grill steakhouse…

da book, on AMAZON
So The Goddaughter Does Vegas is a hybrid. The setting is the Vegas you know. The hotel is a new concoction, but fitting with the fantasy atmosphere that Vegas is famous for.

I got away with it this time. I think.

How about you? Do you use real settings or do you make them up? When reading, which do you prefer?


  1. Love the hotel name- and good luck with the new novel.

  2. I also love the hotel name and it's theme. Though I'm not sure I'd want to stay there...

    I generally prefer real locations in both what I read and what I write. But on occasion I will make something up. But one of my favorite writers, Ross Macdonald, often writes about Santa Teresa, which is really Santa Barbara. And every time I read those two words it throws me. I wish he would have just made it Santa Barbara.

  3. Still chuckling over “We consider smog a condiment.” I tend to use real locations too, Melodie. I often set my my writing in the past, and I enjoy the research. One of my favorite aspects of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels is the use of real locations. Fleming was meticulous in getting things right.

  4. Or eat there, Paul - the Crematorium Grill - grin. Yes, writers change the name to avoid getting things wrong. It gives them more freedom to add streets and buildings.

  5. Glad you liked our brand of ketchup, Lawrence - grin. Yes, one must be meticulous. I once had a reader tell me that they couldn't find 33 Country Club Drive in a certain city. She trolled the street looking for it, but no number 33. I told her I had to make up the number because the last thing I wanted was a real house to become a mob mansion tourist attraction. (And wasn't she proof of that!)

  6. Melodie, I do believe you generally "get it right" in your writing. My Callie Parrish series takes place in a town with a made-up name, but based on the small town where I live.

    Second in the series takes readers to a bluegrass festival on a sea island I made up entirely. You'd be surprised how many local readers tell me they've been to Surcie Island, which has never existed.

    I enjoy your work tremendously.

  7. Fran, thank you - you've made my day! I'm also loving that people say they've been to your Island, which doesn't exist - grin. Thank you for commenting!

  8. Great hotel name!
    For my mythical South Dakota, I keep the big places - Sioux Falls, Rapid City, etc. - and create my own smaller places. And yes, there are locals who tell me how thrilled they are that I've used them / their town in my story, even when it's not them...

  9. I'm dying to stay at the Necropolis!

    I use real places and names for the Zach Barnes series in Connecticut because I can check the details out with a short drive. I DO make up the places where bad things happen, though. Restaurants get touchy about a case of food poisoning or a murder on their real premises.

    My Detroit series is almost completely made up except for the major streets though. I haven't lived in Michigan since college and while I can still email old classmates for details, you're right, they do change quickly. It's easier to make things up. In both cases, I tend to mention a known landmark or street and say the important site is "a few blocks off XXX street." Saves lots of angst.

    My short stories are usually in a made-up place. Setting is less important to me in a 4K-word story than in an 80K-word novel.

    I love the smog as a condiment line, too.
    Great stuff.

  10. Thanks Eve! That's a good idea: creating small towns around a real big city. Allows you to get away with murder (sic).

  11. Thanks Steve! I'm going to remember your trick of saying "a few blocks off XXX". That covers us for where the dirty deed might take place *wink*

  12. Much the same for me– sometimes real, sometimes not.

    I often thought Morticia made the perfect wife (with the perfect husband). Except their genes were a little screwy. Might have been the smog condiment.

  13. Now, how did you know that I have a rep for dressing up as Morticia, Leigh? Oh right - guess this whole post gave that away - grin.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>