Romantic Destinations

According to this article in the Duluth Superior, should you be shopping for a getaway this Valentine’s day, romantic destinations are found around the world: take your honey to Savannah, GA, which I agree is a fantastically romantic city, or spring for the big airfare and take her to Australia. I love how the heading doesn’t mention a specific city or even a region, just the whole damn country. Perth? Melbourne? Adelaide? Sydney? Uluru? Equally broad: Zanzibar! Jamaica! Patagonia!

Sweeping recommendations aside (“The Motel 6 in Patagonia, honey? Oh, you shouldn’t have!” “Priceline, baby. Priceline.” “Oh, you’re so romantic.”), the article made me wonder about romance novel settings, and romantic places in general.

Personally, I tend to shy away from places that are marketed as “romantic.” From the posh to the pedestrian, anything hyped as romantic will certainly have less than the ideal amount of Luuuuuurve® Potential once I arrive and inspect it myself. For example: the Pocono resorts in Pennsylvania.Crack open a bridal magazine and you’ll see their ads in the back: champagne glass shaped hot tubs, pools in your room, fireplaces. And have mercy, the reports I’ve received from how crusty and gross those rooms really are. Not romantic at all, unless your idea of romance is a blacklight, a petri dish, and some seriously curious carpet stain samples.

The romantic hype almost always indicates a let down for me, especially because romance is usually infused by the feelings between the couple experiencing the place. Hubby and I think driving long distances together is romantic. The car make and model doesn’t usually matter, although I was never fond of summer on the fake pleather seats of his poo-colored Pontiac 6000. I peeled my legs off that seat like a fruit roll up coming off the plastic liner. Yuck.

Savannah? Certainly romantic. But I also think parts of Pittsburgh are romantic, because that’s where Hubby and I grew up. Same with certain spots in Morgantown, West Virginia, where Hubby and I got together while working at a summer sleepaway camp.

But am I going to get all excited about a romance set in Pittsburgh, or perhaps Mo-town? Hardly. While those spots are romantic solely for myself and Hubby, when I’m looking for romance in a novel format, I don’t gravitate towards one particular setting as a rule, though when I think about it, there’s a lot of cliches to be found in the setting. And thinking about cliches gets me ruminating indeed.

Someone should put together a Grand Tour of Romance Novel Locales:
England, Scotland, Ireland, some bits of Italy, maybe even an adventurous genre-breaking foray in to France. But what of the States? What romance novel locations are consistently hyped up by multiple mentions in publication around the US and Canada?

Well, there’s always The West. Start with some prairie dogs, dust, and perhaps a wagon wheel, and, historical or contemporary,  just add cowboy and you’ve got romances. Lots of them!

There’s the South as well: both the riverboat gambling/bayou swamp South and the Old South romance of Spanish moss, verandahs, and strict social conventions.

More than a few are set in New York City, and LA. Usually, and again, sweeping generalities here, if you pop quizzed me on what setting equals what plot: New York City is fashion, media and/or advertising. And big corporate business. LA is movies, tv, celebrity in general. NYC is cold, LA is warm, insert appropriate clothing mentions here.

So, generalities aside, how important is setting in what you choose to read, and, where you choose to go for a romantic evening? Would you read about the same place you’d visit for a romantic weekend trip? More to the point, what romantic places do you prefer to read about, and are the same as where you’d like to visit?

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  1. 1
    DebR says:

    I LOVE to find romances, or mysteries, or ‘most any book, set in places that I’ve lived or visited, even if they aren’t places most people would think of as “romantic”.  It makes the story really come alive for me, as I can picture what the characters are seeing so clearly in my mind.  One of the things I love about Jenny Crusie’s and Susan Donovan’s books is that they both tend to set them in thinly-disguised southern Ohio locales, which is where I grew up.

    That said though, I also love reading stories that take place somewhere I’ve never been.  They seem more exotic and it sometimes gives me ideas about places I’d like to see. (I’ve wanted to visit Greece ever since reading several Mary Stewart romantic suspense stories set there about a gazillion years ago.)

    So I guess the location itself doesn’t matter much to me…it’s what the author does with it.

  2. 2
    Alessia says:

    I don’t choose reading material based on setting—at all. *shrugs*

  3. 3
    Kristin says:

    I would love to read more historical romances set in Australia. It used to be one big prison way back when. Imagine all the cool adventures some sweet young thing could have with a wrong-accused (of course!) gorgeous male??

    Or New Zealand. I don’t know much about the history of that country. I am sure it is fascinating. Instead of having the old Native American/anglo romance, what about changing it up and having some forbidden love with a Maori?  All those tattoos? That would be cool!!!

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    I saw an absolutely wicked awesome documentary, speaking of Oz, about the Juliana, a ship that brought convict women of childbearing age from England to Australia because there were too many men in the colony and not enough families. The government wanted to start a functioning society and that required women.

    But once on board, the women, who were not considered a threat to the sailors, took over earning their own money, and the ship became a floating brother on the 10 month journey to Australia.

    Then, once they got to Oz, the convicts in the colony were starving, nearly dead, and not pleased that this ship made the entire journey without a hull full of food. Women were unneccessary mouths to feed, to their thinking. But ultimately the goal of marrying them off and starting families worked, and some of the convict women became wives to powerful men in Australia, ending up members of the local social elite.

  5. 5
    Kristin says:

    Oooh, what an awesome book that would make. Female criminal sent to be bride of some starving male criminal!  Her crime could be something minimal. Like maybe she was thrown into debtor’s prison or something. And she thinks this will be her salvation. Maybe she was led to believe Australia was a great place to be.

    The guy could be a murderer who, of course, murdered for some good reason.  He is forced to take this woman on, even though he has no way to feed her, shelter her, clothe her.

    Love it!  Ok, some historical romance author, please write this for me.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    Some of the women were sentenced to transport because of crimes like stealing wheat or a dress. Many of them were originally sentenced to death but their sentences were switched to transport to celebrate the healing of Mad King George. And most of the “childbearing age” women who were sent to Oz: ages 15 through 24. There was an 11 year old as well, the one who stole the dress. She was originally sentenced to death as well.

    Onboard, some of the crew took “ship wives” from among the women and would bunk with them full time while on the voyage – which took about 10 months total. I am telling you – fascinating documentary.

    Secrets of the Dead: Voyage of the Courtesans.

  7. 7

    ISTR Candace Proctor (sp?) writing some good historical romances set in Oz.

    As far as settings go, they can make or break a sale because sometimes it’s an issue of marketability.  I had more than one agent tell me he/she’d have a difficult time selling my 19th C. Florida historicals because it was difficult to pigeonhole the book’s setting—not Civil War, not Regency, not Western, not Revolutionary War.  One asked if I could move my 1821 novel to Scotland, ‘cause that’s an easier sell.

    It’s not just guessing what the readers want, it’s also how you’re going to get the bookstores to buy and shelve these “odd setting” novels.

  8. 8
    Kristin says:

    Thanks for the link to the documentary!  I would love to see it. Maybe I’ll have to buy the DVD or something.

    That’s sucks that you were told, Darlene, that a novel set in Florida wouldn’t be an easy sell. No wonder most of the historicals I’ve been seeing lately all take place in England. It’s getting very boring to me.

    I love to learn a little bit of history while being entertained. I am now obsessed with this convict romance. Wish I could write a novel like that myself.

  9. 9
    Selah March says:

    Appropos of nothing…in my freshman year of college, lo these many eons ago, I had the lead in a production of “Female Transport,” a play by Steve Gooch about women convicts shipped to the Oz penal colonies. Not so much a romance as a commentary on the political conditions of the time, but cool nonetheless.

    It’s 1807 and the petty crimes of a hundred women have resulted in their forced transportation to the British penal colony of Australia. What begins as a riotous group of disparate cellmates transforms during the six month sea journey to a tough, unified matriarchal society—ready to change the wild land they are about to inhabit into a more just place than the England they left behind. As songs of the period punctuate and underscore the action, these women strive to prove themselves more civilized below deck than their male captors above.

  10. 10

    Talk about synchronicity. If you can get BBC2 this Friday night, there’s a new Timewatch programme about the Juliana where three Australian women trace back their ancestry to this ship.

    All this and what appears to be a week-long series of late-night channel 4 features on the male member, including extreme plastic surgery of the kind that makes my eyes water. My televisual cup runneth over.

  11. 11
    emdee says:

    There are a lot of novels set in New Orleans, a city I love and continue to love despite the recent catastrophe.  I always enjoy those.  Living in Tucson, I was happy to find some of the novels of Vickie Lewis Thompson set in this area and in other parts of Arizona that I also know well.  I’m a sucker for anything set in the Southwest and my mystery reading reflects that with my choices of Hillerman, Michael McGarrity and local favorite Sinclair Browning.

  12. 12
    Shaunee says:

    I’ve set my first novel (unpublished) alternately in New Haven, CT and Venice, Italy.  I’m working on the second set in Fair Haven, CT (terribly depressed area with seriously scary projects and lots of up-and-coming potential) and 8th century Rome, France, and England.  I chose the CT locations because that’s where I’m from and I wanted to create heroines that I would know or even be friends with.  I know Connecticut isn’t particularly sexy or romantic, unless you happen to have a fetish for W.A.S.P.s and ginormous casinos, but now I’m wondering if my unpublished status persists in part because of my blah location.

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    So what makes one location romantic (Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket?) but another ‘blah?’ (Connecticut?) in the eyes of a reader/editor/manuscript buyer?

    Personally I dig CT for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that my inlaws live there and we visit a lot.

  14. 14
    Shaunee says:

    I like Connecticut too.  New Haven is an absolute blast.  But I would imagine that the romance reading masses, while having heard of CT and even knowing some vague factoid about it (“isn’t Yale there?” sort of thing), wouldn’t dream of it as a place to experience a grand, adventurous love affair.

    In conclusion, what makes one location romantic and another blah is because more people have heard of the one over the other.  Is it really that simple?

  15. 15
    Keziah Hill says:

    I love how the heading doesn’t mention a specific city or even a region, just the whole damn country. Perth? Melbourne? Adelaide? Sydney? Uluru?

    But if you read on it mentions Chateau Yering in in the Victorian wine country. Fab. I had one of the best lunches there I’ve ever had.

    I live in a cool climate tourist destination west of Sydney full of waterfalls and stunning mountainous views. Very romantic. And I’ve never written about it. Too familiar I guess.

    Setting is not big for me. I think a good writer can make a boring setting interesting if the romance is good.

  16. 16
    Keziah Hill says:

    I saw an absolutely wicked awesome documentary, speaking of Oz, about the Juliana, a ship that brought convict women of childbearing age from England to Australia because there were too many men in the colony and not enough families. The government wanted to start a functioning society and that required women.

    I’m descendent from convicts, horse theives who went on to become the first white settlers in a country town south west of Sydney.

    There is a terrific story about the differences between America and Australia as illustrated by the first crime that was ever prosecuted in each colony. The story goes in America a clergy man was prosecuted for not preaching the right way, while in Australia it was a soldier who dressed in women’s clothing to avoid apprehension after a night of sex and booze with the newly arrived female convicts. His punishment was to be parade around in the women’s clothes. Set the tone for the whole city really. The Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the premier events each year.

  17. 17

    Wow, a lot to comment on, here, for an Australian with a degree in history and a convict g-g-grandfather. I’ll try to keep it brief ;-)

    It used to be one big prison way back when.

    The Brits always intended for it to be a colony, not just a penal settlement, but sending boatloads of convicts to establish the infrastructure and get farms going was a logical first move. The first few years it was predominantly convicts and marines (and their families) who came, but many of the convicts were given tickets-of-leave, and many of the Marines opted to stay and settle (with very generous land grants). Within a few years, convicts had earned their freedom and established their own businesses, trades, farms. Convicts serving time become a minority relatively on in the history.

    I read a romance recently which had the sweet heroine, the convict hero transported for murder, the benevolent jailer-father with reformist ideas about allocating convicts to farmers… the problems? Hmmm… it was set in 1860 – and convicts had stopped being tranpsorted to NSW for ten years. The hero? Murder meant the gallows, not transportation. The father’s ‘reform’ ideas? Well, the whole system, right from the early days, was based on assigning convicts. Only a few of the most recalcitrant – like my g-g-grandfather – were not assigned and worked on chained road gangs etc, living in barracks, and then usually only for a little while.

    And then there was the poor sweet herpoine, surrounded only by violent criminals…. when in fact, Parramatta had had plenty of genteel society for decades by then.

    So, yes, there’s plenty of scope for some fascinating stories – but if you look beyond the common ‘myths’ and preconceptions, there’s way, way more interesting stories than you could possibly imagine ;-)

    Damn – who put that soapbox there??

  18. 18

    BTW, there’s a book about the Juliana too. It’s The Floating Brothel by Sian Rees. Out in 2002. I have it prominently displayed on my bookshelf next to Courtesans and A History of Orgies. At some point, people will stop letting their children play at my house, I’m sure. I can’t wait.

  19. 19

    BTW, I’m planning to write g-g-grandfather’s story one day. It has about all the elements of a great romance –  bad boy, alpha hero with a heart under the ‘tude, heroine with grit and guts and a lousy first husband, escape from authorities, hidden affairs, children out of wedlock, two long, harsh overland journeys, a ‘secret’ wedding, and yes, a HEA ;-)

  20. 20
    Jenica says:

    Location?  I love romances set in random-ass nowhere locations.  I’m tired of New Orleans, LA, and New York.  I like it when they’re in nowhere Georgia (Spencer’s Morning Glory), nowhere Ohio (Crusie’s Welcome To Temptation), etc.  Those places work for me because a nondescript nowhere town allows the author to build the locale to the needs of the story, rather than having the locale be a character in the story.

  21. 21
    sk says:

    I hate stories that only play up the public faces of cities – like Romances set in New Orleans that take place only in the French Quarter.  Usually, the touristy places are the least romantic aspects of a city.  It’s kinda hard to get all lovey-dovey when someone’s always trying to sell you a t-shirt.
    Personally, I would love to see a Romance set in Los Angeles – the real Los Angeles.  Maybe I’m a little biased, but I happen to think my city is a wonderfully romantic place.  Yes, there’s the smog and the sprawl, but there are so many wonderful, out-of-the way places, quirky, vibrant neighborhoods and great stories.

  22. 22
    desertwillow says:

    I read a lot of Karen M. Moning. Her romances usually start out in places like Ohio or Kentucky before moving to Scotland. MJ Davidson’s stuff takes place in Minneapolis (SP). I don’t read my books for the locale. It really isn’t that helpful to me.

    What I like best about Christine Feehan’s books is that the early ones took place in the Carpathians Mountains in Romania. I went online and found pictures. It is beautiful there and quite romantic.

    In fact, I find the continuous use of NYC and other major cities a little tiresome.

    Now, I live in Albuquerque, NM. Not even remotely romantic and my romance takes place there.

    Wish me luck.

  23. 23
    embi says:

    I spend a lot of time looking for historical romances that are NOT set in England. Talk about searching for a needle in a haystack! I like to learn something new when I read (yes- even when reading the dreaded romance novel) and I wish I could find more historical times/locations. I remeber reading a trilogy time travel romance story that took place in ancient Egypt, Atlantis and someplace else (Crete?)… way cool.

  24. 24

    Yeah, I had a discussion with a few people on Paperback Reader about how we’d like to see a romance set in the roaring 20’s. 

    A book in America set in a new era would be as cool as a new locale.

    I’m convinced romance readers are interested in being challenged.  We’ll not ALL drooling retards, although I think most publishers haven’t quite clued into that fact yet.

  25. 25
    Lennie says:

    Chiming in to agree with Bronwyn a bit.  Not many convicts were transported for violent crimes.  The convicts in my ancestry that I can remember were a forger, a horse thief and a prostitute who stole all her customer’s clothes while he was asleep.  (I’m sure there were quite a number of murderers in the convict population, they’d just been caught on something more minor.)

    Even in my teenage years where I consumed craptacular romances by the dozen I generally avoided any set in Australia writen by non-residents and any set in rural Queensland written by people who’d obviously never lived further out than the inner suburbs of Sydney.  They just made me cringe, which effectively destroyed the romance.  I’m usually happier reading about somewhere I’ve never been, because I don’t know any better and won’t be jarred out of my suspension of disbelief by something wildly inaccurate.  (‘Oz’ is always jarring for me, I can’t remember anyone I know using it in a normal conversation unless ‘wizard of’ came first.)

    On the other hand, I love books written about the author’s home town/state/country.  There’s so much more atmosphere and depth to the settings.

  26. 26
    Elena Greene says:

    I truly love Regency England (well, I should because that’s where my stories are set, so far) but characterization is still far more important to me than setting. 

    I’ll read just about any setting, and if a novel has an unusual one, I’m even more inclined to give it a try.  But as an author I have kept hearing “no one will buy that”, so maybe 19th century Lithuania will have to wait…

    I do wish the SBs would try their hands at writing a funny contemp set in one of those Poconos resorts.  Would be wicked, I’m sure!

    Elena Greene

  27. 27

    The romantic spots in Canada include Niagra Falls and Montreal, though I haven’t read a single romance novel set in either of these places. They may exist, but I’ve heard that novels set in Canada are a harder sell than ones set in the US. Many Canadian novelists have had to change their settings, because Canada is considered too foreign.


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