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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

"Setting" the Stage for Storytelling

A rustic one-room cabin two hundred miles from the nearest convenience store. A meticulously restored Victorian mansion clinging to a cliff along the Eastern Seaboard. A lush, serene spa with a view of the Caribbean from every lounger. A houseboat on Lake Tahoe. A houseboat on a mocha-colored river in Thailand.

Setting affects more than the location of a novel or novella. It sets a tone, sets the stage. Setting creates opportunities for unique challenges, conflict, comedy, and romance. Setting draws readers into a story like a moth to a flame from a sagging candle on a red-and-white checkered tablecloth on a wrought iron table in an outdoor café on a narrow street that winds through the cobblestone alleys of a small village in Italy. (Insert big breath here.)

Or, in our case, the candle might dance as a late afternoon sun dapples the waters of Cedar Creek in the four-season novella collection, Cedar Creek Seasons (Barbour Publishing) which released September 1, 2012

We four authors, each using one of the seasons of the year to create the love stories of couples in different seasons of life and romance, share their thoughts about the pull of a fascinating setting.

“Contest of Wills” BECKY MELBY: When we began brainstorming for Cedar Creek Seasons, we divided up the year and each chose a season. I ended up with winter, and I'll admit that was a bit of a concern at first. There are only so many cozy fireside scenes you can put in ten chapters! 

But I was soon to discover that, although Cedarburg's historic buildings and delightful shops are a draw to summer tourists, it's not a town that goes dormant during the winter! Cynthia and I took a "scouting" trip to Cedarburg in February. Unfortunately, our schedules wouldn't allow us to take in the annual Winter Festival, but we did see humorous hints of it in the ice sculptures that dotted the town. 

As I started to research, the possibilities for a fun story began multiplying. Take an annual Polar Bear Dip, a bed race on a frozen creek, a chili contest, a parade in February. . .and mix in the usual Wisconsin winter joys of sledding and hand-holding walks in the snow. . .and you have a setting that's perfect for a lighthearted romance. A visit to the Shops at Cedar Creek Settlement—three floors of artsy stores housed in an 1864 woolen mill—gave me the idea of creating a hero and heroine who compete against each other for shop space in the mall. From that point on, Willow and Wilson took over and were nice enough to let me in on their Contest of Wills story.

“Tune My Heart” RACHAEL PHILLIPS: No couple who ever looked for the perfect place for a hand-holding stroll will find a better place than Cedarburg, Wisconsin. The minute I set foot in its quaint historic downtown and walked along Cedar Creek as it wound its way through the town, I knew this was the perfect setting for romance! When we visited Cedarburg, I saw my characters Chesca and Seth snuggled together on a bench on Washington Street—spring is still perfect snuggling weather in Wisconsin!—eating hot popcorn after leaving the retro movie theater, too in love to watch the movie. The covered bridges, pedestrian bridge across the creek, romantic restaurants on its banks, and an artistic, exciting ambiance also fostered all our stories.

Our visit to the town's cultural center made me realize how much the community invests in its people of all ages, including its children. Walking through its displays and classrooms, the idea for my ornery pageant drama troupe was born-Zoe and Chandler and their mischievous but talented fellow actors just begged to complicate Chesca's life.

Cedarburg also is a community of faith. Its historic churches, with sky-touching steeples and glorious stained glass windows, inspired me, a former choir director, to blend my characters, churched and unchurched, in an unlikely mix that gave birth—fittingly, at Easter—to new faith.

“Silvery Summer” EILEEN KEY: Cedarburg, Wisconsin, is a magical setting for a story. I loved roaming the flower-lined streets, visualizing my characters strolling through the park along the creek which meanders through town. 

My research of the Strawberry Festival held there each year made my mouth water. I could see Washington Avenue blocked off, and booths of all kinds selling merchandise native to the area, much of it created by local artists. In the shops, we actually saw paintings, photography, and hand-crafted items which would grace those tables. 

And to stroll across (or through) the old covered bridge gave me goosebumps. The feet which had trod there before for generations? Wow! Talk about a sense of history! I'll never forget the beautiful Wisconsin landscape and the friendly welcome I received in that picturesque city.

“Maybe Us” CYNTHIA RUCHTI: Love at first sight happened for me when I drove through Cedarburg on my way somewhere else, but was captured by its charming downtown district, tempted to abandon my original plans and stay! It wasn’t until several years later that I was able to linger and soak in more of what Cedarburg has to offer. 

Fall in Cedarburg is as colorful and active as you would expect of a town surrounded by woods and farmland, so close to the metropolis of Milwaukee, the beaches and expanses of Lake Michigan, yet so cozy that the car repairman knows everyone by first name. Architecturally, the buildings—many of them richly “storied”—set a backdrop that can’t help but make a person wonder whose footsteps wore the depressions in these stairs? Whose hands pulled open this massive, hand-planed door? Who sat in this charming breakfast room…and what would they think of the modern Beth and Derek or Beth’s Yarn Shop named for the stories not the wool, and Derek’s Life by Chocolate brownie shop named for—

Oh, sorry. I got lost in thoughts of Derek’s Covered Bridge brownie.

Our pens flew over the pages of our notebooks when we walked the streets of Cedarburg and talked to the residents, when we drove out to that silent but “talkative” covered bridge and imagined the stories the clear waters of Cedar Creek could tell, the scenes it’s observed.

So many residents told us Cedarburg is a great place to live, a great place to raise a family. We hope they agree it’s a great setting for romance, laughter, and storytelling, too.


  1. I smile every time I see this cover. It brings back memories of trips that endeared Cedarburg to our writer-hearts and created an atmosphere where romance, light comedy, and faith could grow. Thank you, Novel Rocket. We're open for conversation. Is there a covered bridge in your area? What stories does it tell? It's impossible to take a "bad" picture of Cedarburg's covered bridge. I'll post some research photos on so you can see why we authors drew inspiration from the setting.

  2. We lived in upstate NY for 4 years, and I took every opportunity I could to go to VT and MA. Since we lived within 30 minutes of either state, that was easy. :) I loved the covered bridges and have dozens of photos in and beside them. They're romantic, nostalgic, and conjure up all kinds of stories in my imagination. :)

  3. Did you know covered bridges were once known as "kissing bridges"? Privacy for courting couples was a rarity during the late 1800s and early 1900s wwhen the covered bridges were built. A savvy couple in love made sure their route home included at least one covered bridge!

  4. Ooh! Don't they though? Thanks, Ane. You made me want to go visit Vermont with one sentence!

  5. Thank you, Novel Rocket, for giving us the opportunity to relive our Cedarburg experiences with readers.

    Fun fact, Rachael! Judging by the hearts, initials, and other expressions of love inscribed on the interior walls of the Cedarburg covered bridge, I'm guessing it's still a kissing place!!

  6. Growing up, my family loved visiting the covered bridges in the Great Smoky Mountain. And yes, even as a young girl, I use to wonder about all those couples back through history who would meet there. And there use to be one or two covered bridges west of Atlanta where the teenagers use to hang out. Of course, I only HEARD about it secondhand!

  7. Cedarburg, Wisconsin! Beautiful community. I bought sterling silver earrings made from very unique spoon ends in a little downtown building reminiscent of an old clock shop, in my memory anyway. One winery day I lost one hooked to my wool scarf. Hunted and hunted in the restaurant parking lot ~ someone also must have one now. Keeping it anyway! Will make a nice necklace. Would love to win Cedar Creek Seasons!! Kathleen

    1. haha that should be wintry day since I am not a visitor to a winery...

  8. Rachael, what a great tidbit of info about kissing bridges! Kathleen, you will ADORE Eileen's story in this collection! Your sterling silver earring makes a connection in Eileen's "Silvery Summer." Wait until Eileen hears about that!

  9. Ladies, thanks for sharing with us today. I going to go download Cedar Creek Seasons on my Kindle ASAP!

    1. Ladies thanks so much for the welcome. Kissing bridges and silver earrings. Sounds like romance. My 3 writing buddies have introduced me to a part of the world I hope to explore again. Cedarburg is a beautiful place!

  10. One of my favorite parts of this collection is the "November" romance--a reminder that we're never "too old" to experience a new love. :o)


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