Monday, January 9, 2012

Author Jennifer Comeaux: Researching Settings, Building Characters’ World

Interview PhotoIt’s a pleasure to welcome ‘new-to-me’ author Jennifer Comeaux here today as she tours blogdom with her latest release, LIFE ON THE EDGE.

While working for a Fortune 1000 company, Jennifer  sought a creative outlet and decided to put on paper a story that had played in her head for years. That story became LIFE ON THE EDGE, her first published novel. 

She joins us today to talk about researching settings and building her characters’ world.

It's been said that the setting of a book can often become a character in the story. This happens when an author makes the location live and breathe, and the reader feels fully immersed in the place described on the pages. 

When I first dreamed up the story for my book, LIFE ON THE EDGE, it was a house that determined the setting. I imagined my protagonist living in the Cape Cod townhouse in which I'd stayed a few summers earlier. The charm of the townhouse had stayed with me, from the cozy bottom floor kitchen to the rooftop deck, complete with a view of the bay and a never-ending sea breeze. I wanted my heroine Emily to live there.

Life on the Edge 500x750From that Hyannis house grew the rest of the backdrop to the story. Emily is a figure skater, so she needed a place to train. Check–a few towns away there's an ice rink, where Nancy Kerrigan once skated.

Last summer, I revisited the Cape to tour more of the places I referenced in the book. Funny story from my trip – I’d seen online there was a Starbucks near the ice rink, so I’d used it in the book as the place where my two main characters hung out and got to know each other. Well, when I physically went to look for the coffee shop, I discovered it was actually located in the middle of a busy supermarket. Not exactly a quiet spot for chatting and enjoying a cup of coffee! So, I fudged reality a little in my fictional world.

Because Boston is one of my favorite cities and I'm very familiar with it, I decided to make it Emily's hometown. It was during my third trip to Boston that I discovered neighboring Brookline and the area in which I imagined Emily growing up.

I could picture her as a child, riding her bike along the quiet, tree-lined street, and walking with her dad to the Coolidge Corner T stop to catch the Green Line train to Fenway Park. With these images in my mind, I started to fill out Emily's backstory, which helped me know my heroine better. 

Since Emily is an Olympic-eligible skater, LIFE ON THE EDGE takes her to a number of competitions in a variety of locations–Paris, Tokyo, and Vancouver, to name a few. I haven't visited all the places I wrote about in the book, so I did online research in order to accurately describe them. The internet is a writer's best friend!

Online information can only give so much insight, though. Experiencing a story setting first hand provides invaluable sensory data–the sights, the smells, the sounds that can't be appreciated through a computer screen. You can feel what the characters feel as they live the story.

Jennifer, thanks so much for guest blogging. You are so right in saying the setting can become a character in the book. When the reader wants to visit or live where the characters do, that (to me) says the author did a great job.

Now a little background on Jennifer. She earned a Master of Accounting from Tulane University and is a Certified Public Accountant in south Louisiana. 

When not working or writing, she is an avid follower of the sport of figure skating, traveling to competitions around the country. Those experiences allow her to see another side of the sport and serve as an inspiration for her writing. Jennifer is blessed with a wonderful family and many friends who have encouraged her to pursue her dream of being a published author.

Here’s a brief synopsis of LIFE ON THE EDGE:
Nineteen-year-old Emily is new to pairs skating, but she and her partner Chris have a big dream–to be the first American team to win Olympic gold. Their young coach Sergei, who left Russia after a mysterious end to his skating career, believes they can break through and make history.

Emily and Chris are on track to be top contenders at the 2002 Winter Games. But when forbidden feelings spark between Emily and Sergei, broken trust and an unexpected enemy threaten to derail Emily’s dreams of gold.

LIFE ON THE EDGE can be purchased as, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

For more on Jennifer and her writing, visit her blog, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, and at Goodreads

Are settings important to you when reading? Have you ever wanted to live where the characters lived and if so, where was it? Thanks so much for stopping by today.



  1. I fell in love with this story before it was all the way finished. It's definitely the characters and the setting and the plot all rolled into one great story...but it's more than that. It's got the heart of a very talented writer beating in its center. If you miss this one, you're really missing something special.

  2. I completely agree that the setting can take on a life of it's own. Whether it's a city, the country, the mountains or the sea-side, you have to be able to close your eyes and picture yourself there. And that goes for the writer and the reader!

    Looking forward to reading your book!

  3. Best wishes for your release! And you're right about setting as an important element in a book...something I'm always inclined to forget! It really can make a difference to a story, though.

  4. Setting can definitely be a character. Best luck on your release.


  5. Mason - Thanks for hosting Jennifer.

    Jennifer - Setting is so important when it comes to a good story. I've known more than one person who's been put off a book because it good have taken place anywhere i.e. the setting wasn't well-drawn. I'm glad you've created such a fine one and I wish you well with your release.

  6. Mason, thank you so much for hosting me, and thank you to everyone who's stopped by so far!

  7. Jennifer, thanks again for guest blogging and sharing this insight into writing settings. When a character's world is done right, we as readers, want to live there too. Wishing you much success.

  8. Kay and Laura, nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by.

    Elizabeth, Teresa and Margot, thanks so much for visiting today.

  9. It does seem like a great story. Setting is so important. I will pick up a novel solely because it's set in England.

  10. I love how Jennifer makes the places come alive, especially the cliffs rising above Vineyard Sound. She obviously has a great eye for detail and observations. I also enjoy her figure skating action shots on her blog.

  11. I'm also very conscious of 'place' in my stories --- seven novel manuscripts so far. Three of these are set in a REAL location, with real history & events. While I found that satisfying (as a writer), it was also quite burdensome. So my 4th, 5th, 6th, & 7th ms. all take place in a fictional town in a fictional county in Tenn. This place, however, has truly come alive to me & I'm very careful to keep the details consistent among those 4 ms. In fact, I have detailed maps and 'history' of the place.

  12. I smiled at your Starbucks story. In the manuscript I'm finishing up, the setting started as a real town on the Texas coast. I changed this, that, and so many more things that I finally changed the name of the town.

    Hi, Mason!

  13. Settings are very important:real or fictional.
    I would like to live in Three Pines (fiction village of Louise Penny).
    But having been in Cape Cod once and being interested in visiting Boston, I think the settings of Jennifer will please me.

  14. Hi Mason and Jennifer .. I like to feel I'm there - so they have to be as realistic as possible ..

    Funny about the quiet coffee shop in the middle of a supermarket .. like at the airport or train station .. never quiet ..

    I love skating and can imagine some dark areas around that world ...

    Good luck with the novel and your future .. cheers Hilary


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.