How important is setting to a novel?

Welcome, Eileen Schuh to my blog site! Eileen is an author from the northern boreal forests of Alberta, Canada. We’ve befriended via the internet and I’m very pleased to welcome her first ever blog trip Down Under.  *pop in tomorrow too, for more from Eileen about being a Canadian writer.

Eileen's deck. Feel the chill!

To start off Eileen’s blog tour, I asked her how important is the setting in her YA novel, THE TRAZ. (As we who use Australian settings find, we get mixed responses from overseas publishers.) 

EILEEN:  I was quite surprised when an American publisher suggested she’d be interested in THE TRAZ if I change the Canadian setting to one in the United States. I found it odd that she thought American kids would only want to read about American kids.

Some of my fondest childhood literary memories are stories that took place across the seas…Winnie the Pooh and Curious George set in England, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates in The Netherlands. I loved learning the strange language and cultures–lorries, boots, lifts, and double-decker busses, windmills and dikes.  Exotic settings intrigued me, like India and Yorkshire in The Secret Garden.

Even Canada’s very own Anne of Green Gables series took place way across Canada, on tiny Prince Edward Island…where people had red hair to match the red earth and the ocean was never far away.  The Little House on the Prairie series was fascinating, not only because it was set far away in place, but also in time. 

I don’t remember reading any Australian stories, but I vividly remember learning Waltzing Matilda and being fascinated by jumbucks and tucker bags, kangaroos and boomerangs.

Perhaps that American publisher didn’t consider Canada exotic. Perhaps she found no wonder in Alberta’s vast prairies and rugged Rockies or in our long summer days and dark cold nights.  Perhaps our warm and wild Chinooks don’t enchant her. 

I loved translating my province into words for THE TRAZ—it ignited in me the wonder I felt as a child as the seasons changed. It reminded me of how intriguing my own back yard once was. I saw things with young eyes…

“Katrina looked past the parking lot to the brilliant autumn colours. This used to be her favourite time of the year, with the fire of the foliage under the mellow glow of a sun riding low on the horizon, the honking of geese flying white against the azure sky. Hunting with Grandpa…”

My story is about Katrina, a young girl who falls in with a biker gang called THE TRAZ. She has many adventures—some very exciting and others, traumatic.  Katrina is extremely intelligent, beautiful, wealthy, and is into computers.  Life deals her some tough blows and she doesn’t handle them well. After a few bad decisions, she finds herself in too deep—with no way out.

View from Eileen's front window

 The prologue is set in the Canadian Arctic when Katrina is four years old.  “Had there been any sunlight at all, she’d have been able to see a thousand miles of flat white tundra spreading to the horizon. In December, though, there was no sun.

Katrina’s dad is a police officer and transfers to Calgary in Southern Alberta where she grows up. Calgary is on the flat prairies, east of the Rocky Mountains. “There was little to see besides the brown stubble of a harvested field and the blue sky that met it along the horizon…”

She ends up living in THE TRAZ biker compound—hidden in the foothills. “She gazed around. Gone were the miles of endless prairie. A ridge, glinting with the gold of September poplars, circled the gully enfolding them.”

THE TRAZ Kindle ebook will be FREE on Amazon for THREE days only–April 14,15,16 . I’m not sure which Kindle store Australians purchase from…if it is Amazon.com than the sale will likely be running pretty much on Canadian time. 

Readers will know if the sale is in effect because the purchase price will show up as $0.00 on the Amazon Kindle Store site. What a great deal for our readers! If people don’t have a Kindle eReader they can download for free “KINDLE for PCs” from the Amazon site and read the story on their computers. It’s easy to download this software which is quite nice for reading books. Amazon eBook

And remember, if people leave a comment on your site, I’ll enter them in a draw for a Kindle. 

THE TRAZ (Imajin Books; 2 edition March 12, 2012) is available in paperback and ebook formats and in a special School Edition that includes a Teaching Guide. Click on the following links to purchase or sample THE TRAZ. Amazon Paperback    School Edition Paperback     School Edition eBook

Also available from other fine online bookstores. If THE TRAZ is not on your local bookstore or library shelves, ask for it to be ordered in for you.

Eileen Schuh is also the author of the adult Sci-Fi novella SCHRÖDINGER’S CAT   For more information on Schuh and her books visit her at: http://www.eileenschuh.com

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14 thoughts on “How important is setting to a novel?

  1. That’s very disturbing, Dale. Almost censorship…or at the very least self-centredness. Here’s hoping the internet, ebooks, and self-publishing widen the horizons for America’s youngsters. Curiousity and a need to explore are innate in human beings and books are the easiest, cheapest, safest, and most ecologically friendly way to satisfy those drives. We ought not to douse those great forces in our young.

    p.s. I wonder if Oliver Twist lived in Chicago in American literature and if Jesus was crucified in New York City?

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  2. it’s a sad state of affairs when publishers decide people only want to read about where they live. I had it happen tome where a children’s book was published in USA and places were changed from Tasmania as in The Aussie version to Florida and other Australian features also replaced. I find for some reason i am always fascinated by novels set in Maine and Nantucket. Not sure why.Thanks for the interview. Good reading.

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  3. I remember telling my friends in California about an example of an Australian picture book I knew that’d been republished in the US, and how it’d been transformed by the US publisher (for the US market) – spelling etc, and places etc, but the content was much more bland, and they’d changed the ending words which ensured it lost its wonderful whimsical feel.

    It’s what spurred me on to become part of the battle against Parallel Imports. This book, if allowed into Australia would’ve been in direct (cheaper) competition to the Australian version. But it was such a poor copy.

    My friends, who had young children and were teachers, were horrified that books for American children were being dumbed down in such a way – they resented it happening.

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  4. I now understand what you were saying. But I wonder if those who control a nation’s arts and entertainment aren’t a large part of what defines a nation’s culture…as are those support them, legislate them…finance them. If the controlling decisions weren’t profitable, they’d very quickly be making different decisions.

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  5. I think you took my post the wrong way, I definitely wasn’t dissing the American culture and definitely not Americans in general. I was saying that the people who seem to control US television and movies (the arts culture) are doing the American people a disservice. The American’s I know are wonderfully bright, friendly, generous people who are interested in the world and other cultures, and who would love to see the shows and books with their original content intact.

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  6. Totally agree with you, Eileen. North America is (on the whole) an amazingly interesting country – we travelled for 6 weeks from one side to the other, through the most spectacular scenery and meeting the loveliest and most endearing people I know, and the crassest people on earth. But hey, it’s the same globally. I think your vision of a future is my sort of future, Eileen. I hope that’s the way it ends up being. 🙂

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  7. As tempting as it may be to diss the American culture, I have to admit it has been very successful to date, propelling the United States to a position of unrivalled power in almost all aspects of life–economic, innovation, exploration, culture… Whether or not that culture will prove as valuable an asset in our rapidly-changing world is yet to be seen. Perhaps the future will belong to more open, cooperative, accepting, culturally-sensitive, and inquisitive cultures. Undoubedly the recent explosion in communication and information technologies will change us all.

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  8. The main thing that I dislike about America’s arts culture is that everything has to be “AMERICAN” Movies and television in particular (I didn’t realise it was as bad in books too.)
    Here in Australia, if there is a good movie or TV series, we buy the rights and screen it here to watch. Series like UK’s Skins, Shameless, and Life on Mars, Denmark’s The Killing, Sweden’s “Wallander” and the movie “Let Me In” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” And there are a whole swathe of US shows that I enjoy watching.

    However, it seems in America, when they find a great show they buy the rights, have their own scriptwriters butcher the story, recast with pretty American actors, Americanise the content and setting and copy the the show for the American audience.

    I know quite a few Americans, and they are not stupid, the are quite capable of reading subtitles on non english shows and some are even aware that there are other countries in the world that aren’t America. So why do the people in charge do it?

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  9. Thank you very much, Sheryl, for hosting me. And thanks to all the commenters. What a great discussion we are having.

    Peter, I love your “Once a creepy crocodile…” Did you find a publisher for it?

    Perhaps if Americans read more books with exotic settings as children they would know that a brogla is a bird and that although Canadians spell colour with a ‘u” we don’t call trucks lorries, we don’t live in igloos, and we do drive on the same side of the road as Americans! There’s definitely something to be said for the value of fiction in the educating of our youngsters.

    I have entered all your names in my draw for a Kindle or optional Amazon Gift Certificate. Thank you again for visiting with me.

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  10. Hey, Doug! Lovely to hear from you. 🙂 I think you’re right – a word or two changed is fine, and the American publishers are certainly easier than the Brits. (What is it about Brit publishers!?) And if the Americans want to change words to suit their spelling etc, and the books are kept over there, that’s fine (in my mind). Seems strange though to change settings. I remember Michael Bauer showing me where they’d changed his Don’t Call me Ishmael story to have the girl holiday in Hawaii instead of New Zealand, and the kids play grid iron (in Aust!) instead of rugby. Strange world we hang out in.

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  11. Thanks for your comments, Dee and Peter. It’s funny how each nation perceives its own culture, I reckon. Reminds me how hard we fought in the Parallel Importation of Books battle a couple of years ago, to keep the restrictions against Americanised Aussie titles (esp in kids’ books) being dumped in Aust.

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  12. A good post. I’m not sure why American publishers prefer the locations to be Americanised. I am having the same trouble with one of my books. One reader had troube with the word ‘veranda’. It’s in common parlance, but I think that American readers are more familiar with ‘Lanai’. ( A word that I learned pretty quickly – it wasn’t hard.) Nevertheless, American publishers seem more inclined to pick up Australian titles than are english publishers, so I’m happy to change the odd word here and there.

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  13. I love your descriptions of settings in this post, Eileen – and I too have loved books from many lands. I have to admit that I have always read more non-fiction than fiction, and my diet as a teenager was mainly books by Gerald Durrell, set in Cofu and jungles in West Africa, and those by David Attenborough describing tropical islands and more.

    And I have also been faced with the insularity of US publishing guardians. I’ve written a picture book text using the rhythm on Waltzing Matilda – ‘Once a creepy crocodile climbed up a river bank, watching baby brolga by a bottlebrush tree…’ with many other Australian creatures named as characters. A brolga is a large stork-like bird which would be illustrated, along with the others, but when the first few lines of the book were pitched at a SCBWI Symposium in Bologna, the American agent said ‘…What’s a brolga and what’s a goanna? I don’t think our children would be interested in those, so it’s a no for me…’. The audience liked it, but what can you do?

    All best wishes for the success of your book, and many thanks for introducing us, Sheryl.

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