Whilst preparing for my ever-nearing move to South Africa, I stumbled upon ROSA, a local community of romance authors. The warm welcome and unfailing support I’ve gotten from this bunch has already been staggering, and one of the best introductions to my new home I could’ve hoped for. Today I’m delighted to welcome Romy Sommer, a ROSA member and one of the newest names at Harper Impulse, to the blog!

On the Yahoo loop for South African romance writers, we recently had a discussion about choosing settings for books – do we set our books in places we know, or do we set them in exotic locales we’ve only researched?

I’m definitely in the latter group, because (for me, at least) where I live isn’t that exciting.

Part of the fun of writing is getting to research these exotic locations, and I think I’d feel cheated if I didn’t get to spend hours of internet time surfing for pictures of Caribbean islands, visiting tourism blogs, or scrolling through maps of places I’ve never been.

Waking up in Vegas starts in Vegas (where I’ve never been) and ends up in a fictional European nation that I’ve certainly never been to (because it doesn’t exist).

My 1920s novellas, published under the name Rae Summers, also require large amounts of research and even larger leaps of imagination, even though two have been set in places I’ve actually visited. Because let’s face it, things were different back then!

For me, the trick to writing about a place you’ve never been is to research, research, research. And not just the usual touristy spots and websites that only show one side of the place, but read blogs of people who live in those places and talk to people who’ve been there.

With Vegas I got lucky – one of my CPs got married there, and one of my work colleagues spent a raucous boys’ week there (guess who was the most help with finding outrageous stuff to do, and who could tell me what the inside of a Vegas hotel room looked like!) And another writing friend had an engineer hubby who’d worked on constructing Vegas hotels and could tell me exactly how far the windows could open!

But it was in writing the second half of Waking up in Vegas that I had the most fun.

In creating my own fictional nation of Westerwald, getting the details right mattered much less, and the setting could serve the story rather than the other way around. Since the place exists entirely in my own head, I didn’t have to worry about practicalities like building safety regulations and how far the windows could open!

My preparation for writing this book included creating a rough map of Westerwald, putting together photo albums, and even wrote a history for the little nation. While almost none of that made it into the final novel, it gave me a much clearer picture of the setting and I hope provides the story with a much richer backdrop.

Please read the novel and let me know if I succeeded! Do the settings in Waking up in Vegas work for you? Or have you been to Vegas, and did I get it abysmally wrong?

And if you’ve read the book and wish you could visit Westerwald … you can! My fictional nation is based on the Rhine River area in Germany.

I love hearing from readers, and if you’re a writer please tell me: do you set your stories in places you know – or in places you wish you knew?

What happens in Vegas…

Waking up to the bright lights of Vegas in an unfamiliar penthouse suite, cocktail waitress Phoenix Montgomery finds she’s covered from head to foot in gold glitter and not alone – aside from the empty bottle of champagne, there’s a mystery man in the shower and a huge sparkly ring on her finger!

Stays in Vegas?

There’s no denying Max Waldburg’s demi-god sex appeal but commitment-phobic Phoenix doesn’t do relationships. Only it seems her new husband (agh!) has other ideas…he’s trying to keep that ring on her finger and his wife firmly back in his bed. The only question on her lips is – why? Or maybe, why not?

Waking up in Vegas is published by Harper Impulse, a division of Harper Collins, and is available from the following online retailers:

Amazon * Amazon UK * Barnes & Noble * Kobo * iTunes

You can follow Romy on Twitter, Facebook or on her blog.