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Meet 2018 Golden Heart Finalist Gabrielle Luthy

Today we’re welcoming another Persister, a member of the Golden Heart Class of 2018, the lovely Gabrielle Luthy! 

Gabrielle is a three-time Golden Heart Finalist who took home the golden necklace in 2016 for her Contemporary Romance, SHELTER ME. This year, she has finaled in Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance with MIDNIGHT ON TOPANGA CANYON BOULEVARD. She lives by the beach in Melbourne, Australia, with her two cats and a rotating cast of foster cats, where she writes books about independent women sorting out their lives, one margarita – and one man – at a time.

Here’s a blurb for MIDNIGHT ON TOPANGA CANYON BOULEVARD:

Lilly Brannigan has the life she always wanted. She’s a successful tax lawyer with a perfectly nice boyfriend and, best of all, a life free of messy emotional complications. The last place she wants to be is Topanga Canyon, L.A.’s hippy stronghold and the scene of too many family dramas. But there’s no avoiding the tragic news she has to give to her childhood friend. Go, deliver the news, and escape, keeping her own secrets safe. That’s the plan.

Until one kiss upends everything.

Single father of three, Ethan Moore, makes the perfect margarita and knows just how to press Lilly’s buttons. With his carpentry business experiencing problems, Ethan really needs someone to keep an eye on his boisterous brood so he can take on extra work. Lilly is the perfect candidate for temporary caretaker–as long as she keeps her distance from Ethan, as long as he doesn’t discover the secret she’s been keeping since they were kids themselves.

How hard can it be?

Famous. Last. Words. How do you keep away from someone you’ve loved since before you knew what love was? Can she learn to stay when all she wants to do is run? Lilly faces a choice: the life she’s convinced she’s always wanted, or the life she’s never allowed herself to dare to dream of.

Gabrielle is here today to talk to us about setting as a character in her book. So grab a margarita (and maybe a handsome carpenter while you’re at it!) and hear what she has to say!

Take it away, Gabrielle!

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Setting: Oh, the places your characters (and you!) will go

Whenever a book idea introduces itself to me, it always happens like this:

Oh, look! Here’s Person A and Person B, and this happens, and it happens here.

The idea for Midnight on Topanga Canyon Boulevard came after I saw a photo of a house online. Instantly, I had an image of a man walking out onto its stone porch just on sunset to greet a woman who said to me “I don’t want to be here, but I owe it to him.”

The house that started it all

Et voilà. I had the people, I had what was happening, but I didn’t have the “here.” I knew that this book was the result of the years I’d written late into the night as a teen. Back then, the radio station played pre-recorded programs from midnight to 6AM, loaded up with SoCal rock. I was heavily influenced by the whole collaborative, boho vibe. The house had that vibe, but the neighborhood didn’t. I needed to set it somewhere else in L.A.

So I threw the question out to a writer’s list.

“Oh, you want Topanga Canyon,” someone said.

I did? Once I started reading about it, I knew she was right. This tiny enclave high in the Santa Monica mountains physically fit the image in my head, it had the kind of vibe I wanted to explore (sunny days, with a darker undercurrent), and it was absolutely the wrong place for the heroine, Lilly, to be, since it isolated her from her everyday life and pushed all her buttons.

Which leads me to one of the most important aspects for me when writing: how do my characters feel about this place that I’ve staked out as the emotional center of their story? Do they plan to spend the rest of their life there? Do they consider it an okay place for now, but aren’t really connected to it? Or do they, like Lilly, actively dislike or feel trapped by it?

After I know that, I want to explore if that changes throughout the book. Is the setting one of the elements that forces my character to change, to face what they’re afraid to?

In Topanga, Ethan has always lived in, well, Topanga. 🙂 It’s as much a part of him as he’s a part of it. It’s a very different story for Lilly. She goes from “I’m only here for as long as it takes to tell you this,” to “Well, okay, I might stick around for a while, but only because I’m doing you a favor,” to “What do you mean, you’re kicking me out? This is my home!” She then has to prove she’s worthy of being readmitted to a world she swore she didn’t want anything to do with. Topanga changes her and she, by finally learning not to run away, will change it.

Hidden Treasures, a vintage clothing store in the Canyon

I’m lucky: I’ve been able to travel to most of my settings. Before visiting Topanga, I poured over every online resource and felt comfortable writing the first draft. But nothing beats driving the streets, especially where I’d set Ethan’s home. Even though I’d checked the place out on Google Earth, the foliage prohibited really understanding the lay of the land. When we pulled up at the address (non-creeper style, I promise!), not only was the house reminiscent of the story’s inspiration, but the entrance was exactly how I’d imagined it, right down to the small bridge crossing a gulch. Thanks, Universe!

Some of my writing mugs

When I travel to locations, I grab all the things—brochures, business cards—and make up a vision board that I keep near my desk. I also pick up a themed coffee mug that I take my coffee in as I do my morning words.

But if you can’t be there in person, there are online tools other than Google Earth and Maps to help you get a feel for your setting. I like community boards (seeing what the locals are bickering about gives you an idea of what’s important in that area), local Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and streaming radio stations. Being kinda obsessive, I have a US Amazon Prime account hooked up to a VPN, so Sling TV thinks I’m in L.A. There’s nothing like the local news and commercials to get a feel for the culture.

Then there’s the real-estate sites, of which Trulia is my fave. Not only do you get pics (house p0rn!), but it provides the sale history, crime rates and local demographics. Did you know that 27% of the population around Neil Young’s former Topanga Canyon house is single? Trulia does.

I routinely ping people to ask if I can pick their brains. The worst they can do is not respond, but I’ve found people to be really helpful. I found someone who lived in the San Francisco house I’d chosen for a book setting was posting photos to a Flickr account. I asked if she wouldn’t mind telling me what it was like to live there–what sounds do you hear in the middle of the night, how is your trash collected (since there was no vehicle access)—and the detailed responses she gave me were crucial in grounding the book.

Here comes the sun: morning in Topanga Canyon

Sometimes, the people who answer your questions become dear friends. I’d visited Topanga twice before I stumbled across a gorgeously whimsical blog that described a resident’s life in fairy-tale vignettes. I asked her, too, what it was like to live there, and was surprised to discover that she’d grown up in Australia. In fact, I’d seen her on a local soap, back in the day. I’ve stayed in her magical Topanga treehouse. I know first-hand what sounds she hears in the middle of the night (coyotes, and a vast, vast silence). I know what it’s like to do my morning words on her deck, and watch the sun rise on this house that George Harrison told her she had to buy. (Now that’s the kind of vibe I’m talking about!)

Other times, researching your book’s setting completely changes your life. Back when Borders was a happening thing, I popped in to buy some books on Paris and bumped into a friend I’d once worked with.

The view from my balcony

“I’m planning a trip to Paris,” she informed me.

“I’m coming with you!” I replied.

And that, Dear Reader, is how I ended up living in Paris for 5 years.

I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for immersing yourself in your book’s setting. If you write period pieces or fantasy, futuristic and paranormal, how do you create your character’s world? What’s the most fun you’ve had researching your setting?

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CONNECT WITH GABRIELLE LUTHY ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

www.gabrielleluthy.com

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54 responses to “Meet 2018 Golden Heart Finalist Gabrielle Luthy”

  1. Great article! I’d love to visit Paris for a year (or five!).

    To write a sci-fi setting, I search for an inspirational location online, then imagine the technological and cultural additions this setting would need to belong to “my” world.

    3+
  2. Seana Kelly says:

    Congratulations on your GH final, Gabrielle!! <3
    I loved your article! I try to immerse myself in the setting, too. I stalk locations on google Earth, 360, images, and Zillow if it’s not close enough to actually visit. I love that you actually travel to your settings! 🙂

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Seana! It really makes a difference to me, to have the chance to sit and watch people, feel the local air on my skin.

      Also, how can I travel to the world of Welcome Home, Katie Gallagher? I love the world you created in that book 🙂

      1+
  3. Your book sounds amazing, Gabrielle! I can’t wait to read it! The most fun I’ve ever had researching was on a recent trip to Anchorage, the location of my current series. Usually I have to rely on Google, but there’s nothing like actually being there!

    3+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Sarah! And there *is* nothing like being there. I’ll bet Anchorage was amazing. Looking forward to reading your series!

      0
  4. Suzanne Turner says:

    What a fantastic article, Gabrielle. And I so desperately want to read your book. Topanga Canyon is indeed an interesting place and I love love love that you picked it all the way from Australia.

    I think my favorite books, even as a child, always had a strong sense of a place. Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, and that translates to what I read as an adult and even what I watch on TV. I watch VERA because of the scenery. Well, I also watch Escape to the Country (a real estate show) because of the places they capture.

    When is your book coming out! B/c I want to get my autographed copy ASAP!

    3+
    • Suzanne, I just discovered Escape to the Country on my BritBox subscription and have been savoring each episode. And it’s funny because I’m from Massachusetts and now I know where all the town names came from.

      0
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Suzanne! ARGH! Escape to the Country! I watch that all the time for the setting and housep0rn. Much better than the House Hunter series, because you get to learn some of the history of the place.

      I’d love to sign a copy for you, Persister! Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter for book release info (and margarita recipes 😉 ) : http://www.gabrielleluthy.com

      1+
  5. What makes finding my “places” difficult is that I not only don’t live in that country, but I don’t live in that *century,* either. I do my best with maps, contemporary diaries, and travelogues, but a lot is guesswork and doing what I can to immerse myself in an imaginary world of my creation.

    Your book sounds as wonderful as I know you to be, Gabrielle, and I can’t wait for the day I get to immerse myself in your imaginary world, too.

    2+
    • Gabrielle says:

      See, Eileen, this is where I think historical and FF&P authors are amazing–not only do you guys have to deal with all the usual craft aspects of writing, but you have to place yourself in an entirely different headspace while doing so. Do you dress in costume when you write? Please say yes!

      Please do come join in my imaginary world. There are margaritas there. Yours is on the house!

      1+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes! The challenge for the historical writer: we need time machines, no plane tickets.

      I think I’ve learned the texture of the past most from other people’s descriptions of it, and from paintings, and from what’s left of the textiles and furnishings, and from hearing music played on period instruments. But we’ll never really know…

      0
  6. What a fascinating post! Thanks for sharing. Will you be in Denver? Would love to catch up with you again.

    2+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Carol! You bet I’ll be there. Can’t wait to see you! Hope you’ll be signing The Marine’s Secret Daughter 🙂

      0
  7. Janet Raye Stevens says:

    Great post, my Persister sister, and some great ideas for research! Fun fact, I worked at one of those automated radio stations in the 80s. A lonely job, but someone had to change the tape reels when they ended. Write on!

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Oh, Janet, I thank you for your service! 😀 Your equivalent on the other side of the world helped change my life. See you in Denver!

      2+
  8. Always fun to talk about setting! My novel, Inherent Lies, is partially set in Ireland. I was there twice to research and just generally get the lay of the land. Setting is crucial, and although Google comes in handy for some things, there’s nothing like the real thing to get a feel for the atmosphere. Congratulations on your honor, Persister sister!

    2+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Alicia! That’s it exactly: “setting is crucial.” How hard it must have been, to travel to Ireland twice 😉 I can’t wait to read Inherent Lies and walk those steps with you!

      0
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Sigh! Ireland! TWICE! Still on my bucket list.

      (Maybe if I decide to set a book there, I can justify the trip.)

      0
  9. I love the way you talk about the characters’ emotional interaction with the setting. And the way you research not just the physical roads, but the feel and sounds of a place! Yes! (And oh my goodness I would totally move to Paris for five years on a whim, LOL.)

    Tips and tricks… I don’t know that I have any worth mentioning, but I will say CONGRATULATIONS on your final again this year and wishing you tons of luck in Denver! Your book sounds amazing.

    2+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Vivi–we all must sacrifice for our art 😀

      I often have a strong emotional reaction to places, so it’s natural to incorporate that into my characters.

      Thanks for having me here!

      0
  10. Congratulations on your third Golden Heart final! Wonderful post. The story and location sound wonderful. And that view of Paris. Sigh.

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Renee Ann! Yeah, the view of Paris was tough. But seriously, living in a foreign land *can* be tiring at times, regardless of how much you love it, so if I’d had a tough day, I’d make sure to pop my head out the door at the top of the hour at least once a night so I could see the tower’s lights sparkling and remind myself of the magic.

      Hope I’ll see you in Denver–I need signed copies of your gorgeous books!

      1+
  11. I can’t wait to read this! Setting hooks me as much as, or maybe more, than the characters when I choose a book to read. Looking forward to seeing you in Denver!

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Susan! Remember back in the day when Amazon had that “search for books set in” function? I used that all the time to find new reads. Can’t wait to see you in Denver, Persister!

      0
  12. What a great post!!! And, naturally, now I’m dying to visit Topanga. I love your title and your premise. Super congrats on the final!!

    It’s easy for us to forget how important setting is. I learned a very valuable lesson when I first read one of my all-time faves, Envy. I have to reread it every year and a huge part of that is the setting. Though made-up, it’s partly set on an island off Savanah, GA. The way Sandra Brown describes it is so alluring.

    Anywho, congrats, again!!! And thank you for being here.

    2+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Darynda, and thanks for having me here! Oh, I’d forgotten how good Sandra Brown is at setting! I feel totally immersed in her worlds–even her quick-read Bantam Loveswepts were rich with setting.

      1+
  13. Meg Kassel says:

    Love this post! Setting is so important and a factor when I decide what to read. Congrats on the GH final! Can’t wait to read this when it’s published! 😉

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Meg! And I love the way you do setting. One of the aspects that hooked me with Black Bird of the Gallows was the detail–reading it was like running a movie in my head.

      0
  14. Tracy Brody says:

    CONGRATS on your 2018 final. Love that you are thorough with your research – maybe because I’m that way too. Nothing as exciting as living in Paris though and I’m still trying to get invited to hangout with some Army Spec Ops guys – just for research purposes. 😉 I have ridden on a Ducati motorcycle, got up close and personal with a Black Hawk helicopter and persuaded the family we has to go to Costa Rica so I could do research on the location.

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, Tracy! I *knew* you would have done some cool stuff 😀 A Ducati sounds like a blast, not to mention the Black Hawk. I neeeed to read this series. See you in Denver!

      1+
  15. C.R. Grissom says:

    Congrats on your final. Can’t wait to read your book. Your blurb hooked me from the first line.

    I haven’t set a story anywhere else, but I loved reading how to go about doing it!

    Good luck!

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks, C.R.! I love the armchair travel aspect of writing in another setting other than the one I live in. The only time I’ve written about where I was living was in Paris, but that time was filled with exploration anyway.

      But you’ve just made me realize that there’s a whole other side–or sides–to Melbourne that I would know nothing about. Hmmm.

      Good luck to you, too–see you in Denver!

      1+
  16. Setting is everything! Without it I think a story runs the risk of feeling flat. Kudos to you Gabrielle for doing some really immersive research! It’s true that nothing replaces seeing a place for yourself and breathing the same air. Makes me want to hit the dusty trail in search of other locales. 😉

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Exactly, Katherine! Even if circumstances preclude you from traveling to your book setting, there are so many ways to research it now–the trick is in narrowing it down so you don’t spend days trawling through websites. (Guilty! But hey, I know exactly what Lilly’s house looks like–and I would’t mind living there myself 😀 )

      0
  17. “And that, Dear Reader, is how I ended up living in Paris for 5 years.” What a magnificent tease. I want the rest of this story!!

    2+
    • Gabrielle says:

      That’s quite the compliment, coning from the Queen of Tease herself! I’ll spill over drinks in Denver–see you there 😀

      0
  18. Meredith says:

    Hi Gabrielle! I remember your Shelter Me submission from the Golden Rose contest and it blew me away. This sounds equally delightful. I want to read it now!

    I tend to limit my settings to places I’ve been, although my latest WIP is set in the Amazon and I don’t foresee a trip there anytime soon 🙂 So, I’ve gone online to view/listen to videos, and I’ve read up on blogs to glean details and to (hopefully) accurately extrapolate using experiences from places I’ve been. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    2+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Oh, Meredith, thank you–you’ve made me all verklempt. Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Shelter Island. But I researched the life out of it! I’m planning to take a trip before I release the book.

      The Amazon! That’s a big one. Have you found that site that allows you to make up your own sound sets, by adding different elements? I can’t find it right now, but I’ve used it for background noise. Let me know if you want me to send you the link 🙂

      1+
  19. What a great post, Gabrielle. Thanks for sharing your methods. Your books sounds amazing, and no wonder. Congrats on another final!

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thanks so much, Bev! (And apologies for the delayed response–I got caught up in all the royal wedding jubilation 🙂 )

      0
  20. Elisa Beatty says:

    Fabulous post, Gabrielle!!

    Thanks so much for being with us today! (My day was so crazy I’m just being able to check in now, and the sun is nearly setting.)

    I love the idea of finding local Facebook pages and setting up an Amazon account that links you to the locale! Very smart!

    Can’t wait to see you in Denver!!

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      Thank you so much for hosting me, Elisa and all the Rubies–it’s been a blast! Looking forward go seeing you in Denver!!

      0
  21. Great ideas here, Gabrielle. Congratulations on your final and good luck in Denver! I’m proud to be one of your fellow Persisters.

    1+
  22. Rayn Ellis says:

    Great Post Gabrielle! Congrats again on another well deserved GH final! Smooches!

    1+
  23. Tracey Amey says:

    I absolutely love it when a setting and one line start you off and running. And what a setting! It’s easy to see why there’s inspiration in Topanga Canyon and why Lilly discovers its where she was meant to be all along.

    Can’t wait to read it in print!

    1+
    • Gabrielle says:

      That’s when you just have to sit back, buckle up and thank the Universe for the ride 😀 Thanks for dropping by, Mermaid sister xx

      0

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