Thursday, March 15, 2018 | By: The Write Way Cafe

When Reality Exceeds Imagination with Susanne Matthews

The Write Way Café welcomes author Susanne Matthews, who offers tips for effective writing of setting.

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here today. This morning, I would like to discuss setting. To me, realistic settings are critical to the story, and I do my best to work my stories into places I’ve been, but that isn’t always possible.

Most new authors work on a limited budget. That being said, while hands-on research is best, a lot of us have to rely on the opinions—and photographs—of others and Internet research.  This picture is one I took in January on Cozumel during my recent Caribbean cruise. Until this year, I had never been any farther south than Williamsburg, Virginia.

Last year, when I decided to create a tropical setting for my novel, Wedding Bell Blues, I relied heavily on research and the opinions and comments of friends and family who’d taken island vacations. Creating an imaginary place as the setting often works better than using a real location, especially if you have limited knowledge of the region, but even then, you need to have enough information about the area, its history, its laws, and its people to make the setting and the story believable. For example, if you decided to set a story in the Mediterranean, you can’t have your characters using machetes to cut back jungle and tropical rainforest. Any reader who lives in that area or has been there will dismiss the story at once and probably give you a lousy review simply because you didn’t do your homework.

Wedding Bell Blues is set on Paradise Island, an imaginary island off the coast of Martinique in the Caribbean.  When I wrote the story, I wanted to give it something different. There are so many romance novels out there, I wanted mine to stand out. So, instead of your typical contemporary romance, I added paranormal elements by suggesting mermaids existed and live among us as well as using Quimbois, the voodoo religion practiced in the area. I added a cursed sunken treasure, a greedy evil practitioner of the dark arts, and of course a romance. This is a second chance at love story where a girl who had a crush on her brother’s best friend actually gets the guy. But, for MJ, the course of true love doesn’t run smooth as whatever can go wrong does.

Since I started the story in the dead of a Canadian winter, I wanted to visualize the sun and the sea, but more importantly, I wanted to be able to describe it so that other armchair travelers would see it, too. When my husband surprised me with plans for a Caribbean vacation this year, I was thrilled. Not only would I get a chance to escape the cold for 14 days, I would be able to see how close I’d come to reality. I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s one of the pictures I took. I was absolutely awed by the color of the water and the shades of blue reflected in them.

One of the primary images in the novel is the color of MJ’s eyes. Here Paul reflects on them.
There was no way in hell he’d ever forget her incredible eyes. They were a pale aquamarine with a deeper ring of the same color edging the outer iris. They reminded him of sand beaches and warm seas, and he’d never seen any others like them.

Here is MJ’s reaction. Instead of commenting, she stared out at the aquamarine water once more. Were her eyes really that shade?

Another image I used involved the vegetation common to the region. Our vacation coincided with the end of the rainy season, but we saw a lot of downed trees and puddles. The week before we arrived in Roatan, a mud slide had claimed the life of a child. Beautiful scenery could be destroyed in a matter of hours.

Paul and MJ have such a storm during their stay, a fitting backdrop for their own emotional storms.  Picture this beach as MJ sees it after the storm.  If you saw any of the footage from last season’s hurricanes, you can easily visualize the damage. While there were a few broken branches here, the trees had survived intact. Palms are hardy trees, well suited to withstanding storms, and even if they lose most of their leaves, as long as the palm bud or palm heart at the top of the trunk isn’t damaged, it will regrow its branches.
All around them, branches from palm trees and other tropical plants littered the wharf. The water level in the lagoon, which had been a good two feet below the walkway, was mere inches under the boards, and up ahead, along the beach, half a dozen of the majestic Roystonea trees, better known as royal palms, had been uprooted. Two of them blocked the path leading to the main building.

I could go on all day about how everything I saw confirmed or exceeded my expectations, but I will leave you with one last image.

In the novel, MJ falls overboard, and Paul dives in to save her. Because I am severely asthmatic, I could never hope to see what Paul did, but never say never. In Georgetown, Cayman Islands, we took a submarine ride. I was so excited, I didn’t have time to worry about being 112 feet underwater.  Here’s Paul’s description. Diving deeper, he opened his eyes, ignoring the burn of the salt water. As always when underwater without a mask, everything was fuzzy and distorted, but the water was amazingly clear. He looked below him into the darker depths and saw her drifting down, a strange iridescent purple shadow beneath her, almost as if it was supporting her.
And here is what I saw through the porthole. Yes, the water really is blue 112 feet down!

While I will always try for realism in my settings, it’s nice to know that proper research can come close to reality.

Wedding Bell Blues is available in paperback and digital from most online retailers including

About Susanne:
Amazon bestselling author Susanne Matthews was born and raised in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. A retired educator, Susanne spends her time writing and creating adventures for her readers. She loves the ins and outs of romance, and the complex journey it takes to get from the first word to the last period of a novel. As she writes, her characters take on a life of their own, and she shares their fears and agonies on the road to self-discovery and love.

Not content with one subgenre, Susanne writes romance that ranges from contemporary to sci-fi and everything in between. 

Follow Susanne on her:  Website   Blog    Facebook  Twitter @jandsmatt  Amazon author page and   Goodreads author page.


Susanne Matthews said...

Thank you so much for having me!

HiDee said...

Gorgeous pictures Susanne, and what a great setting for what sounds like a very fun read! Thank you for joining us today!

Lynn said...

Very good thoughts on setting and beautiful pics! Thank you for being on our blog!

Angela Adams said...

We all are sharing the same thought! While reading the post, I was thinking, "The Caribbean is always a lovely setting for a novel." I also think "Paradise Island" is a great name.

Deepak Yadav said...

I love the book cover and story of the novel. Thanks for the great post recently I Download The Name of the Wind PDF eBook online and read the full Fiction story. I really enjoyed the novel.