Get Set
Lisa Harris

Award-winning author, Lisa Harris, has been writing both fiction and nonfiction since 2000, and has more than fifteen novels and novellas in print. She currently lives with her family in Mozambique, Africa where they work as missionaries. She is currently writing an International suspense series for Zondervan set in Africa. Visit her website at , and her blog at or e-mail her at contact.harris [at] gmail [dot] com. She’d love to hear your ideas on the subject.

Tips to Tackling an American Setting While Living Overseas

We writers know how important research is. Readers are smart, and they expect us to get the facts right. But what happens when we can’t physically visit the place our story is set in? I’ve been in contact with a number of other authors living outside the U.S., like myself, who struggle with this, and I’ve found it to be a touchy issue. Not only are the majority of Christian publishers located in the U.S., but also many of these same publishers want stories that are set in the United States.

So how do you write about “foreign” places and settings when you live outside the U.S?

In some ways, it’s no different from the challenges of writing a story set, for example, in the nineteenth century. I’ve sold a number of historical books set in that time period, but obviously I didn’t live back then. Nor can I interview anyone for the insider scoop. But with the Internet, I can read diaries, search for photos, and read history books and articles to enrich my story and give them a sense of authenticity.

I recently wrote a book for Summerside Press’s Love Finds You series. Typically, I prefer to write about a fictional town so I’m freer to use my creativity with the setting and its details, but this series deals with real towns. I spent literally hours online researching everything from the geographical terrain on Google Earth, plus reading many of the state’s history blogs and personal blogs to get that one gem I wanted to add to a paragraph. I also contacted people living in the area, as well as the state’s historical society.

When my editor asked for photos to include on the cover, I decided to run a contest on my blog and was amazed by the number of people who offered to help. Not only did my readers get involved, but also my editor love the photos, and it helped me better visualize the setting of a place I have never visited.

If you’re writing a contemporary novel, though, another factor is involved, what I call the “reality factor.” Say you want to set your story in Texas. While you might not have visited Dallas, many of your readers have. Because of this, it’s essential for you to get the details right. If you get them wrong, not only will readers let you know, but it can discredit your book.

I have experts in a number of fields, i.e., a pilot, a firearm expert, and a doctor, for example, that I turn to to verify details in my stories when necessary. You also need experts when you need to verify your details of the culture and setting of your book. If you’re a part of an online writers group like American Christian Fiction Writers, you can ask them for help. You can also join a critique group, where you can get feedback from other writers who are familiar with the area you are writing about.

I’ve compiled a short list of resources to aid in bringing a sense of realism to your stories, along with several additional tips to help you keep up with what’s happening in the American publishing world. A special thanks to Cathi-Lyn Dyck, an author from Canada, who contributed to this list.

1. Google images

2. YouTube videos

3. Educational TV

4. Wikipedia

5. Seek out people online who live where your book is set.

6. Read personal blogs of people living where your book is set.
7. Build your library of books set in the location. Writers Digest is a great place to start ( Also used bookstores are a cheap source of reference or period books.

8. Keep up with what’s happening in the publishing industry by following publisher, editor, and agent blogs like Michael Hyatt, Rachelle Gardner, Karen Ball, Steve Laube, and Chip Macgregor.

9. When attending a conference is too expensive (especially when it requires traveling internationally), consider purchasing recorded sessions. One source is

10. Online writers groups, like ACFW, offer free monthly courses to their members, as well as critique groups and other writing resources.

The bottom line is no matter what story you are writing or where it is set, it’s important to focus on thorough research, continued self-improvement in the writing craft, and the development of a good network. Then pour your heart into writing a stellar story that an editor won’t be able to resist!

Love Finds You In Revenge, Ohio