Don’t Make Your Setting A Stereotype; Writing Tip Wednesday

A lot of people love where they live or where they visit, but that doesn’t mean that they can write well about that place or include that town/city/cruiseship in an authentic way in the setting of their story.

I’ll use where I live as an example.

Tons of people claim that their piece of the earth is the most beautiful, and those of us who live here on Mount Desert Island are no exception, tiny mountains lift up the center of the island creating granite vistas in deep pine woods. The coast is full of dramatic cliffs where the sides plunge into the cold, gray Atlantic Ocean.

It’s so beautiful that a million people travel all the way up the coast of Maine to visit it this summer. If you google image Bar Harbor or Acadia National Park you’ll see photo after photo of distance shots of the town or photo after photo of Sand Beach and these two mountains called the Bubbles.

The same distant landscape shots appear over and over again. But when you live here, that’s not the town, that’s not the setting. It isn’t something felt or viewed at a distance. It’s up close. It’s details. It isn’t a static image but a movie full of depth and emotion and change.

And I can tell right away when someone writes about here but they’ve either:

  1. Never visited
  2. Never talked to anyone local
  3. Spent a mere day

They’ll have the locals pronounce the town, “Bah-hah-bah.” They’ll stick in a ‘telling detail’ about the tiny town square or the carriage roads of Acadia. They’ll use a last name like “Higgins.” They will present a one-dimensional portrait of a small town that’s always beautiful.

But MDI  isn’t always beautiful, no place is, not to everyone. When we’re writing about place and including setting in a story, it’s good to remember that no matter how beautiful a place is – that’s not all there is to it. Or that your one moment there, doesn’t mean you get the whole of it, understand the big picture and nuance of the place.

Just like a character needs to have multiple dimensions, so does the setting of the story.

Mount Desert Island is a place where people write stories of fantasy and of survival, where people come to hike and bike the carriage roads and then decide to stay, choosing to live with the lobsters and deer and wild turkeys.  The main industry here is tourism and then there are two scientific laboratories, a small college, a wee hospital, and boat building places. People still lobster. People still fight fires and get arrested and work at one of the tiny grocery stores. It’s a place where churches have game night, breweries have trivia night, and there seems to be one nonprofit agency for every five year-round residents.

Every winter a lot of the town vanishes. Shops and restaurants close. Snowbirds fly south. Restaurant workers go to Florida to make money before returning again in May.

It becomes an entirely different place than it was just six months earlier when it was brimming with tourists, crowding the sidewalks, bickering over where to eat, hauling bags of t-shirts around. A century ago, Bar Harbor was the town of the Rockefellers and Pulitzers, the elite white people of the United States. A century before that, it had Wabanaki camps along the bay.

Place, like people, has dimension. Place has a past beyond our present. To be the best writers and people that we can be, it’s good to remember that, to breathe in the nuance and the dimension.

*all photos by me.

Writing and Other News

I’ll be hanging out at Virginia Beach this weekend for an awesome book festival.


I do art stuff. You can find it and buy a print here. 

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Time Stoppers!

You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.


Moe Berg

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.


Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them here or anywhere.


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Don’t Give Away Your Shot. Kick to Win.

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Don't Give Away Your Shot. Kick to Win.

A long time ago, our daughter Em was taking karate, which was the only martial art available then in our town.

She was eight years old and tiny.

The instructor was Shaun size – sort of – and bald, super intimidating. He had all the little ones line up and kick rectangular strike pads. Em’s kick was so unexpected and powerful that the adult holding the pad fell over.

Did they tell her, “Good job?”


They made her sit down.

“What did I do wrong, Mommy?” Em asked.

“Nothing, buddy. Nothing.”

And a mom next to us whispered, “You were too strong. They don’t know what to do with women who are too strong.”

Em got called back up and got to join the group again. This time the kids were kicking the instructor’s shin. It was Em’s turn. She wound up and executed the kick perfectly. The instructor lurched backwards, held his shin, and told her to sit down.


Em was smaller than the rest of those kids in there, but she was powerful and they didn’t know what to do with that. They couldn’t even understand it. How could this perfectly behaved, tiny child be so strong?

And sometimes that happens with us throughout our lives and our writing. Our power surprises even us. We’ll wonder where it came from? We’ll wonder what it means. And sometimes other people will not know what to do with it. Those people might be our mentors, or our families, or strangers on the internet.

But here’s the thing.

Don’t let them make you sit down or sit out. If you surprise them with your power? That’s on them. It’s not on you.

Writing Tip of the Pod:

Don’t be afraid to dig deep to get your power.

Dog Tip for Life:

Don’t let the other dogs out-alpha you. Pick your battles. But win. Don’t give away your shot.


The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.


NEED is on sale for Kindle sales on Amazon for a mere $1,99 this month. Snatch it up!

ENHANCED, the follow-up to FLYING is here! And the books are out of this world. Please buy them and support a writer.

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The last TIME STOPPERS BOOK is out and I love it. You should buy it because it’s empowering and about friendship and bias and magic. Plus, dragons and elves.


How to Get Signed Copies: 

If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For signed copies – email for Sherman’s or email and let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!

Art Stuff

You can buy prints of my art here. Thank you so much for supporting my books and me and each other. I hope you have an amazing day.

A new episode of Dogs are Smarter Than People, the quirky podcast with writing tips, life tips and a random thought comes every Tuesday! Check it out, like and subscribe!