It never occurred to me to make up a fictional town for my Shakespeare in the Vineyard mystery series, just as it never occurred to me to write other than in third person. Both felt natural. When our daughter moved to Ashland, Oregon, I attended lots of plays at Oregon’s Shakespeare Festival and got the idea to bring Shakespeare to the Livermore Valley. It was that easy. I modeled my Elizabethan outdoor theater and small indoor Blackfriars theater after theirs, but on a much smaller scale.
But it wasn’t an original idea. The “real” Livermore Shakespeare Festival is produced under the stars at Concannon Winery in Livermore, CA. Patrons arrive early to picnic on the vineyard grounds, then bring their wine into the seating area to experience Shakespeare and other great plays in front of the Queen-Anne style Victorian home that was moved to the center of the winery in 2008.
Inspired by William Shakespeare, Livermore Shakes is committed to producing professional theater in the community. They produce and support theatrical events and create a company that is accessible and integrated with the Tri-Valley community. They believe the desire to create and celebrate a rich, vibrant community is a core value shared by the residents and businesses of the Tri-Valley Area.
I drove around Livermore and toured some of the wineries before deciding to set my fictitious Shakespeare festival on the eastern edge of town and on top of a hill. But setting my series in a real town can present problems. On the positive side, my book sales reflect readers who like to read stories that take place in their town, and I’ve been invited to talk at their book clubs. Livermore Shakes also invited me to sell my books at their plays. The only negative is that local readers recognize mistakes and will call you on it. So far, I’ve lucked out. Maybe because I’m a Livermore police volunteer and they assume I know more about police procedures than I do. Five Star, my publisher, required written permission for me to set a scene in the Livermore Police station because it’s a real place. The police chief asked the city attorney to write a letter to Five Star granting me permission to use the interview room in the station, providing I didn’t say anything negative about the city or the police department.
My advice on using a real place for your story is to keep it real and, if it’s a series, it’s too late to change book two or three to a fictitious town because it’s more convenient. In book three of my series, I’m taking Cait Pepper to Santa Cruz, another real town, in her search for a drug dealer who is threatening Cait’s friend and her husband who recently bought a winery in Livermore.
Happy 450th birthday, Shakespeare!