I get that question a lot. My first novel, Rule Number One, took place in Indianapolis, and although I fictionalized parts of downtown to suit my story, it was still a real place. I even had one reader contact me after she visited Indy and tried to find Gilligan's Pub down in the Lockerbie district. I hated to tell her Gilligan's existed only in my imagination because she so wanted a pint a Guinness there. Sorry!
Willow Bay, alas, is also a fictional town on the shore of Lake Michigan, but it's based on a real place that I love. When I was a kid, my mom took us to Michigan every summer. It was her favorite place; she loved being on Lake Michigan. I inherited that love probably magnified by about a thousand. If I knew anyone in Michigan and Husband was onboard, I'd move to any one of the little towns along the shore of that beautiful lake. Instead, I put my stories there, so in a way, I get to live there.
Willow Bay's inspiration is Frankfort, Michigan, which is a lovely little town just south of Traverse City near the top of the Lower Peninsula. If you look at the mitten-shape of the lower peninsula, Frankfort is just about where the tip of your little finger would be if you slipped your hand into the mitten. We spent time in that area nearly every summer of my childhood and my memories are vivid and sweet.
Willow Bay sits on a harbor, has long miles of sandy beaches, and an historic lighthouse perched on a rocky cliff above the lake. Wineries abound in the Traverse City area and so do Christmas tree farms, so it felt natural to have secondary characters Libby and Daniel Nolan own a winery/tree farm. Frankfort has little shops just like Bertie's yarn store, Mel's bookstore, Gary's pharmacy, and of course a coffee shop like Perry Graham's Daily Grind--the Women of Willow Bay's favorite hangout.
If you want to see some gorgeous pictures of Michigan and maybe dream a little dream of walking along a sandy beach or gazing out at a magnificent sunset, cruise through the Michigan Nut Photography site. Also, go by Michigan.org and maybe make a travel plan. In the meantime, you can also check out any of the Women of Willow Bay novels at my website or go to Amazon.com to order books 1 through 3 and pre-order book 4, Saving Sarah.
Tell me about the places that inspire your settings--are they lake towns like mine always are or farm communities or big cities or exotic foreign locales? Do you use real places in your stories or fictional ones?