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I'm planning a fictional novel that takes place in my local area. This area is not far from the area John Steinbeck wrote about. If you're not familiar with his work, most of his stories took place in and around Monterey and Salinas, California. All I want to know is if there might be any legal problems with doing this. I don't need permission to mention city and street names, do I? Or to mention famous local landmarks? For example, there are two of California's missions in the area, as well as Hearst Castle. Do I ask the local chambers of commerce? Most everything I'll be writing about is public, with no personal or specific business names mentioned. I just don't want to get into trouble for mentioning or even writing extensively about a certain place or thing, even though it won't be defamatory in any way, with the possible exception of something bad OCCURING at said place. That's all I'd like to know.

Dear Ina,
Thank you for your question. It all depends on the author's style. Some authors set their novels in real cities. There are some cities that seem to have more than there share too! Like Los Angeles. I enjoy reading a book set in Los Angeles because I'm from that city. So, if it's your style, absolutely set the book in the real location. The one catch is that you must get all the details right. I once wrote a scene in a writing class where my protagonist drives to work passing Westwood, Century City, Beverly Hills, etc. Three people pointed out that I had the cities out of order for the route. It's always more difficult to use a real location because a lot of people will notice if you make a mistake.
Some authors make up a fictional town. I had a writing teacher who made up a town based on Lincoln City, Oregon, which she called, "Holiday Beach." She showed us maps she drew of the fictional city that showed where her protagonist's house was in relation to his book shop, and so on.
So whether you use a real city or a fictional city, you have to know the layout, as well as the history, the local info., and how to portray it to get the effect you want. Also, go ahead and throw in a few references to Steinbeck. Just don't drown the reader in it and you should be fine.
Best to you.

P.S. My page for writers is

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Nori J. Muster


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