Blog Tour: This is How it Happened

Hi everyone :) This is Day 2 of my THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED blog tour. You can find the whole schedule of posts in the lead post on my blog right now.

I’m blogging about the different challenges I faced while writing and revising the novel. Challenge #2 was how to best incorporate real settings into the novel. If you’ve read any of my previous work, you might know that THE ART OF LAINEY, LIARS, INC., and GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE are set in fictionalized suburbs of real cities. This freed me up to create my own clubs and restaurants (that have no danger of going out of business and dating my book), as well as my own streets and minor landmarks (that I can put where I need to for story purposes), while still grounding my stories in a world that’s recognizable to most readers. The majority of THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED takes place in Springdale, Utah, which is a small town outside of Zion National Park.

Zion National Park is one of my favorite places in the world, so I wanted to portray it accurately, to share it with people who haven’t been fortunate enough to visit. But if I was going to make Zion real, that meant also making Springdale real, and nearby St. George real as well. Prior to drafting the book, I hadn’t been to Zion or Springdale in several years, and I knew the best way to be accurate was going to be to go back. And of course I welcomed a chance to visit a place that I love so much, but as I mentioned in my post yesterday, I wrote this book extremely fast, and at the same time while I was writing FEROCIOUS. I already had plans to go to Seoul in January and this book has to be turned in by the beginning of March. I didn’t end up making it back to Springdale until the end of March, so I added in a lot of real-world details later in the editing process.

While I was drafting, I tried to use Google Maps and keep things as accurate as possible, but Google Maps isn’t always up-to-date, and even when it is, it’s still possible to make a mistakes. Even just the route Genevieve drives from the airport to St. George to Springdale was questioned by my copy-editor, and they were right—I had messed it up using Google Maps. Awkward.

I also used Google Maps to determine where Genevieve lived in Lake St. Louis (a real place), and where Dallas and Brad lived in Wentzville (a real place) as well as where Brad could have worked if he lived in Wentzville and collided with Genevieve on Highway Z as he was driving home from work. I felt more confident using Google Maps around St. Louis since I grew up there and my dad lived in Wentzville for several years. I even used to drive on Highway Z when I volunteered with an equine veterinarian.

There are a few places in the St. Louis area I fictionalized, mostly for practical reasons. The private school Gen attends is fake, because if I made it a real school I’d feel the need to make how it looks on the inside accurate and I wasn’t going to fly back to St. Louis just to walk through a private school. Plus I figured no one reading the story would really care if the school was made up. I also fictionalized the hospital and the restaurant where Brad worked, the former because an error of sorts is made at the hospital and hospitals (like most businesses) tend to dislike being portrayed in a negative light, the latter for a similar reason, because bad things happen there.

But back to Zion and Springdale—since I spent the time and money to go back there, I tried to make that whole segment as real as possible, from the Wal-Mart in Hurricane to the Zion Canyon shuttle to the menu at the pizza place. The trees are real; the trails are real; even the chipmunks are real! There are a couple businesses that are fictionalized, but that’s because I needed them for the story and they weren’t already there. Oh, and the trail Genevieve and her friends build in front of Zion Lodge is not real, but I used real trail-building facts from when I helped build a wheelchair accessible Discovery Trail with my AmeriCorps Team at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve :)

So maybe you’re a writer and you want to set a book in a faraway place. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:

  • Whenever possible, visit. There really is no substitute for going somewhere, talking to people and watching them interact with each other, feeling the wind off Reykjavik Harbor slice right through your jacket, smelling the sweet hotteok frying on the streets of Seoul, experiencing the hustle and bustle of Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market.
  • Whether or not you are able to visit, also get to a library and check out some travel guides, especially if your setting is in another country. Documentaries set where your book takes place are also good.
  • Recruit some people who live in your setting to help. I had a couple of people in San Diego give me some tips for world-building in Girl Against the Universe. Did you like those California burritos? Thank Stacee at Adventures of a Book Junkie ;) When I found out blogger Serena S. was heading to Thailand last summer, I asked her to verify a few things for me with respect to my new adult novel, The Key to Everything.
  • Make use of Google Earth, Google Maps and similar sites. Zoom in as far as you can to get the most detailed information. Verify your information across multiple sites.
  • Use YouTube when appropriate. (I “rode” the roller coaster in Girl Against the Universe thanks to the magic of YouTube.)
  • Read other books (or watch movies) set in your book’s locale. But don’t use this as a major source of info—there’s no guarantee other people portrayed the setting realistically.
  • Look up specific websites for the places your characters are going to go—use official travel websites, maps and floor plans from tourist attractions, etc. Go through photo albums on Flickr or Trip Advisor. Search images on Twitter or Instagram.
  • Read and research from different sources. This is one way to determine if your information is factual. Don’t just read one guy’s blog about hiking at Zion National Park. Read the official park website. Read blogs from recreational hikers and professional climbers and canyoneers. Read stuff written by rangers and teens and grandmas. Read reviews from multiple websites—the good ones and the bad ones. Look at photos taken by locals and tourists.
  • If you set a book—or even a scene—in a place you’ve never been, it’s a really good idea to have someone who lives there read it and give feedback. This is especially true if you’re writing about a different culture and/or a different country. In that case I would find at least three people to give feedback, because no group or place is a monolith. Finding people might be as easy as asking a friend, joining a writing message board, and/or recruiting someone on Twitter. There are also professional sensitivity readers you can hire. If you go with volunteers, don’t forget to compensate them in some way for helping you. Maybe you can’t pay them, but you can send them some books or do a manuscript swap where you critique something for them.

Those are some of my thoughts on including real locations in novels in general and in This is How it Happened specifically. Do you have more tips about how to world-build in the contemporary setting and make different cities and countries come to life in a respectful and authentic way? Share them in the comments :)

About the Book
When Genevieve Grace wakes up from a coma, she can’t remember the car crash that injured her and killed her boyfriend Dallas, a YouTube star who had just released his first album. Genevieve knows she was there, and that there was another driver, a man named Brad Freeman, who everyone assumes is guilty. But as she slowly pieces together the night of the accident, Genevieve is hit with a sickening sense of dread—that maybe she had something to do with what happened.

As the internet rages against Brad Freeman, condemning him in a brutal trial by social media, Genevieve escapes to her father’s house, where she can hide from reporters and spend the summer volunteering in beautiful Zion National Park. But she quickly realizes that she can’t run away from the accident, or the terrible aftermath of it all.

Incredibly thought-provoking and beautifully told, Paula Stokes’s story will compel readers to examine the consequences of making mistakes in a world where the internet is always watching…and judging.

About the Author
Paula Stokes is the author of several novels, most recently This is How it Happened, Vicarious and Girl Against the Universe. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.


The Giveaway
Want to win a copy of THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED or any of my novels? Enter the Rafflecopter below. And look for tomorrow’s blog tour stop about the challenge of incorporating the internet and social media on That Book Gal.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Gabriella here! Because Paula was lovely enough to send me some photos from Zion, I want to share them with all of you! Maybe it'll get you more in the mood when reading. Who knows? All I know is that it is on my hiking bucket list. Enjoy!
Look at those views! I don't know about you, but I absolutely must go!
 I would have to say my favorite thing about hiking is the wildlife. How lucky are we that we get to witness some seriously majestic creatures in their element? 
I want to thank Paula for letting me part of this tour and for sharing these photos. I also want to thank her for allowing me to read This is How it Happened so early. Look out for my review soon, but heads up, I LOVED IT. I hope you'll check it out and enter the giveaway. I wish you luck and check out Paula's other books as well. Comment something happy.


  1. Oh, I love these pictures and the guest post! It reminds me a lot of the time I went to Las Vegas and the surrounding parks! Great post! :)

    1. Aw, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I've never been to Las Vegas, do you recommend it?

  2. Wow, this was such a great and informative post :) not being a writer, I never considered that so much goes in to simply setting it up! It's truly amazing.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Did you happen to see the rest of the tour posts?


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