DC By The Book: A mash-up of literature, history, geography and technology

Capitol at nightMore often than not, when you’re reading about Washington DC, you’re likely to find words like dysfunctional, partisan, nuclear option, filibuster, and gridlock. But politics aside, there’s still plenty to love about this town, especially if you’re a fiction writer or a reader. Recognizing that DC is the go-to setting for tons of books from super serious to high octane entertainment, two DC librarians recently started a clever crowdsourcing project to encourage the exploration of the town’s social and geographic history by populating a database of excerpts from novels with DC scenes and mapping them:


Capitol Medallion

I love to read books set in my town so I couldn’t wait to explore the DC By The Book website. Once there, I found out that you can join the project as a contributor by recommending  novels with DC settings. Or you can help the librarians map the books that are already listed on the site by finding the excerpts set in the Washington DC neighborhoods, parks, government buildings, museums and so on. There’s also a cool map that shows you the locations where scenes from the books take place.

I couldn’t resist adding a couple of books with scenes set in some of my favorite places in DC to the website.

Allison Leotta opens DISCRETION Discretion-paperback-cvr-thumbwith a young woman, Caroline, dressed like a K Street lobbyist in an “ivory St. John suit, Manolo heels,” entering the Capitol through the Senate-side for a private, evening appointment with a congressman. Except Caroline is not a lobbyist; she is an expensive prostitute. A staffer walks her through the Capitol to his boss’s personal office. On the way, they pass through the magnificent Brumidi Corridors—“the most beautiful corridor Caroline had ever seen.”

Brumidi Corridors 2

Caroline pauses in the Rotunda—“the ceremonial heart of the Capitol”— to admire Brumidi’s masterpiece on the domed ceiling:  “The Apotheosis of Washington, a fresco painting of the first President depicted as a god among angels.”


The staffer ushers Caroline past a sign—“No Visitors Beyond This Point”—and up the stairs to the congressman’s personal office in the Capitol building.

No Visitors

Inside the congressman’s office, Caroline admires the view of the National Mall from the balcony.


You’ll have to read the book if you want to find out how Caroline’s night ends. Or visit DC By The Book to see if the excerpt has been posted and mapped.

FrontCover-Final-300dpiA lot of the action in CONCRETE EVIDENCE, by our own Rachel Grant, takes place in DC. One of my favorite scenes is a romantic moonlit walk through the presidential memorials along the Tidal Basin:

Holding hands, Erica and Lee “walked in the darkness around the basin. She managed to drop his hand before they reached the Jefferson Memorial, and he could feel her build a barrier between them until it was as solid as the marble columns surrounding the statue of the nation’s third president.”

Carol M. Highsmith

Carol M. Highsmith

Be sure to check out this mash-up of literature, history, geography and technology: DC by the Book

But before you go, dear Reader, share your favorite setting for fiction. And K&T authors, tell us about your favorite places to set the novels you write.

Comment for a chance to win


The lucky winner will be announced on Thursday!

Happy exploring!

About Krista Hall

Author of RWA Golden Heart ® Award for BROKEN PLACES

Posted on July 23, 2013, in DC By The Book, Krista Hall, Rachel Grant and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. That’s a legend site (and idea)– I love having a sense of book settings. And even having been to DC several times, seeing a favourite book mapped out makes it so much better.

    On the historical front, my favourite setting is definitely the Scottish Highlands. I’ll admit to having travelled to Scotland to check out those settings solely inspired by historicals :). The Highlands still top my list of most beautiful places, and I travel a lot!

    For RS, it’s all about the exotic settings– being a lifelong nomad/mutt of the world, I love anything international. Bug-infested South American jungle? I’m there (fictionally– bugs are not my thing, haha). Tiny island in the South Pacific? Chances are I’ve been scuba diving there. Glittering metropolis in Europe or Asia? I’ve probably holidayed or lived there. I’m easy when it comes to book settings.

    • Wow, Cris! I know who I’m consulting before planning any international travel! How wonderful to have seen so many places. Where are you headed next?

      You make a great point about how genre influences which setting we prefer.

      Thanks for stopping by, Cris 🙂

  2. My favorite setting is anywhere. As long as there is a good plot it doesn’t matter whee the story takes place.

  3. In my teens it was the Moors–kind of gothic/isolated/chilly setting where romance still blossomed.

    Lately I’ve chosen a lot of Jack Reacher novels- (by the incomparable Lee Child) and Reacher hitchhikes around America and gets into all sorts of trouble. His descriptions of tiny, Podunk towns and large cities is not only fabulously detailed but inevitable entwined as a integral part of each story. (I think we should invite him to be our guest…)

    Thanks for the post today, and all the posts while we were gone, Krista! Way to cover the fort!

  4. Oh, yes, I loved those barren, brooding settings as a teen–Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights. I have to confess I haven’t read a Jack Reacher novel yet, but after your description I’m moving Lee Child to the top of my TBR list. It’s a crowd place at the top of my list 😉

    Wish I could take credit for tending the fort, but I have to pass on all the kudos to Rachel and Diana 🙂

  5. I love writing about exotic places, but DC always figures prominently. Lovely post, Krista!

  6. What a neat idea, Krista! I love reading a book where I can really picture the setting because I’ve been there. I find it hard to write about places I haven’t lived or spent a lot of time. I’m always afraid I’ll make some really obvious mistake about the culture or language.

    Mostly I stick to California and northern Virginia/DC, though I do have a book where the characters go to Lucerne. Loved that city. I figure as long as they’re from out of town like I was I’ll do okay. 😉

    • Aren’t those DC librarians clever! The DC by the Book website is fun to explore. I’ve submitted a few books for their list and plan to revisit soon to see if I can help map some of the books already up on the site.

  7. Congratulations again on your golden heart win Krista! I can’t wait to read your first book! I love this post, and love the idea of librarians helping people explore their town through fiction. Amazing project.

    I’m a southwest girl and so far have set my stories in small mountain towns or mountain cities. I love bringing my love for those settings into the stories. Of course I do still have that little book under my bed that I set in the Indonesian archipelago! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Carey! I loved learning more about Flagstaff when I read FIRST DO NO EVIL. And I have to confess I’m intrigued by your Indonesian archipelago story. Are you sure it needs to stay under your bed?

  8. Wow, what perfect timing since I’m moving to the DC area from Berlin, Germany in less than a week!

    I love to write (and of course read) books set in places I’ve visited or lived in so I’ll definitely be checking out DC by the Book. I’m so glad you posted about it!

    The YA I’m currently writing is set in Zurich, a gorgeous city I was lucky enough to live in briefly two years ago and then visit again this past week (for, um, “fact-checking,” we’ll call it). The glorious year I’ve spent here in Berlin will definitely find its way into a book as well, but that one will have to wait until after we get settled in DC. 🙂

    Huge congrats on your Golden Heart, Krista, and thanks for giving me a site to look forward to exploring along with our new city!

    • Welcome to DC Angele! Let me know if you need help finding a local writer’s group when you get here.

    • Thanks, Angele! A YA in Zurich sounds fascinating. That city seems like such a hub for people traveling around Europe. Does your story have a suspense element?

      Hope you have fun exploring DC by the Book! And good luck with your move.

  9. Congratulations on your GH win, Krista!
    I love any story that takes place someplace other than where I live at the moment. It’s hard to suspend disbelief when I know a place really well, but put me in someplace else and I’ll buy any story. I especially love gothic settings!

    • Thanks, Sharon! Right back at ya on your Daphne win. So awesome!

      You make a great point about suspension of disbelief. It can be hard to do when you know a place better than the author.

  10. One of my favorite settings to read about is New Orleans. It’s fun to read about the history and culture of its inhabitants.

    • Good one, Jane! New Orleans is a character in and of itself! Personally, I think the whole state is filled with great settings for fiction. Thanks for joining the conversation!

  11. Krista, congrats again on your GH win! Still grinning for you in the Pacific Northwest!

    Thanks so much for including Concrete Evidence in today’s post! I loved writing about DC, especially because the story was inspired by the job I had when I lived there, and Erica’s apartment was my apartment. In the full-sized version of the photo of the city we used for the cover you can actually see my/Erica’s apartment. I need to post that on my website soon. 🙂

    I love the idea behind DC by the Book. A few years ago my husband and I took our kids to DC. Prior to our trip, I took my bookworm-daughter to our local library and asked if she could recommend any middle grade fiction set in our nation’s capital, so my daughter would connect with the sights of the city in a way that resonated with her. The librarian was only able to come up with one title (and I don’t remember what is was). If we go again, I’ll definitely check out DC by the Book first.

  12. My favorite settings are around the neighborhoods of Cleveland, OH, which Les Roberts uses in his series of 17 mystery fiction novels. I like being able to anchor a spot and imagine his Slovenian main character, Milan Jacovich, passing through as he wanders about hired as a Private Investigator.
    Congratulations of your achieving the Golden Heart. You whole-heartedly deserve.it.

  13. Thanks so much, Sunnymay! Seeing Cleveland through the eyes of a Slovenian sounds like a super interesting premise for a mystery. I’m so glad you told us about the series. I’m going to have to check them out. Have any of you K&T ladies read Les Roberts?

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