Blog Tour: Trust Trade (Gem City Grit #1) by Ki Brightly

Ki Brightly is here for the first time talking about worldbuilding and Pennsylvania!

Big Unicorn welcome!

Hello readers! I would like to thank Boy Meets Boy Reviews for having my post here today.

My newest book, Trust Trade, is set to release January 27th. Trust Trade was spawned of my deep and abiding love of Whodunits and crime novels. I had a wonderful time creating a fictional, seedy underbelly of the city I live in. When you have a mind that naturally settles into the gutter anyway (like mine does) then it isn’t too difficult to imagine the awful things that could be happening in perfectly normal houses as you pass by them…for some reason it is usually bad things that I imagine as a writer. Interesting stories, unfortunately, don’t commonly center around happy people frolicking in butterfly filled gardens with their pet pygmy pigs. (But they could! I’m not ruling out a perfectly cute story someday that does just that!)

The thing about making up “bad” things that go on in a place—when you write about a real city—is that they can’t seem too much like the real life bad things that go on there, or some local people might get offended, and they can’t seem like they couldn’t actually happen, or they won’t fly for the story. I can’t adequately describe what it is like to my story sensibilities when I read something someone writes that my mind red flags as not possible. It’s almost like an out of body experience. I’m willing to suspend disbelief when I’m reading, but there are just some things that cross the line. It makes my teeth clench.  But there is a difference between impossible and improbable, and I tried to make sure that Trust Trade toed that line as well as I could. When I’m writing something that seems unlikely, I try my damndest to make it feel like it could happen on a street corner near you at noon tomorrow.

So, in this way, creating an unsavory setting for parts of the story was a real struggle. I had to make bad things feel real.


It pings the psyche to write things like that, but I did it.

When I’m playing with a place that already exists, I try to turn the natural setting into an aide in the story. In its own way the setting moves the story forward, or it should. I decided to label my universe for Trust Trade, Gem City Grit. Erie, Pennsylvania, is known as the Gem City (amongst other things) because, according to Wikipedia when I checked, “it sits on the sparkling lake”. The lake plays into the mood of this book. Many of the extremely rich neighborhoods in Erie—along with some of the poorest ones—overlook the lake. It is a strange dichotomy in this area. In one of the first scenes that takes place in Erie, Jeb is lying in bed, looking out of floor to ceiling windows onto the lake, which is vast enough that it seems endless like the ocean. The glittering, silvery lake provides both a beautiful, natural scenery element and a listless, melancholy feel to the scene that I don’t think it would have otherwise.

Much of the story takes place on a college campus, which, anyone from Erie will be able to easily identify, but I chose not to directly for various reasons. The campus I used is set on beautiful, rolling green hills surrounded by forest. Throughout the entire story I try to use a combination of existing places and my imagination for the scenery. I like my books to be grounded, as much as possible, in reality. Wintergreen Gorge is a place you can actually go hiking if you ever visit Erie, and you could easily find the spot where Freddy and Jeb sit overlooking a waterfall on their first outing together. If you found a local who enjoys hiking they’ve probably been there at least once.  

There are a few places in Trust Trade that are a combination of my imagination and reality. The Chinese restaurant where Jeb and Freddy have their first “sort of” date is one. The location is real, but the interior I used mimics a restaurant that was gloriously tacky and went out of business for giving one too many people food poisoning. (Disgruntled aside: We all knew it was a risk and went anyway. The food was so freakin’ tasty. Saying you ate at that now defunct restaurant was almost a globally acceptable reason to call off work, or at least no one would question it too closely. The gamble was well worth it. It was kind of a rush to go, like playing Russian Roulette. I’m sad it closed.)

A few places exist only in my imagination. Eight Ball, the restaurant where Freddy and Jeb went on their first “official” date, was one. I had a great time putting together what I would like to see in a restaurant/pub. Burgers, fried foods, and easy to clean shiny surfaces. It makes my inner child squee with joy. I like the retro 1950’s feel of a lot of buzzing neon, so left my own devices (which I was) a lot of the places I construct will get that sort of small town vibe. I try to stay away from going completely overboard into retroland, so I added “city” elements where I could.

I never realized when I started writing I would become so well acquainted with building construction and interior decorating as I have. I’ve started picking up some of the less expensive quarterly decorating magazines to flip through so I can get ideas.

Setting is so important to the story.

This leads me to the safe house. Since so much of the story takes place there, it had to be something special and I wanted it to fit with not only the reality of the story—the safe house had to be something that seemed likely within the budget of a local police department—but it also had to take into account the mood of the story.

So, the safe house wasn’t that nice, but it used to be. It used to be something sumptuous, but it has fallen on hard times…and wouldn’t take much to fix up into a nice family home. It’s isolated, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by high pine trees, but there’s a long lonely road that leads out to the rest of the world. That building had to feel sad, but full of potential.

Honestly, I spend a lot of time thinking about the setting of each story, but I don’t really want the readers to notice it. That might sound odd, in a way, but I want the buildings and places the characters spin out their tales on to seem so intrinsic and seamless to what’s happening in the story that it just seems like they always existed, just as they do, and that they should. It wouldn’t do for the setting to take over and jump out at people, but it’s the bones of the any story, along with the theme, and the characters are the heart and the soul. Without the setting, the rest of the story would be words on paper.

It’s the world building that breathes life into a story, along with character development.

I’m not sure how interested anyone is to stroll through this side of a book, becoming a story archaeologist, but if you took the time to read this blog post you now know more about Trust Trade than anyone else.  

I hope you all enjoy Freddy and Jeb’s story! I tried to give them a stage worthy of the tale they had to tell. Happy reading!

Ki Brighty


Life hasn’t been good to Jeb Birchman. When he attempted to escape his abusive, zealot father, he found himself on the streets, making a living the only way he knew how, the victim of more violent men—one of whom orchestrates a series of vicious attacks that leave Jeb deaf. Now that he’s aged beyond his latest client’s interest, Jeb knows he needs to escape his risky lifestyle before it’s too late. Seeing one last chance for himself, he earns a GED and enrolls in college.

Freddy Williams enjoys a life that couldn’t be more different from what Jeb has survived. He loves sports, being a personal trainer, and hanging out with friends. The son of deaf parents, Freddy is an outspoken advocate of the Deaf community and works as an interpreter at his college. When he meets Jeb at the bookstore, he’s struck by how attractive he is, and as they get to know each other, he finds Jeb’s good heart just as appealing. By the time he learns of Jeb’s past, it’s only a few steps behind them, and Freddy must make a choice between school and his familiar routine and protecting the man he’s falling in love with.

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Ki grew up in small town nowhere pretending that meteor showers were aliens invading, turning wildflowers into magic potions, and reading more than was probably healthy. Ki had one amazing best friend, one endlessly out of grasp "true love", and a personal vendetta against normalcy.

Now, as an adult, living in Erie, Pennsylvania, Ki enjoys the sandy beaches, frigid winters, and a wonderful fancy water addiction. Seriously, fancy waters...who knew there were so many different kinds? It's just water...and yet...

Ki shares this life with a Muse, a Sugar Plum, and two wonderful children.

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