Since folks are starting their summer travels and I’m not, I’m re-running this post from 2016 on armchair travel I[…]Read more
This New Year’s Eve will be especially exciting for me. First, because 2022 HAS to be better than 2021 was,[…]Read more
My husband and I awoke early last Monday morning to eight inches of new snow in northern Wisconsin. It happened silently, overnight—a thick white blanket, erasing details and muffling sounds. For a moment, I marveled at the sight. Then, because I’m a writer, I thought about how snowfall can conceal footprints and other evidence of a murder….Read more
My husband and I returned last Monday from a long-awaited trip to England. The most common question we were asked was, “Are you here for business or pleasure?” We answered truthfully. “Both.”
My main purpose was to scout out locations and inspirations for the next Kate Hamilton mystery, but there’s no harm in enjoying yourself at the same time, right
Before anyone starts checking local building codes and calling the inspector, it’s a fictional distillery, destined to exist only on the written page. But aren’t most of the places we love in books ‘only on the page?’Read more
Novelist Alice Hoffman said once, “Place matters to me. Invented place matters more.” Creating a world is one of the joys of writing fiction.Read more
I have lived in the same two states my entire life: New Jersey and New York. More specifically, I have lived in Manhattan or within ten miles of it for my entire childhood and adult life (save for four years of college in Princeton, NJ, which wasn’t really that much farther). I set many of my books in these two states because I’m most familiar with them. After a decade in the city, I feel like I have a handle on the culture of Manhattan and, even more so, its suburban environs where I live and grew up. As a writer and a person, I’m comfortable in my area. But that very comfort is the reason why I must travel. I need to see other places to gain perspective on the location that most often serves as the backdrop to my stories. When I don’t visit other places for awhile, I can become so immersed in my home that I can’t recognize anymore what’s unique or strange or beautiful or nutty about it. Writers need the ability to see a place as both an outsider and an insider. We need to have the accuracy that comes from immersion but also the distance to point out what makes a place special. Recently, I went to Chattanooga TN to see my mother-in-law compete in a half Iron Man. (Side note: if the world ever devolves into a Walking Dead situation, I’m on her team). The place has all these incredible rock formations and a mountain cave system complete with an beautiful underground waterfall that really should be the setting for a dark thriller–albeit not one that I would write since it would probably devolve into a Raft of The Medusa situation and I don’t do that kind of gore. Still… The city is also incredibly active. Everywhere, people are biking, rock climbing, running, kayaking, and just, generally, hanging outside. I don’t know if I’ll ever set a story in Chattanooga, but going there did help me see how sedentary life in my home state of New Jersey is, particularly when the weather gets colder. We drive to indoor places or stay in our houses. When we need to work out, we drive to the gym. Seeing it, reminded me of how any story that I set in New Jersey really needs to note the driving culture. If there’s a book set in NJ and someone is not running around in an SUV, then it’s not really set in NJ. It also reminded me of how active I was living in the New York City. I walked everywhere. Ten blocks. Twenty Blocks. Fifty blocks, in nice weather. I would walk from Battery Park to the Upper East Side on a beautiful day. Why take a cab? I’d walk five blocks in rainy weather to duck into the subway (impossible to catch a cab). If a story is in Manhattan and it involves someone driving anywhere save for outside of Manhattan, it’s not a story in Manhattan. *Unless that story is Taxi Driver. What is something that you learned about your favorite setting about being away for awhile? What place have you travelled to that had helped enrich your perspective.Read more
Warning: These photos of the places that inspire my fellow Miss Demeanors will cause longing and dreaming (and, we hope, a little fear about the darkness lurking beneath all that beauty). The only remedy is to open up a book. Tracee: First off, I start with Switzerland! Everything about it is special. Kidding aside, when I develop my story I think about places in Switzerland that are special – meaning there is an element of unique to that place. A castle on the shore of Lac Leman? An elite boarding school set in a chalet? The world’s leading watch show? The task is to share these with readers without too much description. What is the essence of the place? Perhaps the people who are there (their behavior, clothing, actions); the smell (fresh air, smell of cows, chocolate); the architecture (new concrete, historic stone). I find myself diving in and then trimming the description, and trimming. People need enough to understand the atmosphere but not build the building. Paula: I fell in love with Vermont many years ago, and so I set A Borrowing of Bones there simply because Iwanted to visit this wonderful place in my mind as often as I could. The research trips where I get to go there in body as well as mind and spirit are a bonus. I put so much pro-Vermont content in the book–food and drink and wildlife and more–that my editor finally said to me, “Does everything in Vermont have to be the best?” Photo Credit: William Alexander Michele: When I try to describe the lush natural beauty of St. John in the US Virgin Islands to people, I tell them if you picked up the state of Vermont in the summer and plopped it into the Caribbean, you’d have St. John. Culturally rich with history, music, art, and literature, the island is blessed with people who know how to live in contradiction. Inundated with tourists, yet juxtaposed in the kind of isolation unique to an island, the people of St. John are its essence. People who choose to live surrounded by water are by definition different. And after Irma and Maria blew through St. John with 286 mph winds, it is the people who are nurturing the island back after near devastation. The photo I am sharing is “my writing spot” under a tree at Hawksnest Beach. The tree no longer stands, but the water is still sparkling turquoise and warm. And I am #stillwriting. Cate: I tend to like contrasts in my settings: a claustrophobic cruise ship cabin surrounded by endless ocean, a crowded beach house beside a vast sea. I use water as a metaphor for escape in a lot of my work and the characters’ inability to enter it as a way of highlighting their trapped situations. There are a lot of moats in my stories. I also like the duality of water, we need it to live and too much of it can kill us. Susan: My Maggie Dove mysteries are set in a small village in the Hudson Valley, partly because I live in a small village in the Hudson Valley, but mainly because I think village life lends itself so perfectly to mystery writing. It’s difficult to be anonymous in a village. People know what you’re up to. Why is your Subaru parked in front of Mr. Andrew’s house? Are you paying a visit? Having an affair? Or killing him? People trust each other, but they’re also a little suspicious, especially of newcomers who’ve only lived here 30 years. I’m attaching a picture of our train station, which looks mysterious to me! Alexia: The Gethsemane Brown mysteries are set in a small village that only exists in my head and on the page. I don’t have an answer for “Why Ireland?” other than, “Because Ireland.” (Because it’s green and beautiful and historic and modern and mythical and mysterious and friendly and familiar and exotic all at the same time.) “Why a village?” is easier. Because crime is expected in inner cities and, to a lesser extent, economically depressed rural areas. But villages and small towns and suburbs are viewed as safe, Norman Rockwellian, havens. Nothing bad is ever supposed to happen there. People flee to these bubbles to escape crime. But beneath their sedate, non-threatening veneers, ugliness and dysfunction and intolerance and evil lurk, waiting to strike and rock everyone’s seemingly happy, safe little world. I (perversely) love the idea of giving people who think they have nothing to worry about something to worry about. I also like the idea of showing the suspicion and mistrust and intolerance that hide beneath the polite veneer of small towns/villages. A result of growing up reading Miss Marple mysteries I guess. I try to communicate the danger underlying the calm surface by painting my village as a beautiful, charming, picture-postcard kind of place, then dropping a murder or five in the midst of it. Robin: What isn’t special about San Francisco?
I love boats. They’re featured in the book out on submission right now and in a short story I’ve just submitted for my local SinC chapter’s anthology. Boats can be tranquil (the gentle roll of golden waves at sunset) or ominous (the setting sun cast shadows like spilled ink across the murky waters). They can be claustrophobic, like Cate said, or they can express freedom. Personally, I just think they’re a fun way to see the City from a unique perspective. It never gets old to me. I have a friend with a historic yacht and every time I go out I see or experience something new. This photo is from one of our trips just before the “dancing lights” came on at the Bay Bridge.
Snow in the Wasatch Mountains, court-side seats at a Jazz basketball game, a stroll around Temple Square, otherworldly rock formations at Arches, sweeping vistas in Canyonlands, bison and birds on Antelope Island, and the quiet beauty of Huntsville after a treacherous drive up rocky Ogden Canyon. I spent last week in Utah, a place I haven’t lived full time since I graduated from high school. After my son fractured his wrist snowboarding, my family made a quick decision to turn our ski vacation into a hiking vacation. We drove down to Moab. In a delightful coincidence, friends of ours from New York were there for a few days. Over a lunch of green papaya salad, beef noodles and curried chicken (yes, there’s a great Thai restaurant in Moab, Utah), our friends described the immense beauty of my home state. I was about five the first time I remember traveling from our house in the alpine mountains in the north ofthe state to the red rock in the south. My child self assumed that everything I saw was normal. It took my friend, who lives a few blocks away from us on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, to remind me that it was pretty fabulous to be able to drive 45 minutes to world-class skiing and then several hours to spectacular desert hiking. Sitting in a Thai restaurant in Moab, I saw my state through new eyes. When we made our way back through the desolate beauty of southeastern Utah to Salt Lake, I appreciated the astonishing Utah’s topography. I’ve lived a lot of places in my life: Scotland, France, Germany, Russia, Massachusetts and Philadelphia. There’s something wonderfully special wherever you are. Sometimes, though, we get used to it. We stop seeing what makes where we are special. We stop seeing through new eyes. I’m devoting this week’s posts to what makes setting—the people, places and things—compelling and unique. What would Nero Wolfe be without Manhattan and his orchids? Can you imagine Longmire any place other than Absaroka County, Wyoming? Could Jimmy Perez exist outside of the Shetland Islands? My question for you is: what makes your setting unique and how do you describe it to those who don’t know it first hand?Read more
This morning I woke up to this view. If it looks a little bit familiar, it may be because all of us who’ve read Pride and Prejudice have been nurtured by Austen’s descriptions of the beautiful landscape of the South Downs. Isn’t this glorious? If you go outside, and take a walk (which I did!) you come to a forest, or a weald. Strolling through, I could just imagine Mr. Darcy walking toward me. A few miles away, you come to a rambling old manor house. Near the manor house is a church similar to the one Jane Austen attended. Now I want to go back and read her books!Read more