Monday, January 25, 2010

Settings for Mysteries

Peg: How do you feel about setting in mystery novels? Certain settings are an automatic draw for me—almost any book set in England starts my mouth watering. Or a European city. Or certain American cities or regions—Cape Cod, NYC, Chicago, New Orleans. But some places leave me cold for some reason. Arizona. Vast portions of the Midwest. Florida. That’s not to say I wouldn’t ever read a book set in those areas…it would have to have a plot that really resonated though. How about you? Do you have favorite settings? Do they guide what you pick up to read?
Marilyn: For me, the setting of a mystery is like a principal character. Setting affects the mood and even the voice of a novel. Like you, I love English mysteries, but more recently I've been reading mysteries that take place all over the United States and in Europe. I'm not drawn to books set in the great outdoors. The mysteries I've been writing all take place on Long Island, as that's the area I know best.
Peg: My mysteries have been set in NYC where I lived for ten years and worked for another twenty. Another one was set on Cape Cod where I spent many summers, and then several were set in New Jersey where I grew up. When I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan (at first I didn't even know what state it was in!), I thought I could never write about this place. There's no atmosphere. Boy, was I wrong. The longer I live here (eight years now), the more I understand about the various factors that make up Grand Rapids. No, the place isn't beautiful or even particularly attractive. But there are lots of interesting sectors that make up the city--the staunch Christian Dutch, the young people who flirt with the various gangs that are active here, the Mexicans and Vietnamese who are slowly moving in bringing new customs and different languages. Very interesting! I'm incubating a story that I hope to write someday.
Marilyn: I'm getting the impression we both set our novels in locales we know well, settings that have an emotional component for us. While my characters often go into Manhattan, they live in towns or villages that I've created.
Peg: I’ve done that, too, Marilyn. My latest work-in-progress—a cozy—features a Connecticut town that I’ve created. I had great fun inventing the perfect village for my story and populating it with buildings, restaurants, shops, etc.—not to mention people! I have a fictional New Jersey town in another manuscript—but one that is based on the town I was living in. I just changed the street names to protect the innocent!

Marilyn: Ah, the perfect village! Writing fiction gives us the opportunity to create settings and characters as they exist in our minds. I love reading and writing cozies because the setting is a small, contained world in which the characters -- who love or hate one another -- interrelate and occasionally commit murder.

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