If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

WWK's May interviews will be: 5/2--indie author Bobbi Holmes, 5/9--TG Wolff (aka--Anita Devito), 5/16--Chocolate Bonbon author Dorothy St. James, 5/23--Lida Sideris, 5/30--Food Lovers' Village (and multiple Agatha winner) Leslie Budwitz. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our May Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 5/5--John Carenen, 5/12--Judy Penz Sheluk, 5/19--Margaret S. Hamilton, 5/26--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Tina Whittle's sixth Tai Randolph mystery, Necessary Ends, debuts on April 3, 2018. Look for it here. Tina was nominated for a Derringer Award for her novelette, "Trouble Like A Freight Train Coming." We're all crossing our fingers for her.

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), will be available on April 3, 2018. Purchase links are here.

Dark Sister, a poetry collection, is Linda Rodriguez's tenth published book. It's available for sale here:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with the authors in this anthology on 4/14! Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in August, 2018.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos.


Thursday, November 8, 2012


A sense of place is important to a story and if you create one a reader can see, hear and experience, they will believe in what happens in your story.
In yesterday’s interview with Amanda Flower, she discussed why she chose the setting she did, and because she’s familiar with the places where she sets her books, they are believable to the reader. But although it helps to be familiar with the setting, it is not necessary if you use details of the surroundings, time of day and year and other aspects that set the mood.
Recently I finished The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. The book begins with the following open scene.
“The small boys came early to the hanging. It was still dark when the first three or four of them sidled out of the hovels, quiet as cats in their felt boots. A thin layer of fresh snow covered the little town like a new coat of paint, and theirs were the first footsteps to blemish its perfect surface. They picked their way through the huddled wooden huts and along the streets of frozen mud to the silent marketplace, where the gallows stood waiting.”
The book starts with a dark cold morning. The homes are hovels or huts so already the mood is set for a dark novel with time of day and year and place. It is locked in with the last five words.
Although Follett didn’t use a limited sense of place, much of it took place in a monastery, but even in that monastic setting, one never quite felt safe. A monk, Phillip, is a major character and following is his first view of the monastery Kingsbridge, which became almost like a character in its own right.
“Kingsbridge overawed him at first. The walled monastery was bigger than many villages; the cathedral church was a vast, gloomy cavern; the prior’s house a small palace . . . the church was visibly in need of major repairs.”
Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series takes place in the same time period with King Steven and the Empress Maud waging war to be the ruler, but although she doesn't ignore the brutality and bloodshed, she doesn't go into graphic details. In the first chapter of One Corpse too Many, this early scene shows the monastery as a more tranquil place.

"Come, see what manner of labour you're taking on yourself," said Cadfael cheerfully, and downed his spade to take the new boy around the enclosed garden, showing him the vegetables, the herbs that made the noon air heady and drunken with fragrance, the fish ponds and the beds of pease that ran down almost to the brook. The early field was already dried and flaxen in the sun, all the harvest gathered, even the later-sown hung heavy and full of pod."

Notice how not only the cheerful Brother Cadfael, but the time of day and year creates a lighter mood. Although by the title the reader knows it's going to be a mystery with dead bodies, one still doesn't feel the underlying horror one felt from the first scene in the Follett book.
And now a scene from a monastery in northern Quebec in Louise Penny’s latest book A Beautiful Mystery. It’s autumn and so far north that it’s earlier here. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir are being taken by boat to an isolated monastery to investigate a death. It’s a closed isolated monastery that never opens its doors to visitors. The following passage sets the mood.
“At the end of the bay a fortress stood, like a rock cut. Its steeple rose as though propelled from the earth, the result of some seismic event. Off to the sides were wings. Or arms. Open in benediction, or invitation. A harbor. A safe embrace in the wilderness. A deception. This was the near mythical.”
This is a strong sense of place with a mystery attached. One feels this will be nothing like the Benedictine Abby of Saint Peter and Paul that was Brother Cadfael's home. Instead one gets a sense there's something sinister behind those walls. 
In all three settings I’ve described, the atmosphere and mood work to get the reader interested. The first a sense of horror, the second a sense of a quiet tranquil place, and the third a sense of apprehension.

A well woven plot and believable characters are important to any story, but so is the sense of place against which the plot and characters are woven and sometimes writers seem to overlook the importance of sense of place.

In what book or books did you find the sense of place quite strong?
If you’re a writer, what setting do you use for your book or books?



E. B. Davis said...

Two books gave me a strong sense of setting: Cannery Row and Snow Falling on Cedar. Of course both books were written by masters of our craft. Those books were unforgettable.

A few weeks ago, I posted pictures of the setting where my next WIP's first scene begins. I took pictures because, while I have been there before, it wasn't a place I've often frequented. Pictures will help me write by bringing the setting back to me, mentally and sensually, while I write, unlike the Outer Banks, which in all my senses, I've memorized.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

I loved Pillars of the Earth and also Snow Falling on Cedars that EB mentioned.

Your first picture reminded me of the Cloisters in New York City. When I lived in NJ I used to go there periodically to let the ambiance soak into my soul.

The first of my Seamus McCree series, Bad Policy bounces around and so does not have a geographical character. The second, Cabin Fever is set during the winter in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and in that one geography and weather do play a major role in the story.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

E.B. I read Cannery Road, too, but it's been at least 30 or more years so I don't remember as much about that as I do Snow Falling on Cedars which I read a year or so ago. That was a powerful book and is still very vivid in my mind. I have Cannery Road on my bookshelf so maybe I'll pick it up and read it again.

My sister was bugging me the other day about getting started on my mystery which will take place on the Appalachian Trail in The Shenandoah National Park where we did much of our backpacking. She was afraid I'd forget the sights, sounds and feelings, but it still remains strong in my memory and the pictures I took, like you did, help with those memories.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, the pictures I posted came from a free art place so maybe it is the one you are familiar with. When I was in England several times, I remember going through an old abandoned monastery.

Since you live where your second book is placed - at least in the summer, but I assume you have spent some winters there, too - you have a real feel for the place so I'm sure it rings true. I got a strong sense of place in your short story "Accidents Happen" in the Guppy Anthology FISH TALES.

The Pillars of the Earth was a powerful book. I'm almost through with Louise Penny's A BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY, and I think she probably read that book because there are shadows of it although it's uniquely her own. I'm also reading a book for one of my book clubs by John Shors, BENEATH A MARBLE SKY which takes place in India in the past. Although it's a different place and different characters, so much of it deals with political intrigue in a royal setting and a young girl - think Aliena in TPOTH and a nasty conniving bother - think Alfred and William, both - and I think TPOTH had a major influence on his book, too. Not that that's bad, reading good books helps our writing, I believe.

E. B. Davis said...

I read Cabin Fever, Jim, and I still have images of your setting in my head. Now, whether or not my images match yours, I don't know.

James Montgomery Jackson said...


"Accidents Happen" takes place in the same neck of the woods as Cabin Fever, and has the same protagonist.


The reader always wins.

But it does mean that if you visit a place depicted in a book or story or see a movie based on the piece, sometimes your first reaction is "that's not right!"

(Which reminds of the kerfuffle around Tom Cruise playing 6'4" Jack Reacher on the screen.)

~ Jim

maia chance said...

Thanks for providing the three comparisons.

I read 19th c. American lit for graduate school, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's New England world he created is incredibly palpable to me: a dark mysterious, difficult place. I think this is most evident in his short stories, such as "Ethan Brand," where you get a sense of the "near mythical" in the shadowy mountains.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, I'll have to put your book on my to be ordered list. In fact, I think it's already there.

Maia, I also read 19th century American lit in graduate school. From Nataniel Hawthorne's works, I branched out into other writers like Thoreau, Emerson and Louisa May Alcott as well as Bronson Alcott. The few times I've been to Concord and other areas around there, I've been thrilled to walk where they walked.

Warren Bull said...

Nancy Pickard presents a vivid sense of place in alll of her book whether even though the setting vary from New York city, rural Kansas or Florida.

Gloria Alden said...

She sure does, Warren. I love her books. You did a good job with your book HEARTLAND, too. I could have listed a lot of writers who've done well with sense of place, but I thought it best to keep to one common denominator - mysteries set in monasteries.