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Monday, April 12, 2021

Home, Sweet Setting

By Shari Randall

When she beta-read my last book, a friend told me that I seemed more interested in describing houses and settings than I was in describing people. At first I was taken aback, but after reflection, I saw her point. I adore all those tv shows about houses – buying houses, selling houses, decorating houses, rehabbing houses, even haunted houses. With my husband’s military career, we’ve bought and sold plenty of houses. I love a good house tour or decorator showcase. Even dollhouses fascinate me. When I was a little girl, my favorite toy was my Barbie Dream House. Although my kids flew the nest years ago, I still have custody of their dollhouses and, sorry kids, I don’t think you’re getting them back.

Why do houses intrigue me so? Perhaps a psychologist could explain. Maybe the dollhouse my dad built for me and my sisters, a replica of our own red Cape Cod home, set me on this path. Perhaps homes reflect the people in them and the writer in me has stumbled upon a different form of characterization?

With COVID restrictions, I haven’t been able to travel to scout potential story locations and buildings as much as I’d like. Lucky for me that my corner of Connecticut is chock full of intriguing places, places that fire my imagination and will make great settings for my books.

One of my characters likes to “collect castles” and so do I. Gillette’s Castle, set on a hill called the Seventh Sister overlooking the Connecticut River, is one of my favorite places to visit. Designed by William Gillette, an actor famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, the castle’s d├ęcor, construction, and grounds reflect the eccentric brilliance of its owner. This place inspired another pocket-sized castle in an upcoming, as-yet-untitled book.
This yellow charmer is slated to be the childhood home of the main character in my upcoming book, THE ROCKY ROAD TO RUIN.
This mini-castle is tucked into a neighborhood a block from the ocean. Not your typical beach house, is it? I can only imagine the character who built it. I feel a story coming on!

Writers: People or places – which do you find easier to describe?

Shari Randall is the Agatha Award-winning author of the Lobster Shack Mysteries.


Susan said...

Houses provide an intriguing backdrop for your characters. I’ve used the 1890s Victorian I lived in several times. Backdrop, tone, stage. I looked up the castle on Ct in your photo. Amazing.

Kait said...

Looking forward to The Rocky Road to Ruin! Places, for sure. Perhaps it does go back to all those HGTV shows I’m addicted to. Is there anything better than Househunters? I think not.

By the way, I just put a road trip to visit the homes in your pix on my post COVID bucket list!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I use my childhood home and my parents' retirement cottage in my books and stories. I love creating homes for characters...a sleek contemporary, fifties brick ranch, twenties colonial, decrepit Victorian with sagging porches, nineteen century Ohio farmhouses.

KM Rockwood said...

I have to admit I watch shows like Midsomer Murders as much to gawk at the villages and their houses as for the stories.

Shari Randall said...

Susan, you've said it better than I did - backdrop, tone, stage. I've known many people who adore Victorian homes, history, antiques, and they are very different from my friends who prefer midcentury or Colonial styles.

Shari Randall said...

Kait, Househunters is awesome! I'll be happy to take you to the castle - I can't wait until it reopens. Such a fun place, especially for mystery lovers. A local man dresses up as Sherlock Holmes and does presentations there!

Shari Randall said...

Margaret, I remember your short story about the real estate agent and the midcentury house! I can see a different character for each of those settings.

Shari Randall said...

KM, that's why I watch all the British TV shows. Those cottages and stately homes are calling me, too!

Jim Jackson said...

I notice I tend to focus more on what's in the living space than the choice of architecture, but both do terrific work by indirectly describing character.

Molly MacRae said...

50/50 for me. I like describing characters and places equally. Maybe because, to me, places are characters, too.

Kelly Brakenhoff said...

We lived near Gillette Castle growing up and I loved visiting there! It looks a bit more crumbly than my memories... Thanks for sharing your pictures.

Tammy Euliano said...

Neither! I'm not skilled at writing description and admire those of you who do it so well. I try to put in just one or two tidbits that are relevant and show characterization, but even that is challenging at times. I just started finding photos like you have to then describe, but I just can't seem to find the words - time to do more reading!!

Shari Randall said...

Kelly, it's such a wonderful area! Crumbly is the right word - I love that it so medieval and rugged and looks so much older than it's bit more than 100 years.

Shari Randall said...

Tammy, it's always time for more reading! ;)

Jennifer J. Chow said...

Great house photos, Shari! My critique group is always asking me to expand on the architecture of the buildings in my books. I'm not that great at describing people either, though--oops.