Sunday, September 17, 2017

SPECIAL FEATURE: The Mystery of a Setting

Joyce T. Strand, Author
I started to write mystery novels in 2009. Those of you who follow me know that I selected the genre based on my love of reading all types of mysteries or suspense thrillers—noir, spy, cozy, hard-boiled, contemporary, historical. 

In a previous post, I divulged that for me the first step in writing a mystery is to develop the character/sleuth who would drive the plot.

The second most important element is selecting a setting—a place and time in which to place my sleuth. All eight of my published mysteries have been set in California—San Francisco in 1912, Ventura in 1939 and contemporary Silicon Valley and Sonoma wine country.

My ninth mystery, coming in November 2017, is set in a small rural town in Southern California near San Diego—an area that offers a wide spectrum of events and interesting locales.

The following article explains how and why I selected this location—aside from the fact that I live there!

The Mystery of a Setting

Setting can drive a mystery, its sleuth, or its villains—and even become a character itself.

The elements of a mystery plot—sleuth/protagonist, setting, villain/antagonist, red herrings, crime—blend together to create the puzzle for readers to put together piece by piece, chapter by chapter. They all contribute.

I always begin my mysteries with my sleuth. However, I have also discovered that the time period and location can help drive the plot and develop my characters.

When I turned to some of my favorite mysteries, I quickly learned that many successful authors have done the same—they use setting to develop their characters and the mystery.

An outstanding example is Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The famous detective Hercule Poirot has to solve a murder and learn about the characters—from a moving train. Another example is Dick Francis who set his thrillers around horse racing in the UK. His amateur sleuths—often jockeys—must solve horse-related crimes.

Even procedurals are often heavily influenced by their surroundings – Los Angeles is prevalent in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch mysteries. And we usually envisage Mickey Spillane in L.A. Or think about Sherlock Holmes in foggy London. And it’s likely Quebec comes to mind when we envision Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache solving murders. And how does Nero Wolfe manage to solve all those crimes never leaving his office?

Therefore when it came time to start a new trilogy with a new amateur sleuth I considered the setting carefully.

My new sleuth, Emily Lazzaro, is the daughter of the Sonoma winemaker in my earlier Brynn Bancroft mysteries. She grew up in the wine region of Sonoma learning about winemaking. It turns out that she wants to work in the hospitality industry, in which she has earned a degree. So when her fiancé invites her to move to an up-and-coming wine region near San Diego, she readily agreed believing that she could be in charge of managing a winery.

By placing her in Ramona, Calif., she comes to appreciate the potential of a rural equestrian community with a wine industry, a hefty artist community, growing restaurants, picturesque rocky views, fresh produce—all located within forty minutes of downtown San Diego. Given the blending of these features, she decides she wants to live there. However, when she breaks up with her fiancé she realizes she needs to make some changes to create a living enabling her to stay.

This heightens her hospitality instincts as she searches for a better paying job, and also enables the introduction of red herrings and plot complications specific to the region that draw her deeper into the mystery.

She becomes involved in a murder, a love interest who doesn’t trust her, a new enterprise, and other Dangerous Changes in her life so that she can live in what has become to her a special town.
suspicious “friends”—all in order to make the

As the plot evolves so does Emily—driven by her own background and characteristics—but also by the setting.  Events and happenings in her chosen community mold the changes she needs to make.

Bottom line: by using an intriguing locale and time period readers become engaged more with the characters and are drawn deeper into solving the mystery.

Friday, September 1, 2017

CHECK IT OUT: New Release OUTSIDE by Natasha S. Brown


On the western highlands of Scotland, a springtime storm pummels the coast while Kristie's brother is out fishing. When he fails to return home, Kristie turns away from her list of chores to search the loch in an effort to ease her pregnant sister-in-law's fears. Instead of finding Domnall, she discovers a naked and battered man washed up on shore and worries he could be a thieving reiver or worse--an Englishman.

When the handsome outsider wakes, he is unable to remember who he is or how he came to be there. Although the feisty and melancholy Kristie isn't keen on him remaining, her young neighbor, Jock, takes to the playful stranger and names Creag after the rocky crags where the loch meets the sea. Not long after the lad speaks of selkies, magical seals who shed their skins to live as humans, Creag dreams he is swimming deep beneath the waves.

Kristie is desperate to keep the farm running for her missing brother while Creag's sleep is filled with strange visions--glimpses that may reveal secrets to his past, but he may soon wish they were only a dream.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

Shapeshifter Sagas {Western European Myths from the Middle Ages}

Widow {13thc. | Black Shuck | England}
Scars {10thc. | Fenrir | Iceland}
Tides {10thc. | Kraken | Great Britain/Ireland}
Outsider {14thc. | Selkie | Scotland}

Available to buy from...." rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Paperback

Also Available

Widow (Time of Myths: Shapeshifter Sagas Book 1)
Lady Rayne has few options as a young widow. Either her father will marry her off to a wealthy nobleman--no matter how old and disagreeable he may be, or she will become a nun like her aunt at Grimsford Abbey. The choice is easy: her interest in writing is not supported in the dark halls of her father's home. Rayne eagerly anticipates becoming a scribe and learning the art of illumination and book making. But first she must travel along the treacherous roads of East Anglia.

Far from the confines of Norwich, Rayne hears fables of an enormous ghostly hound called the Black Shuck. She tries to ignore them until she finds herself staring into its expressive brown eyes. With every heartbeat, her chances of reaching Grimsford Abbey disappear. If only she could live to tell the tale.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

Available to buy from....

Scars (Time of Myths: Shapeshifter Sagas Book 2)

Along the breathtaking and unforgiving coast of Snæland, Ásta’s ancestral farm is plagued with bad luck. The kinless maiden’s turf walls continue to be found damaged, and there aren’t enough farmhands to maintain the property. Claw marks in the dirt revive old memories of the wolf attack that left her scarred, and she begins to fear the whispers are true—that Fenrir, son of Loki and king of the wolves, has come to claim her and her land.

Torin often leaves his uncle’s farm in the southern hills to track and ensnare valuable gyrfalcons. His secret ability to turn into the birds he trains means his falconry skills are unparalleled, earning him precious silver and gold. If the ghosts of his past didn’t haunt him daily, pushing him to numb his senses with drink, Torin might have married by now—as his uncle often reminds him. He knows the time has finally come to find a wife and settle down.

During the Althing, the gathering of the year, Ásta’s ability to maintain her property comes into question while Torin wonders if a woman in jeopardy of losing her farm is really worth the trouble.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

Available to buy from....

Tides (Time of Myths: Shapeshifter Sagas Book 3)
It’s Leif’s eighth summer going viking with his father on their ship the Kraken—and he’s had enough. For as long as Leif can remember, his father has claimed to be a descendant of Ægir, god of the sea, and has exploited their shape changing ability—all this to amass enough gold to gain entrance into the ocean god’s halls. Leif hopes that time’s drawing near so he can free himself from Ragna’s domineering shadow.

On the green hills of Éire, Eilish is content learning traditional folk cures from her father until a Finn-Gall raid disturbs the peace. Desperate to protect Eilish from harm, her father cuts her hair and disguises her in his old clothing before she’s ripped from the only home she’s ever known. Sold as a thrall in Duiblinn, she must hide out as a young man on a ship full of barbarians.

Now Eilish, who fears she’ll become Ægir’s next sacrifice, and Leif, who isn’t prepared to stand up against his father’s powerful wrath, must face the tides of change—no matter how ominous they may seem.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

Available to buy from....

About the author
Natasha was born in Nevada City, California. Being an only child, she resorted to using her imagination while exploring the forest surrounding her home (a nasty habit she hasn’t been able to break). Her natural interest in fantasy ignited when her parents read The Hobbit to her as a youth, and from then on anything seemed possible. Once awarded with a Hershey’s bar ‘the size of a Buick’ in her high school English class for creative writing, her passion and interest in literature has never dimmed.

She now lives in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, two children, and two dogs.

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I received this book to review through Beck Valley Books Book Tours, I have volunteered to share my review and all the opinions are 100% my own.


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