By Art Taylor
This week's question—"What prompted you to use the setting and time period for your latest book or series?"—seemed the perfect opportunity to showcase this year's Agatha Award finalists for Best First Novel, whose settings cover a wide range, in terms both of geography and of subject matter.
I'm proud to be a included in this group of fine writers and thrilled that we've all become such good friends in our chats online—chats which have led to a series of blog hops like this, with at least one more stop ahead, at Chicks on the Case on Monday, April 25. And then we'll all be together at Malice Domestic, of course—next week, yikes!
Our Malice panel is on Saturday morning, April 30, at 10 a.m., with Margaret Maron moderating. Plenty of questions to be answered there, but in the meantime, let's hear what everyone has to say on the question at hand here!
As to time period, I accidentally created the best of both worlds. My series is set in present-day, but revolves around two plantation homes that date back to the mid-1800s. My protagonist occasionally has dreams where her ancestors reach out to her, and who knows? Perhaps someday I’ll write an historical prequel series.
CINDY BROWN, author of Macdeath: You’ve probably heard writers say their characters just showed up one day in their heads: that was certainly the case with my protagonist Ivy Meadows. She was an actress when she arrived in my writer-brain, so the theater setting was natural. Also, I worked in theater for years and thought it’d be great fun to let Ivy explore different types of gigs. In Macdeath, she works in a Shakespearean theater; in The Sound of Murder, she’s onstage at a dinner theater; and in Oliver Twisted, she’s acting onboard a cruise ship. In this latest book (out June 21), I chose the cruise ship for a couple of reasons: I wanted Ivy to be away from her home in Phoenix and unable to get back if anything happened, and since I was using Dickens as a springboard, I wanted an environment that had two distinctly different socioeconomic classes (the vacationers and the ship’s crew). Plus cruise ships are just fun.
So far as setting is concerned, I am English so it is easy for me to write about my country’s history and a part of England that was at that time exquisitely pastoral. Iyntwood—the house in my novels—is an old Elizabethan house in a particularly beautiful part of England - the England I grew up in when I was not with my out-of-the-country parents. Funnily enough I did not love England as a child, I often found it cold, reserved to the point of disinterest, and horribly alien after the tropics I was born in. I hated it as a teenager. It is only now that I remember my life in England with love and the sort of yearning that only ex-patriats acquire after years of living in another country. They say you can never go back, and when I visit my sister and her family in the beautiful Weald of Kent I understand just how much my country has changed and that it is not the world I knew as a young woman. BUT I would love to live in the England of the early 20th century before WW1. The world of Kenneth Grahame and the simple, straight forward world of Wind In the Willows, where the countryside was still an idyllically beautiful place to live in. So I did the next best thing: I created it in my books.
As for time itself: I began writing this during the thick of the Great Recession there in the late 2000s, and that economic turmoil added to the tensions that the characters were facing. I just stuck with it, even as the actual writing for the full book took me well beyond those years and into relatively more prosperous times.
What prompted you to use the setting and time period for your latest book or series?