Setting ~ the first character I create in a novel

What first comes to mind if someone mentions the television show, Hawaii 5-0? The muscular actor who plays Commander Steve McGarrett, or perhaps a clever plot twist in an episode involving identity theft? More likely it’s a visual of tanned young surfers riding the perfect wave to the shores of Waikiki, or perhaps a volcanic peak rising from the mist above the rainforest. How about NCIS – New Orleans? Those who’ve seen the show might picture Scott Bakula chasing a murderer through the crowd of perennial spring-breakers on Bourbon Street, or maybe tracking a psychopath by airboat through the gator-infested bayous of Cajun country. Most TV shows and movies rely on setting for more than just backdrop. The setting becomes as integral to the story as protagonists and villains.
Yes, movie and television rely primarily on visuals, but books paint pictures in the minds of readers. Consider the imagery created by Michener’s South Pacific, John Grisham’s The Testament, or Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Could you imagine moving Oliver Twist from the slums of London to the heath-covered Scottish highlands? I don’t think so. Setting can be either protagonistic as in Jane Eyre or Under a Tuscan Sun or antagonistic as in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath or Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Whether creating a romantic spot to rekindle the flame of lost love, or a dangerous snake pit from which characters must escape, an author must choose carefully to create a memorable world that readers can see, hear, taste and smell.
When an author contemplates a new series, location becomes even more crucial. Consider Jan Karon’s marvelous series set in Mitford, or Debbie Macomber’s lively romances in Cedar Cove. One of my favorite series by Nevada Barr involves Anna Pigeon, a federal park ranger engaged to an Episcopal priest. Mystery series particularly benefit by a change in locale as characters adapt to new challenges, both natural and man-made. Personally, I love to travel. I often set stories far from home, making several trips for research and to tweak final details. As my husband and I travel around the South, I find plenty of settings for my books.
For book one of my brand new series, Marked for Retribution Mysteries, I decided Charleston would be the perfect setting. In Hiding in Plain Sight, Kate Weller rents a room above an Italian restaurant owned by a handsome chef, where she lands in the middle of a family feud with robbery, arson and murder for the daily specials. Available in hardcover or in e-book, including B&N and Amazon.
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My Thoughts on Being Adopted

Turn on a made-for-TV movie or one of those “reality” shows about adoption and you’ll find adult children in serious angst over being given up. Everyone seems to be frantically searching for natural mothers and birth siblings. Invariably during the program’s second segment, after the commercial break, the viewer meets the long-suffering mother. Apparently she never stopped loving, worrying about, and searching for the baby taken from her or surrendered during a momentary lapse of judgment. These stories have always rung false for me, or at least overly “Hollywood” dramatic.
Do I believe such situations exist in real life? Yes, indeed. But are they the norm as the producers would have us believe? Not by a long shot, in my opinion. I’ve known too many adopted friends and siblings who suffered disappointments or faced disaster after discovering their “roots.” Personally, I hold no grudge or latent hostility for the woman who gave me up, but I also possess no buried affection either. She is a stranger. Throughout my life I’ve been offended by the predictable question: Don’t you want to know who your real mom is? I’ve always replied, “No, because I know who my real mother is—she’s the one who wiped my runny nose, fixed my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and put up with my sassy mouth as a teenager.
As a writer who was adopted from Children’s Services as an infant, I chose to explore this issue from a different viewpoint…as the woman who gave up her child. In Always in my Heart, my novella from An Amish Miracle, Hope Bowman believes God punished her for giving up her firstborn son and because she hid this secret from her husband. Although Hope is thankful for three daughters, she still prays for a son. But instead of a new baby, God sends her the fifteen-year-old boy she had abandoned.
Writing that novella several years ago turned out to be therapeutic for me. But in my upcoming release, Hiding in Plain Sight, I chose to tackle this sensitive issue from a different viewpoint, as a biological sibling in need of an organ transplant. I thank God that I haven’t needed a transplant thus far, but this situation happens every day. Although my adoptive parents were the only ones I ever knew and as “real” as birth parents to me, other adoptees might choose a different path. I hope you’ll enjoy my Amish novella or my next book, Hiding in Plain Sight, about two young women brought together to save one life.
The award-winning Always in My Heart (novella) is available in Kindle from Amazon, or in the paperback anthology, An Amish Miracle from Harper Collins Christian Publishing.

New a New Direction?

Write what you know…is a quote usually attributed to Mark Twain. Twain might have been a great American novelist, but his advice better suits authors of the 19th century. What are authors supposed to do in the 21stcentury when expected to produce two or three novels a year? As books become shorter and faster-paced, some writers are releasing books faster than that. If as a full-time professional writer you only write about subjects you’re familiar or experienced with, won’t you run out of story fodder? On a personal level, how many stories about a schoolteacher, living on the edge of Amish country, who loves gardening, animals and American history will readers tolerate? Perhaps more practical advice for this day and age would be: Write about what fascinates you, or perhaps the person you hope to one day become.
I have reached an age when retirement isn’t a distant pipedream. As much as I love Ohio, winters have grown intolerable. My husband and I are determined to live three or four months of the year in the warmer and sunnier South. Recently we’ve combined our quest for inexpensive spots to “snowbird” with my mystery series. The setting for my first story was easy…New Orleans, a city we visited while family lived in the area and many times since. After several stays in Cajun country I was playing the washboard with spoons and cooking gumbo from a roux. My second mystery allowed me to indulge my love of the blues while researching Memphis and the Mississippi delta where rice and cotton fields stretch to the horizon. Next I prowled the streets of Natchez, a charming town overlooking the mighty Mississippi, where the police captain turned out to be the nicest person I’ve ever interviewed. Then we went to beautiful, age-old Savannah for my last book in that series. Recently, (as in three days ago) we returned from our fourth trip to Charleston, South Carolina, the setting for the first of my Marked for Retribution Mysteries.  What a delightful town! I’ll be sharing details as the release date for Hiding in Plain Sight draws near. (August 1st)
As we investigate places to live during the winter, I’m also discovering new spots for dead bodies to wash ashore or characters to go missing. If you’re looking for new story ideas, why not consider places you’ve always wanted to visit? Start with research at your local library and on the internet. Then create the characters of your dreams. Maybe you can give them the talents you always longed to have. Your enthusiasm will turn your story into a page-turner readers can’t put down. And just think…when you visit the area to tweak the details, your trip becomes a tax deductible expense. Sounds like a win-win situation, no?