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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Ever read an interview of a fictional character?

Happy Monday, Readers,

ARM CoverWithout further ado, here’s the winner of Sandy Ardoin’s latest book, A Reluctant Melody. Dali Castillo….come on down. You’re the lucky winner! I will contact you privately to obtain your copy.

While asking for blog idea among my author pals, one of them suggested that I interview my heroine in my latest book. Just like she was a real person instead of an figment of my imagination. So here goes…an interview with Nicolette (Nicki) Price of Midnight on the Mississippi.

Nicolette Price, tell me the most interesting thing about you. I used to be quite a tomboy. I could swim farther, run faster, and jump higher than any boy in the neighborhood. Now that I’m a grown woman living in a sophisticated city, being a “crack shot with a squirrel rifle” doesn’t give me much of an edge with the competition.

What do you do for fun? I haven’t had much fun since childhood. I’ve worked since I was 15 to help pay the bills, and then to put myself through college. Now that I’ve landed my first real job, I would like a Saturday of watching reruns of Colombo in my pajamas with nothing but popcorn and ice cream to eat.

Midnight on the MississippiWhat do you put off doing because you dread it? I have put off dealing with my father’s death because I was too young and ill-equipped to do much else. Now I’m neither, so it’s high time I find out if someone else had a hand in his death.

What are you afraid of most in life? Swamps! I was stranded on an island in the swamp as a prank—snakes, gators, and plenty of bugs. Luckily, my best friend got wind of the plan and paddled out to rescue me.

What do you want out of life? I suppose I want what every woman wants—love and acceptance. I’ve never felt like I measured up to expectations, so it would be nice to find one other person who thinks I’m special.

Do you read? If so, what is your favorite type of book to read? I love to read biographies about famous fearless women—Madame Curie, Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt. If they can rise above humble upbringings or difficult circumstances and excel, why can’t I? I gain courage to do what I need to do when I read their stories.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I suppose it would be my hair. I like to wear it long, but it’s thick and curly and looks like a lion’s mane when the weather is humid. My complexion turns a tad green when I see women with silky, straight hair that stays where it’s supposed to all day long.

Do you have a pet? If so, what is it and why that pet? No, I had a pet turtle but it died. Once I had a crow that used to follow me around the neighborhood, but it grew bored and flew away. My mother wouldn’t let me have a dog because our yard was too small. I hope to one day have an entire menagerie of pets.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go and why? I would go back to my childhood when my father was still alive. I’d tell him that “nobody is perfect” and that I loved him. He died never knowing how much he meant to me.

What Happened on Beale StreetPlease watch for Book 2 of the Secrets of the South Mysteries, What Happened on Beale Street, coming in late March. Have a great week, readers!  ~ Mary

When a writer needs inspiration…

 

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The Peabody Hotel

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 21st century 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 the stage 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 new 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, What Happened on Beale Street, 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. For my current work in progress, 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 ever interviewed. As we check out new places to live, I’m discovering wonderful spots for fictional dead bodies to wash ashore or characters to go missing.

What Happened on Beale StreetIf 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?

What Happened on Beale Street , book 2 of Secrets of the South Mysteries, releases in late March in print and April 1st in electronic versions in bookstores and online everywhere.  Book one, Midnight on the Mississippi from Harvest House Publishers is available now.

Here are the 10 winners of our newsletter contest

Happy Monday, readers,

Midnight on the MississippiWithout further ado, here are the 10 winners of a signed copy of Midnight on the Mississippi from my newsletter contest. Thanks to everyone who either signed up this time, or remains a faithful subscriber of my twice-a-year newsletter.  Those books will be mailed out tomorrow. Don’t forget, book two of the Secrets of the South Mysteries, What Happened on Beale Street releases in February.

My 10 winners: Debbie Light, Rev. Warreenactor, Linda Miller, Stacey Barbalace, Shawna Pemberton, Justin Cheeren, Donna M. Forker, Blake’s Momma, Kimi Crane, and Wag Pam. I have sent each of you an email.What Happened on Beale Street

 

 

I hope everyone is having a lovely summer. The weather is downright gorgeous is Ohio, and I am loving it!! ~ Mary Ellis

My brand new mystery is shipping into warehouses

Happy Friday, readers,

Midnight on the MississippiThe weekend is almost upon us and I have exciting news to share. The very first of my Secrets of the South mysteries is shipping into warehouses as we speak. Midnight on the Mississippi was a labor of love for me and I’m thrilled with the final product from my publisher, Harvest House. I am often asked at library events, on email and via Facebook why have you changed to writing romantic suspense. The answer is simple…I must write the stories that intrigue me, and during my many trips to New Orleans, this is the story of my heart. Here’s some other common questions about Midnight on the Mississippi:

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St. Louis Cathedral

What can you tell us about the setting of this novel? The book is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, and also in the swamps and bayous out in Lafayette and Terrebonne Parishes, about two hours away. The French Quarter is an ancient portion of the city along the Mississippi River, rich in history and architecture of a variety of cultures and traditions. It practically drips with mystery and intrigue, making it the perfect setting for romantic suspense.

Who are the main characters, and what is at stake for them in this story?

Hunter Galen is a securities broker who suspects his business partner is embezzling their clients’ money, but he’s reluctant to jeopardize their friendship. After his partner turns up dead, Hunter realizes his unwillingness to confront a problem may have cost James his life. Nicki Price is a newly-minted PI who intends to solve the stockbroker’s murder and establish herself in the career she adores. As she ferrets out fraud and deception at Galen-Nowak Investments she butts heads with Hunter’s fiancée, Ashley Menard, who recognizes exactly what a threat Nicki is. As Hunter and Nicki encounter sophisticated shell games, blackmail, and death threats, danger swirls around them like the mysterious dark water of the bayou.

Which of the characters surprised you the most in this story, and how so? Without giving away too much of the story, it was the murderer who surprised me the most. While writing the book, I had a completely different villain in mind! But by the time I reached the end, I devised a far more satisfying conclusion to my “whodunnit.” I hope readers will be as surprised as I was.

How did the writing of this story impact you as a person or as an author? I visited New Orleans about half a dozen times to research this book before Hurricane Katrina and about a half dozen times afterward. That horrendous storm in 2005 changed both the landscape and the lives of the residents forever. Each time I return to this beautiful area of the US, I’m reminded of how resilient, brave, and generous the human spirit can be.

I’ll be sharing more photos from my research trips down the line, but here’s a link to read the first chapter.

https://www.harvesthousepublishers.com/data/files/excerpts/9780736961691_exc.pdf

Midnight on the Mississippi is on pre-sale right now in trade paperback at a great price. Here’s the link: http://www.christianbook.com/1-midnight-on-the-mississippi/mary-ellis/9780736961691/pd/961690?event=Fiction

Electronic versions in all formats will be available on August 1st if not before.

I hope you enjoy the first chapter, readers, and have a spectacular summer weekend.  ~ Mary