Location, Location, Location...The Importance of Setting in Your Work

I attended two panels at Bouchercon 2015 on the importance of setting to your novel, especially your mystery. Donna Andrews moderated "Crime Beyond the White Picket Fence" with her panel, Tom Franklin (who tells the funniest stories about armadillos), Maya Corrigan, LynDee Walker, and Judy Penz Sheluck. Katrina N. Holm's moderated, "Danger and Death in Suburbia,' with Greg Hemen, Mary Sutton, and Lori Roy. Both groups emphasized the importance of where you locate your story. They also focused on smaller communities, rather than large urban areas.

Crime set in small towns are more personal than those committed in the bigger cities. And here's why...

1. In small towns, everyone knows everyone else.

2. Small towns are surrounded by swamps, forests, and farms, all great places to hide a body.

3. Small police forces often don't have quick turn-arounds on forensic investigations. The body often has to be sent to a larger city, and that gives the amateur sleuth some time to figure out the crime before the expert.

4. Murder in a small community is more frightening. Crime destroys the trust of a close-knit group.

5. Suburbia used to be the ultimate goal of the American dream. This changed with the economic downturn, and it's led to the rise of crime outside of the urban areas.

6. The suburbs are often the femme fatal that lure people with the promise of the perfect life.

7. Small towns and suburbs are where the families and the secrets live.

And secrets are always key to a good mystery.

My Fan Girl Moment...And What I Learned about Writing from Dashiell Hammett's Granddaughter and Biographer

I had the great pleasure of meeting Julie Rivett (Dashiell Hammett's granddaughter) and Richard Layman (a Hammett biographer) recently at Bouchercon. Their talk of on one of my favorite mystery authors was a dream come true for mystery fans. I loved getting the business/historical perspective of his life juxtaposed to the family memories and stories.

Here are some tidbits of interest from their presentation...

1. Dashiell Hammett was a master of dialogue and his novels were cinematically structured. This made an easy transition for him when started writing for the movies.

2. Rivett and Layman have a new electronic book coming out in 2016 of Hammett's short stories. They appear in order of original publication. One story even has the original author's character and plot notes included.

3. Hammett also wrote many stories that weren't in the detective genre.

4. Hammett's writing style was compact and concise, and that influenced the style and genre for novels that came after his.

5. Hammett's philosophy was to get out of the way of the story. He believed that the characters told the story. Good advice for writers.

6. The family donated Hammett's papers and documents to the University of South Carolina. This is a huge opportunity for literary research. And it preserves the legacy of Dashiell Hammett for years to come.