So many books so little time by PJ Nunn

I’ve loved books since I can remember. One of my first memories ever was the day the bookmobile parked across the street in front of our house (we lived across the street from the elementary school). From that day, I waited eagerly for its next visit the same way I counted the months until the State Fair. There, I discovered worlds that waited for me, friends to meet and stories to share. I loved it even more than the skating rink at the end of the block.

While I never thought of myself as nerdy, I am one of those rare creatures that loves school. I’d be in school today if I could. There’s always so much more to learn. Another book to read. But alas, life intrudes and we have to apportion our time accordingly. I work full time and am Mom to five offspring and Grandma to one perfectly lovely granddaughter. My twenty-four-hour days are very full.

Add to that the fact that I’m a publicist. I promote authors and their books for a living. Of course it’s imperative to keep abreast of the industry in which I work so I read books. Lots and lots of books. My clients’ books. Other authors’ books. All kinds of books.

I’m sure your lives are comparable. Everyone is so busy these days, leisure time is hard to come by. So when we finally carve out a few minutes that we can indulge in a new book just for the pleasure of reading it, how in the world do we choose which one to read next in the midst of so many?

Back in the days when I did book reviews as a freelance writer, I operated by the common 100 page rule. If it hadn’t grabbed me in the first 100 pages, I quit reading. Maybe I missed something that was just slow starting but I didn’t want to invest another 200 or so pages to find out. As time went on, my rule shrank to 75 pages, then 50.

Today, when I pick up a book to read it for no reason other than I just want to, there are a few things I consider:

  • Who wrote it. If Robert Crais wrote it, I will read it. If it’s another author I’ve read before and enjoyed, I’ll consider it.
  • Book description. Hopefully there is a description that is concise and engaging. If it looks like the type of storyline I enjoy or otherwise intrigues me, I’ll give it a chance.
  • Reviews and blurbs. Honestly, I’ve never bought or read a book solely on the basis of a review. However, if the reviews or blurbs give actual information as opposed to “this is great” hype, or if there’s a thoughtful mention by someone I recognize and respect, I’ll probably give it a look.
  • Author info. I’ve chosen to read several books over the years based more on what I learned about the author than the typical book information. If an author demonstrates writing skill (even in making sure his/her website is typo free) and presents a professional and interesting bio, I’m easily persuaded to look further and find out what he/she has to say. On the other hand, if the online persona says little about the person, is all about the books, and seems otherwise amateurish, I won’t bother.
  • Ambiance. It’s a no brainer, but if I’m captured by the opening sentence and the scenario set forth on the first page makes me want to keep reading, I’m in. It’s like a positive first impression. If that opening is great, even if interest wanes in subsequent pages, I’ll keep reading for a while, believing it will come back to the place where it began. But if it starts bad, even if it gets better, I’ll exhibit less tolerance if there’s a lot of back and forth.

How about you? I know your time is as fleeting as mine. How do you decide when to put it down and when to keep reading?


In 1998, PJ Nunn founded BreakThrough Promotions (, now a national public relations firm helping authors, mostly of mystery novels, publicize themselves and their work. The business is thriving and PJ is also the author of Angel Killer: a Shari Markam Mystery and Private Spies: a Jesse Morgan Mystery. PJ lives in Waxahachie TX near Dallas. Learn more at


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A Frying Shame by Linda Reilly

Series: Deep Fried Mystery, A (Book 3)

Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Berkley (April 4, 2017)

ISBN-10: 0425274152

ISBN-13: 978-0425274156



A cooking contest becomes a fry to the finish in the new Deep Fried Mystery from the author of Out of the Dying Pan.

Fry another day.

The town of Wrensdale is abuzz with excitement when Steeltop Foods sponsors a cooking contest to promote its new product, the Flavor Dial. With a $25,000 prize at stake, all the contestants are on edge, including Talia Marby, owner of Fry Me A Sliver. She hopes her mini deep-fried apple pies will win her the money to pay off the renovations on her restaurant. But when Norma Ferguson wins with her flaky-top chicken stew, the tensions dial up even more.

After Norma is found dead at her cooking station, the police suspect a losing contestant got a little too hot under the collar. Now it’s crunch time as Talia works to catch the killer and clear her name before another cook gets burned.

Take the Point – The Bedrock Element to Crafting VOICE in Fiction by Robert W. Walker

There are few choices in fiction writing more important than POINT of VIEW, the building block to VOICE, which is the single most important element in the craft. Start with the premise that any piece of writing with an ill-defined point (be it fiction, nonfiction, essay) will ramble and spin its wheels if it is “pointless”, and any fictional work will find itself mired in mud, spinning its wheels, if it is without a Point of View.


Of course there’re various uses of this element of fiction. One single person, first person-character point of view, for example. One single person-narrator, second person point of view, or one single narraor third person point of view. Confused yet?


An author can choose 3rd person, 2nd person, or 3rd person single point of view, but that is the easy part. Sound complicated? Well yes, it is somewhat as an author can also select multiple-point of view in any one of the three ‘persons’–that is first, second, or third person. Then there is the question of time—should the Point of View (narrator or character) be speaking in present tense (now time) verbs or past tense (then time) verbs?


The choices are many, and the choices an author makes are varied, even head-spinning if you stop too often to think about how you do what you do. However, thanks to Jerome Stern’s meticulous display of all these varied choices, defining each clearly and precisely in his alphabetically organized book for writers—Making Shapely Fiction—there is HELP! After reading it, then check out Dead on Writing by yours truly in audible or ebook format.


Few authors resort to using second person to tell their entire story or novel, but some choose to tell an entire novel in present tense, often as a single point of view. Scott Turow is known for using present tense for entire novels (which I could never do…maybe a short story), but that is how his mind works, and it behooves we authors to determine how our minds work, and in what manner our minds work best, in what environment of language-scape are we feeling most comfortable? Turow blows my mind in his ability to stick with present tense for 300 pages or more. The reporter author of Homicide—Life on the Street also wrote in present tense that entire book (later a TV drama) but this author was a reporter taking notes in real time—as it all happened; in other words, in present tense/time.


For my first novel ever, the control of having one perspective, one character-narrator in Daniel Webster Jackson & The Wrongway Railroad was a good thing for a young author, but like Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn tales, upon which I fashioned the novel as a high-schooler out to create the sequel, I used third person past tense/time. I have ever after used this comfortable POV, even doing now multiple view point crime novels and horror novels and historical novels. Of course with the multiple viewpoints, each switch I go into has to be consistent within that scene or chapter where a new POV takes precedence. Even so, I always feel most comfortable in past tense, third person. In fact, in that frame of writing, I feel as comfortable as an ocean otter floating on his back in the Pacific, eating clams and holding hands with his lady otter.


When it comes to POV, you can believe this fact: it is absolutely intertwined with verb tense/time and person as in first or third person, or at times second person, which is often quite folksy in tone, in the bell it rings. Each choice, believe me, rings a different bell. Take these three sentences each written in a separate ‘person’s voice’:


I slipped into the rear of the ‘old palace’ as Nick called his place, a rundown bungalow off Second Avenue, and I saw it was tucked in behind the Lowe’s as the lumber yard sign stared back at me.


Once you slipped into the rear of the ‘old palace’ as Nick called his place, a rundown bungalow off Second Avenue, only then did you catch sight of the Lowe’s Lumber Yard sign staring back at you.


Lucas slipped into the rear of the ‘old palace’ as Nick called his place, a rundown bungalow off Second Avenue, tucked as it was behind a Lowe’s loading dock. “Some view,” Lucas said as the Lowe’s sign stared back at him.


Brrrrrrring one, brrrrring two, barrrrrrinnng three. Each rings a different bell, which is called tone in the textbooks. “What is the tone of the piece? Is it sarcastic? Authoritative? Straight-laced? Tongue-in-Cheek?


The point is that the construction of one’s POV character or narrator (who are not always one and the same) is a difficult set of constructs that requires that you juggle a host of decisions, but once made, then it is a matter of being consistent in your choices. If your story begins in first person, it should end in first, unless you’re doing something ‘innovative’ or extra special and you know it. If your story sets out in second person, you are stuck with it throughout the story. If in third person (my favorite choice) then it should end in third person. If your story is set up as a single-person POV in past tense like Huck Finn who tells his own story, the whole story then is Huck’s VOICE, Huck’s single point of view. Nothing happens that he does not see and experience. It is totally his story.


In my Instinct Series I used third person narrative throughout, but I also use multiple viewpoints throughout, so you are in the mind/body/spirit of Dr. Jessica Coran (whose story it is) most of the way, but you are also at times in the mind/body/spirit of the villainous serial killer or Jessica’s supervisor, or her lover, or her shrink, or her lab assistant. These other POVs all are connected to Jessica. She is at the center of the universe of the novel, and all other minor POVs are satellites in her orbit. Some call it the character WEB with Jessica at the center and all others are connected in her web by the connective tissue of each relationship status and interrelated status(es).


So there! How simple is that? So easy…  Frankly, if it was easy, it would not take years upon years to learn the craft to the point of writing lines that do more than lay there on the page, lines that instead sing. As Stephen King has said, if you can’t make it sing, at least make it clear. By controlling POV and using consistent POV referencing, you remain clear. Deviating all over the POV map is the fastest way to confuse your readers, committing the #1 sin in writing—Being Unclear. You are not going to be that writer. Your narrator or character-narrator is going to ring a beautiful bell.

Robert W. Walker has written & published over 70 novels, 3 short story collections & the how-to Dead On Writing, all since his first published work in 1979, Sub-Zero. A graduate of Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., Rob holds an MA in English Education & today is an adjunct professor at West Virginia State University. While he was born in Corinth, MS., Rob grew up in Chicago, setting for many of his novels. Today Rob has ten separate series characters in as many genres. Rob’s Instinct Series began with Killer Instinct & is Rob’s longest running franchise. Rob has taught writing almost as long as he’s been writing—since his junior high days. His first novel, completed in high school was Daniel Webster Jackson & The Wrongway Railroad, a book highly influenced by Mark Twain’s boys’ tales. Rob’s favorite authors are Twain and Shakespeare. He lives in Hurricane, WV with his wife and step-children.

In a Series: How Many Books Is Too Many? by Maggie Pill


I recall a few years ago blithely saying on a panel at Malice Domestic that I couldn’t write a series with more than five books. Too confining. Too repetitive. Too boring.


Eat, Drink, and Be Wary is the 5th Sleuth Sisters mystery, and it released April 14th.

The story came to me as it often does, as a basic idea: the sisters would go to a trendy winery and run into a murder in their first hour there. That was the backbone, forming a beginning, middle, and end, but it required a lot of work to cover that frame with the humor and personality of a cozy and the details that make a mystery enjoyable. What if the trip involved a group Barb disapproved of, and she decided not to go along? What if Faye got stuck dealing on her own with crowds of strangers and (OMG) a fashion show? What if Retta actually got dirty—not just a little dusty, but right-down filthy?

Weaving those ideas into the web of murder and other crimes, I ended up with a fun story, a satisfying plot, and a lot of humor and action. But it’s the fifth Sleuth Sisters Mystery. Does that mean I’m done?

The Sleuth Sisters is different from my other series (written under my real name, Peg Herring) in that the material comes from real life. I have two sisters. We love each other but recognize that we see the world from diverging viewpoints and live our lives very differently as a result. While we’re not like Barb, Faye, and Retta in most ways, we are as unlike each other as they are. I learned early in life that when people have dissimilar perspectives, they might have trouble working together.

Barb, the oldest of the sisters, sees humankind through a logical lens, which means she wants to “fix” people and things so they make sense. Faye, the middle child, sees life emotionally, so she notices and feels compelled to relieve the pain of both people and animals. Retta is a little selfish (having always been the cute one), and though she is strong and even fearless when necessary, her first concern is likely to be saving her nail polish from damage. Their differences give me a lot of raw material to work with in this “sister series.”

The other thing I (wisely, but not purposely) did is have the three women open a detective agency. I didn’t intend the first book, The Sleuth Sisters, to become a series, but it did because so many readers wanted it to. (When they beg for more, how can an author resist?) Professional investigators have cases brought to them, unlike Jessica Fletcher-type characters who must “happen upon” corpses over and over. This series combines the advantage of P.I. novels, where protagonists are charged with solving crimes, with the fun of cozies, where small-town characters exhibit unique personalities and lovable oddness.

There’s another thing I have to consider, and it’s what my fellow panelists were kind enough not to point out to me when I mentioned five as my limit on a series. Financial and critical success is hard to walk away from. Readers love the Sleuth Sisters, and as a result they buy them in e-book, print, and audio. It’s not just me who benefits from this. The owner of the studio that makes the audio books and the three actresses who read the sisters’ parts love their regular paychecks from Audible. My editors and cover artist are pleased with the prospect of more business from Maggie Pill. And my husband doesn’t mind listening to me talk about writing (which I do way too much) if I’m telling how well sales are going. It’s hard to look at rising numbers and reader requests for another adventure and say, “I’m not writing any more of those.”

The solution?

I plan to let the series be its own pilot. If an idea comes along that stirs my creativity, I’ll continue. If not…Well, I refuse to push it. I like the sisters and enjoy taking their different points of view as I write their adventures down. I hope a new idea comes along before 2018, but if it doesn’t, that’s okay. My Peg persona has lots of stories she wants to write down too.




Maggie writes mysteries, loves fine chocolate, and lives in northern Lower Michigan with her husband and an elderly, self-assured cat. She is working on visiting every waterfall in the Midwest before she’s too old to climb the steps. Maggie Pill is also Peg Herring, but Maggie’s much younger and cooler.



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Fallout in the Desert by Janet Lynn

My husband Will, a published author also, and I co-write the Skylar Drake Murder Mysteries, a hardboiled 1950s series.

Our third book takes place in 1955 Las Vegas. We knew nothing about the area when we spent a week in Vegas to research the era. We had the opportunity to interview a gentleman, Mike, who was born and raised in Las Vegas and a young adult in 1955. He talked about the Atomic Bomb testing from 1952–1963, nuclear testing was taking place 50 mi north Las Vegas. Residents and tourists were enamored with the blasts. They threw all-night parties called “Dawn Bomb Parties,”  in-sight of the mushroom cloud at dawn.

It seems the city took the fame and ran with it. There was a new drink called Atomic Cocktail, beauty pageants crowned Miss Atomic Bomb and an “Atomic Hairdo” or the “Mushroom Cloud Hairdo”.

          He said people came from all over America to see the spectacle and Las Vega’s population more than doubled. People would venture with atomic lunchboxes for a lunch date in the desert.

He smiled and said, “We called our city the “Atomic City.”

In hindsight, the suffering these tests caused families and the resulting human tragedy can’t be explained away. “We were stupid to think we could control the fallout and wind shift of the desert. But for a period of time we enjoyed jubilation of technology and the power atomic energy gave us.”

          After the interview with Mike, we headed to the County Library and found stories of the testing and how people welcomed it. We also found pictures of the things Mike talked about. We just had to use them in our book.

The results? DESERT ICE was released in January…and yes, we’re still married.



Synopsis for DESERT ICE


In 1955, a missing Marine and stolen diamonds lead Private Eye Skylar Drake to Sin City, where the women are beautiful and almost everything is legal—except murder.

The FBI and a Las Vegas crime boss force him to choose between the right and wrong side of the law. All the while, government secrets, sordid lies and trickery block his efforts to solve the case.

Common sense tells him to go back to L.A. but is gut tells him to find his fellow Marine.

Promoting Book Series with Regional Flavor by C.T. Collier

  What’s a surefire way to promote a book? Every author deals with that question. Most authors I know don’t have a publicist advising or directing them, and their marketing budget comes from their pocket. Social Media? Facebook ads? Go for the reviews? Set up a stand on Main Street?

As a newbie author, I struggled to find the best promotion strategy for me and my books. Writing the best book I could write was the most important, of course. Participating in critique groups and contests insured that each book in my series improved on the last. However, while reviews were great, sales were low.

It wasn’t until I joined forces with local authors and tried a few different venues that I found what fit my audience, my personality, and my budget. To my surprise, face-to-face contact with my readers was the answer for me. I say surprise because I’m an introvert—you know the grade school “brain,” the high school “class nerd.” But put me around people who love to read heartwarming romance or a good mystery, and I glow with excitement! They forgive my stammering, and I’m all too happy to answer questions about my writing process, where the ideas come from, and how I get to know my characters. Soon we laugh together, they pick up a book, and there’s a sale.

I should say that I write two series, both set in the area where I live, the beautiful Finger Lakes of Upstate New York. Last year was my fourth year of book promotion, and it was the most successful yet. Three face-to-face events were stand outs, and I offer them as examples to get you thinking outside the box.

First was an arts festival on the shores of one of the lakes. Four of us shared a tent and took turns drawing in the passers-by. Over the two days of the festival, I sold out of my first mystery and had modest sales of my romance series. And I learned that having a presence is not just about sales. During the show the advertising director for a local winery approached the tent, looking for Finger Lakes authors for a fall harvest event at her winery to benefit the county animal shelter. Two of us held up our hands.

That fall winery event put us in the company of five authors who live in and set our books in the Finger Lakes, plus a fabulous best-selling author who penned a trilogy set at a fictional Finger Lakes winery. In the course of three hours, I sold out of romance books, sold one copy of my mystery, and enjoyed conversation with many readers from the area.

In between those events, I got up the courage to have a book party for my first mystery, as a pre-event for my high school reunion. My hometown library was excited to host and promote the event, and the reunion committee agreed to spread the word. We scheduled it for late Friday afternoon, hoping to catch classmates as they rolled into town, as well as community members looking for a good summer read. I’d been nervous about doing a solo event, but I wasn’t doing it alone. The librarian and my friends were eager to participate. Dozens of people came. And, yes, I sold books.

Bottom line, as a marketing strategy, face-to-face contact through local venues and libraries have worked best for me. I’ll continue using Facebook and making appearances on book blogs, because those are wonderful ways to stay in touch with readers and to meet new ones. And I’ll listen to what other authors are trying and what they recommend. We’re all learning from each other.

What’s next? Five of us have a “Meet Your Local Authors” event this Monday at our local library, hosted by our community writers group. Each of us is inviting the world. Three are coming early to set up. Another, a fabulous graphic artist, has made posters and table cards for us. The librarian is promoting up a storm. I’m organizing us and bringing the cookies. We’ll have a grand time and sell some books.

Do you enjoy local events for buying and selling books? Why? What suggestions do you have for authors at festivals, libraries, and business venues? Please leave a comment!


About the Author

C. T. Collier was born to solve logic puzzles, wear tweed, and drink Earl Grey tea. Her professional experience in cutthroat high tech and backstabbing higher education gave her endless opportunity to study intrigue. Add to that her longtime love of mysteries, and it’s no wonder she writes academic mysteries that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits. Her setting is entirely fictional: Tompkins College is no college and every college, and Tompkins Falls is a blend of several Finger Lakes towns, including her hometown, Seneca Falls, NY.


Book Summary for Stuck

Book Two in The Penningtons Investigate  

Murder never entered the picture until Fritz Van Derzee decided, at long last, to clear his name. Who stuck a jeweled stiletto into his desktop after stabbing him to death? Fritz’s daughter, Emma, recruits her former professor Lyssa Pennington to find the killer.


And where’s the ten million Fritz was falsely accused of embezzling? Tompkins College President, Justin Cushman, hires his old friend Kyle Pennington to trace the missing money.


While Lyssa uses charm and tenacity on the long list of suspects, Kyle reconstructs the college’s old homegrown finance system. As they converge on the killer, Lyssa and Kyle may be the next two casualties.



Important Links





Author Website:

Facebook: kate.collier.315

The Last Chance Olive Ranch (China Bayles Mystery) by Susan Wittig Albert

Series: China Bayles Mystery (Book 25)

Hardcover: 304 pages

Publisher: Berkley (April 4, 2017)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0425280039

ISBN-13: 978-0425280034

In this exciting new mystery from New York Times bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert, China Bayles fears for her husband’s life as an escaped convict targets him…
Max Mantel, the killer McQuaid put away years ago, has busted out of the Huntsville prison and appears to be headed for Pecan Springs. McQuaid knows there’s only one way to stop the vengeful convict—set a trap with himself as bait.

China wants to stay by her husband’s side and keep him from harm. But McQuaid  insists that she get out of town and go to the Last Chance Olive Ranch, where she’s agreed to teach a workshop on herbs.

When China and her best friend arrive at the ranch, she learns the owner, Maddie Haskell, has her own troubles. She inherited the ranch and olive oil business from the late matriarch, Eliza Butler, but Eliza’s nephew is contesting the will.

While China throws herself into helping Maddie, McQuaid’s plan backfires when Mantel executes a counter move he never saw coming. Now McQuaid’s life is not the only one at stake—and this time may really be his last chance…

But—But—What About (Insert Beloved Character Name Here)? by Peg Herring

Fans ask, “When will we get another book about Loser? Or Seamus? Or Simon?

Um, maybe never. I loved those characters as much as my readers do, but their stories are finished in my mind. I can’t make myself write a book simply because somebody wants me to.

Plenty of my author friends are on Book #14 or #23, and that’s great. Their fans seem eager to read that next installment, and if the fans will pay, why not write another one? For me, the answer to that question comes down to why I write, and my reasons are a little (maybe a lot) selfish. I write because I want to find out how the story goes.

I began my mystery career with historicals that follow the life of Elizabeth Tudor. They were well-received by critics and readers, but the publisher closed its mystery segment after going through bankruptcy. That was okay, because I’d already started the Dead Detective Series with another publisher. I was fascinated with Seamus, who is dead but not quite ready to leave the world behind. It took five novels for him to let go of Life, but once he did, I saw no reason to continue the series. Yes, there could be stories about a different dead detective, but it’s like Doctor Who. Your favorite will always be the first one you connected with, and others pale by comparison.

The Loser Mysteries took an even shorter arc. Three books was what it took to present Loser, the homeless woman who solves one crime, then another, and finally the one that brought about her homelessness. After that, Loser is no longer a loser. She’s well on her way to re-joining society, and further books would result in a P.I. series too much like those already out there. That doesn’t interest me enough to spend a year of my life making it happen.

Maybe I’m too easily bored. Maybe I should buckle down and extend one or more of my more popular series. I often tell myself that I can (and will) when (and if) a worthwhile story line for one of those characters forms in my head. But there’s always a new idea I want to try, a new protagonist with unique problems and a different outlook. Since there’s only so much time to write, authors need to justify expending their energies in a certain area. For me, writing another episode with the same characters, setting, and scenario simply because fans will buy it isn’t as rewarding as trying something new and hoping they will.

I’ll admit that sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.

My new offering,, is less mystery and more caper novel. Robin Parsons represents those of us who are sick to death of criminal fat cats who take what they want and defy us to do something about it. We complain. We wish. We write letters to the editor. They keep stealing from us, pushing us around, and snickering up their sleeves because we can’t stop them.

Robin decides she will stop them—well, she stops one, but it’s like eating popcorn. One handful isn’t enough. Successfully halting the shenanigans of a criminal politician leads her to believe she can stop others who flaunt the law and hide behind their money and power. She’s joined by an odd group of misfits who’ve also suffered injustices and don’t have much to lose.

They’re funny. They’ve lovable. They’re surprisingly effective. They’re the kind of group we wish really existed, Robin Hood types who face down bad guys and use their own evil against them. is unlike anything else I’ve written, and it was a whole lot of fun. I’m pretty sure it will be fun for readers too.



Peg Herring reads, writes, and loves mysteries. As an educator she once set the school stage on fire. As a driver she’s been so lost that she passed through the same town in Pennsylvania three times in one day. Family and friends have lost count of how many times she’s locked herself out of her house. It’s much safer if she sits in her office and writes, either as herself or as her younger, hipper alter ego, Maggie Pill.


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It’s All About The Place by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Provincetown, Massachusetts. Cornwall, Great Britain. Montréal, Québec, Canada. Hastings, England. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Brittany, France. Paris, France, Angers, France. London, England. Oxford, England.


In no particular order and pretty much off the top of my head, those are some of the places where my novels take place.


Every author is different from all other authors in obvious and subtle ways, and so is their process for creating and writing stories. Some begin with an idea for a plot that they twist and fashion into something shining and beautiful. Others start with a character, letting that person make the decisions about what needs to happen in the novel.


And then there are those of us (I don’t know how many, but would be interested to find out) who start with place.


There’s a story I love—though it’s probably apocryphal—about Phyllis McGinley, who wrote romantic thrillers in the 1960s. The story goes that she’d decide where she wanted to go next on vacation, and that dictated where her next novel would be set. I think it’s an excellent plan.


Place is important. It shapes a narrative, gives it context and flavor. I can’t imagine a story in a void, in the abstract; I can’t even visualize characters without seeing where they are. And it shows: one of my weaknesses as a writer is leaving too much of my characters’ physical descriptions up to the reader’s imagination; conversely, one of my strengths is making the venue seem real and alive. I love hearing from readers that they feel they know a town or city after reading one of my books.


While I haven’t really adopted McGinley’s practice, I do love to write about places I know. So if you look at some of the places in my books, you’ll see where I’ve either lived or spent a significant amount of time. Murder Most Academic reflected my years living in Boston and Cambridge. Asylum and Deadly Jewels take place in one of my favorite cities in the world, Montréal, where I spend some time every year. I have a series starting this spring in which all books have the same subtitle: A Provincetown Mystery (that’s where I live now). My upcoming The Cambridge Effect takes place in Oxford, Cambridge, and London—and Oxford is another of my centers of the universe. You get the idea.


Think about it. Wherever you live, there are things that you can imagine could only take place there, right? Every place, every space has its own ethos. If I want to place my protagonist in danger, I first have to see where that’s going to happen. In real life, space shapes what takes place in it; and that’s the way it works with narrative, too.


I’ve occasionally heard readers remark on novels in which they felt that the place was as much a character as any of the people in the story. Most readers seem to like that. And I often concur: if that’s the sort of book you like, then run, do not walk, to your favorite bookseller and start reading Phil Rickman’s opus. He chooses places on and around the border between England and Wales, and captures the liminality of that space in breathtaking ways.


I’m not sure that the spaces I write about qualify as characters, but they’re real and they ground both the people and the stories. My people chat in real cafés, order meals in real restaurants, walk on real streets. You can visit these towns and cities and feel right at home, even if it’s your first time there, because my characters have already taken you there.


Is place important to you? Or do you not particularly care where your mystery reading lives? I’d love to hear from you… post your comments here and I’ll choose one at random for a free copy of Asylum!



Jeannette de Beauvoir wrote her first novel when she was eight years old (it wasn’t very good). In the hopes that practice would make palatable if not necessarily perfect, she has continued to write better novels over the last several decades. She helps other writers through workshops, critiques, and editing and can be seen online at