Each book has an over-arching theme. Gone with the Wind’s theme is survival. The Harry Potter books, surprisingly for a young adult read, carry the theme of coping with mortality. I attempt a Southern justice theme for my Carolina Slade Mysteries.
However, have you considered that an author needs a theme? When a reader thinks of an author, what specifics of that writing world pop to mind? Think of it like an author subtitle. Or fill in the blank, “Best known for ____.”
Stephen King is “The King of Horror.” Mary Alice Monroe is known as the mistress of Environmental Fiction. Sue Grafton as the Alphabet Series author. I’m becoming known for writing Steeped in Carolina mysteries. In other words, an intense sense of place.
Setting plays a character role in my stories, which resembles what I love to read. I want the environment around the character to almost beat with a pulse, affecting the outcomes and decisions. As a result, my two series thrum with place. So much so that when I speak with book clubs or library groups, the readers in the room talk about my books using two words: pace and place. . . both of which help to keep the reader snared in the story.
But setting winds up being the key topic of discussion, which thrills me to my core. The Carolina Slade books take place in various parts of rural South Carolina, with her solving agricultural crime and each book immersing the reader in an actual locale. The town, county, or middle-of-nowhere crossroad molds how people act, react, dress, and behave. The mustard barbecue in Charleston and the pound cakes in Newberry. The peanuts harvested in dry, hot fields in Pelion, and the tomatoes picked during a mosquito-infested humid summer by migrants on St. Helena Island.
The Edisto Island books take place, well, on Edisto Island. The jungle, the salt water, the deep, dark marshes filled with gators, raccoon, deer, and snakes. The juxtaposition of a brutal, unexpected murder and a laid-back, out-of-the-way beach where natives never lock their doors.
And that focus on place works. The libraries and bookstores in those actual locales stock and readily promote the books. After all, why wouldn’t a tourist walk into the Edisto Bookstore and ask for an Edisto mystery? Then pack it in their suitcase as if stealing a little piece of the beach to carry home. Then fondly remember C. Hope Clark as that author who writes about their favorite vacation memory.
Find your niche. It’s not a genre. It’s not even a subgenre. Your theme should be more inherent than that. But while diversity in writing might be fun, intensity of focus is what sells books. Don’t leave readers having to remember what you write. They may not recall your name or even the titles of your books, but if they can keenly remember details of your storytelling and the world you write about, you’re snagging readers that will stick around.
BIO: C. Hope Clark’s latest release is Newberry Sin. Hope is author of eight mysteries with a ninth, an Edisto Island mystery, scheduled the end of 2018. She speaks nationally, has taught classes for Writer’s Digest, and is also editor of FundsforWriters.com with a newsletter that reaches 35,000 readers. www.chopeclark.com