February 1-28, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
~ Guest Post ~
IS IT ONLY LOCATION?
by Lois Schmitt
Do you like cozies set in small English villages? Maybe you prefer mysteries set in big cities or exotic locales. Or perhaps you want to read about murder and mayhem that occurs by the beach or in the countryside.
Setting is not only the part of the world where the story is set—it is also each specific place where scenes occur, such as a bookstore, restaurant, newspaper office, or a zoo. Most books have several settings.
Getting the setting right can be tricky. Stories consist of action, dialogue, and description. These three must be mixed to keep the pace going. Since setting is primarily description, too much detail can slow down the story. But since the setting determines the background, you need to get it out there early. That means packing as much punch as possible in one or two sentences.
My mysteries take place on Long Island with the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Great South Bay to the south, the Long Island Sound to the north, and New York City to the west. Each of my books, however, is set at a different “fictional” location within Long Island. Monkey Business is set at a zoo, Something Fishy is in an aquarium, and Playing Possum takes place at a wildlife refuge—all different sub-settings.
With each book, my amateur sleuth’s investigation may take her to other settings too, such as a suspect’s beach house, a pet store, or a local pub, as well as her home and office. When you visit someone’s home or office in real life, it provides details into that person’s personal life, and it should do the same when you read about it. Is the person neat? Does he like to cook? Does she have lots of books? Are there pets?
One of the best ways to create memorable settings is through sense impressions. In my new mystery, Playing Possum, I combine two sense reactions in the following sentence:
“I inhaled the scent of pine amid the morning’s cool spring breeze.”
Using both smell and touch (feeling the breeze) enhances the image of walking through the woods.
Think of the following descriptions:
The odor of dead fish made her gag.The aroma of bacon frying and freshly brewed coffee wafted through the air. The smell of urine permeated the pet store.
Each of the above sentences helps you envision the setting where they occur. Smell is one of our most powerful senses.
Taste, sound, and touch are also powerful. When using the sense of sight, one of the quickest ways to get a point across is through the use of color, such as “the inky black swamp water.”
Unfortunately, the sense of sight is frequently overused. If a writer relies primarily on the sense of sight, the description often can be boring. It also usually involves lots of detail which can make the narrative unnecessarily long and slow down the story’s pace. Combining more than one sense can provide a more vivid picture of the setting than just using one sense.
The following is a description from Playing Possum that involves sight, sound, and smell.
“The forest is different at night, full of shadows and mystery, with tall pines appearing like dark arrows aimed at the sky. The odor of rich earth and skunk weed seemed stronger now than during the day. Crickets chirped and I heard the flutter of wings and the rustling of small creatures scurrying nearby.”
In only three sentences the reader is provided with a vivid image of the forest at night.
As a story continued, details involving the setting can be provided a little bit at a time. These details now can be incorporated in dialogue and action to keep the story flowing. Example: She waved her hand to shoo the mosquitoes away from her face.
Setting is more than location. It involves time, tone, and atmosphere. The reader should be able to become absorbed in the setting and feel what the characters are experiencing.
Murder, Mayhem, and Missing Animals.
When animals mysteriously disappear from the Pendwell Wildlife Refuge, former English teacher turned magazine reporter Kristy Farrell is on the case. Days later, the body of the refuge’s director is found in a grassy clearing.
Kristy, assisted by her veterinarian daughter, investigates and discovers strong motives among the suspects, including greed, infidelity, betrayal, and blackmail.
As Kristy delves further, she finds herself up against the powerful Pendwell family, especially matriarch Victoria Buckley Pendwell, chair of the refuge board of trustees, and Victoria’s son, Austin Pendwell, who is slated to run for the state senate.
But ferreting out the murderer and finding the missing animals aren’t Kristy only challenges. While researching a story on puppy mills, she uncovers criminal activity that reaches far beyond the neighborhood pet store.
Meanwhile, strange things are happening back at the refuge, and soon a second murder occurs. Kristy is thwarted in her attempts to discover the murderer by her old nemesis, the blustery Detective Wolfe.
Kristy perseveres and as she unearths shady deals and dark secrets, Kristy slowly draws the killer out of the shadows.
Praise for Playing Possum:
Lois Schmitt’s Playing Possum does cozies proud. Fresh and traditional all at once.” -Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of Sleepless City
“In her third book of the series, writer Lois Schmitt has crafted an intricately-plotted mystery full of twists and humor, with a cast of colorful characters, set in a wildlife refuge rehab center. Cozy fans, and especially followers of Schmitt’s animal lovers’ mysteries, will find great entertainment in Playing Possum.” -Phyllis Gobbell, award-winning author of the Jordan Mayfair Mysteries
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Encircle Publications
Publication Date: December 8, 2021
Number of Pages: 296
ISBN: 1645993051 (ISBN13 978-1645993056)
Series:A Kristy Farrell Animal Lovers Mystery, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Read an excerpt:
I waited until a man and a woman emerged from the county medical examiner’s van. I followed them into the wildlife preserve, maintaining a discreet distance while wondering what happened. Did a jogger succumb to a heart attack? Did a child fall into a pond and drown? I inhaled deeply, hoping to steady my nerves.
I passed the clearing on the right where the administration building was located. I continued trailing the two members of the medical examiner’s staff until another clearing came into view—this one bordered by yellow crime scene tape.
Not far from where I stood, spread out in full view was a female body with blood covering much of the head. The body was face down, but I recognized the small build, sandy colored hair, and jade green shirt.
I tasted bile. I wanted to scream, but I slapped my hand in front of my mouth.
After regaining my composure, I surveyed my surroundings. Three people wearing jackets emblazoned in the back with the words Crime Scene Investigator were near the front of the clearing. One was bent over the body and the other two appeared to be examining the nearby ground. When the medical examiner’s team approached, the investigator next to the body rose up and started talking. I couldn’t make it all out, but I did hear him say “Blow to the head.”
“Oh, no,” I mumbled when I spied two homicide detectives I knew.
Detective Adrian Fox, a thirty something African American, stood on the side of the clearing, near a small pond. He was talking to a woman who yesterday had been arguing with the preserve’s director.
The director had called this woman Elena, so I assumed this was Elena Salazar, the education coordinator. I couldn’t hear what she was saying to the detective, but she was gesturing wildly with her arms.
The other detective, Steve Wolfe, had marched over to the body and was now barking orders to the medical examiner’s staff, who didn’t seem pleased. As Wolfe turned around, the woman in the medical examiner’s jacket shook her head.
I sighed. Wolfe and I had a history. He was a bully who had gone to school with my younger brother Tim, constantly picking on him. Granted Tim was the classic nerd who might as well have worn the sign “Kick Me” on his back. I had recently solved two of Wolfe’s murder cases, which only irritated him more.
Wolfe spied me and headed in my direction, his face turning the color of a beet. His gray pants hung below his pot belly, his glacier blue eyes as cold as ever, and he wore the same annoying grin as when he was a kid that made me want to slap his face.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I’m here about a dead squirrel,” he said. “I’m a homicide detective. What do you think happened?”
“I know the victim,” I said.
He narrowed his eyes. “How do you know her?”
“I’m doing a story on the wildlife refuge and—”
“How come whenever you do a story people die?”
Not really a nice way to put it.
“Who found the body?” I asked.
“This is none of your business. This is a crime scene.” He pointed a fat finger at me. “You need to leave.”
“I’m behind the yellow tape,” I argued.
I didn’t think his face could get any redder, but it did. “Stay out of my way.” He spun around and stomped off toward the side where Detective Fox appeared to be jotting something in a notepad. Elena Salazar was no longer there. I had no idea where she went.
I had lots of questions, but I wasn’t getting answers from Wolfe. The crime scene investigators were packing up. Maybe I’d have better luck with them.
“When was she killed” I asked the one investigator, who looked young enough to appear on an acne remedy commercial.
“We need to wait for the autopsy.”
“Do you have an approximate time of death?”
“Sorry. We can’t talk to the public.”
I sighed. I’d have to get the answers somewhere else.
I wondered why the victim had been at the clearing. I glanced at the pond, guessing this was where the rehabilitated turtle would be released. Did she come here early to check things out before the release? But what would she be checking?
My thoughts were interrupted as the medical examiner’s team passed by me carrying a stretcher with the covered body. I figured I might learn something if I listened to their conversation. Eavesdropping was one of my talents.
I scratched my theory about arriving early to check on conditions for the turtle release when one of the attendants said, “I can’t imagine why anyone would be in these woods at midnight.”
Excerpt from Playing Possum by Lois Schmitt. Copyright 2021 by Lois Schmitt. Reproduced with permission from Lois Schmitt. All rights reserved.
A mystery fan since she read her first Nancy Drew, Lois Schmitt combined a love of mysteries with a love of animals in her series featuring animal magazine reporter Kristy Farrell. Lois is member of several wildlife conservation and humane organizations, as well as Mystery Writers of America. She received 2nd runner-up for the Killer Nashville Claymore award for her second book in the series entitled Something Fishy, She previously served as media spokesperson for a local consumer affairs agency and currently teaches at a community college. Lois lives in Massapequa, Long Island with her family, which includes a 120 pound Bernese Mountain dog. This dog bears a striking resemblance to Archie, a dog of many breeds featured in her Kristy Farrell Mystery Series.