Location, Location, Location by Norma Huss
You know what they say about buying or selling a home. The three most important attributes of a home are location, location, and, of course, location. How about a mystery? Maybe location isn’t all three of the top choices, but it does play an important role.
When I wrote my first mystery, Yesterday’s Body, I began by placing it in Annapolis, Maryland. Then I added a museum to the plot, like the one at Solomons Island, MD. I could no longer use Annapolis, and Solomons Island didn’t have much of a city, the hills, the parks, in fact, every other site I wanted. So I invented Queensboro. It had everything that Anapolis had, the museum I needed, and sounded like it belonged on Chesapeake Bay, since there was already another town with a similar, but not the same name—Queenstown. And, I was free to add anything else I wanted to that imaginary city.
When I began writing Death of a Hot Chick, I thought I’d place it in that same Queensboro. Except—I wanted a small-town feel with a lot more boats and a watery ambiance.
I had to do it again! Invent my location.
Let’s see—I needed a rather run-down marina quite close to a top-of-the-line marina. And I knew exactly, sorta, what I wanted—the marina where our first boat was when we bought it. Definitely top-of-the-line with a deep water enclosure lined and crisscrossed with docks and boats—all kinds from go-fast cigarette boats to large yachts (including then Senator and former astronaut John Glenn’s). The marina was surrounded with condos selling for a million or two, plus a fine-dining restaurant where you definitely needed reservations. I did tone that opulence down slightly for my book.
Then I needed the main marina of the story. I selected the marina where we took our boat, in Galesville, Md. This yard was over one hundred years old. It was a working yard with all the well-organized clutter that any purist could hope for. But I couldn’t set my story in Galesville. There was not much of a town, and no fishery. So I moved that marina with the most decrepit of the boats along with the first marina into my newly created fishing village, Smith Harbor.
Smith Harbor you ask? Where did that name come from? Glad you asked. Smith is a name well known in Maryland history, and as a place name—Smith Island. And, like Queensboro, it sounds right, and even more important, there were no others listed by Google. Yes, I Google every name I use. And, although I’m thinking Maryland, I never name the state. For one thing, I don’t want to be pinned down to any particular laws on, for instance, insurance requirements for boats. I answer any such question the same way I choose my location—piecing my new whole together from several sources. I researched Chesapeake Bay bordering states’ requirements and went with a middle figure.
And, like I did for Yesterday’s Body, I kept track of street names and their relative locations, restaurants, schools, homes, all of it. How far could Cyd walk and how long would it take? If Kaye drove that way would she get lost? Where does Gregory keep his charter fishing fleet? Even though my village is imaginary, it has real boundaries, real distances, and an ambiance all its own.
Will I ever use a completely real location? I doubt it. After all, who wants to eat in a restaurant with a villainous cook? (Another one of my ideas.)
How about you?
Authors, do you think location, location, location when you plot? Do you use real cities, towns, and country estates or invented ones?
Readers (which definitely includes all authors), what do you prefer to read—real locations or invented ones. Does it make a difference to you?
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About this week’s guest blogger:
Norma Huss is a wife, mother, grandmother, loves cooking, doesn’t mind laundry, hates housecleaning, and is always, a writer. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppies Chapter, and Pennwriters. She’s getting into Twitter and Facebook, and really likes Goodreads where she can talk about other writers’ books.
Norma calls herself The Grandma Moses of Mystery. Have you heard about her? She became famous for her primitive paintings at eighty and continued until she was 101. Since Norma’s mother is now 102, takes daily walks, and does word puzzles, the possibilities are great.
Find out all about Norma’s interests, her books, and read a couple of free short mysteries at: www.normahuss.com
Norma’s Note on Death of a Hot Chick’s cover: My daughter designed the cover to Death of a Hot Chick using two of my photos (a sunset and a boat) as well as other pictures she had permission to use. (The owner of Snapdragon gave me permission to use her boat in a mystery.)