My Worlds and Welcome to Them by Leigh Perry

We are so happy to welcome Leigh Perry aka Toni L.P. Kelner to Wicked Cozy Authors today.

hogwartsWorld building is a favorite topic for writers and readers of fantasy and science fiction. Creating new languages, devising a history, making up social structures, figuring out the physical realities of a non-existent place… It’s all great fun, and when it’s done right, you end up with Oz, Luna Colony, Middle Earth, the Star Trek universe, or Hogwarts.

But world-building is not the sole property of science fiction and fantasy writers. I know I do a fair amount of world building in my mysteries, and I bet the Wicked Cozy authors would say the same. In fact, world building has been part of mysteries since Arthur Conan Doyle move Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into a mythical Baker Street address.

downtowngranite fallsTake my Laura Fleming mysteries. (That was my first series, written back when I was still Toni L.P Kelner, and recently re-released as Audible downloads and ebooks. Was that too obvious a plug?) They were set in Byerly NC, a small Southern mill town based on the real North Carolina mill towns surrounding Hickory, especially Granite Falls.

The thing is, no matter how much research I did to make it realistic, Byerly isn’t real. There’s no Walters Mill bustling with workers making socks, no La Dauphin Beauty Parlor to get your hair fixed, no Pigwick’s Barbecue. (To be honest, it’s the barbecue place I really wish were around.) So don’t you think I ought to get credit for world building?

Then there’s my new Family Skeleton series. (Yeah, I know. Another plug. Sorry.) Obviously, I had to create a world where an ambulatory skeleton named Sid could exist, solve his own murder, and make bad jokes. (The bad jokes part came all too easily for me.) I also had to create Pennycross, MA, the town where all this takes place. And the college where protagonist Georgia Thackery works, plus the location where Sid was murdered. All were based on places I’ve been or seen, but none of them are real.

True, I don’t have to create a new language, other than the slang of teenagers, which may have mutated a dozen times by the time a book is published. But when it’s called for, I do have to give the fictional towns histories. Especially long-past murders–those are almost always called for.

ozNot only do we mystery writers have world building to tend to, but we have an extra challenge. You see, while readers are pretty forgiving of oddities in fantastical worlds — the Enterprise missing bathrooms, Hogwarts students who never study English or math — the scrutiny is a bit tougher when you build a world that’s a little closer to home. I once got into trouble for having a beauty parlor open on Monday, and was told in no uncertain terms that that never happens. (Was that beauty salon in the Emerald City closed on Sunday?)

So if you’re talking world-building, don’t assume mystery writers have it easy. We really don’t.

But if you’ll allow me to be serious for just a minute, here’s the most meaningful piece of world building for me. Whether I’m writing about a Southern mill town where people drop like flies or an ambulatory skeleton solving his own murder, I create worlds where death makes sense.

Sadly, in the real world death often doesn’t make sense, at least not to my limited perception. Random violence is frighteningly common. Terrorists blow up people without warning, serial killers pick their victims by their hair color, people who eat right and exercise die of heart attacks, planes crash. People die every day from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But in my worlds, no death is random. There may be hidden motives, long-buried secrets, hatred simmering under the surface–all leading to murder–but they’re understandable murders. The killers are always found, and everything is explained. A world where such things make sense is probably the least realistic fantasy world of all, but I’m happy to spend my days there.

And you’re always welcome to come visit my worlds!welcome

Leigh Perry is the author of the aforementioned (and relentlessly plugged) Family Skeleton mystery series. A Skeleton in the Family, the first, was released in September and The Skeleton Takes a Bow is scheduled for September 2014. As Toni L.P. Kelner, she’s the author of the Laura Fleming series (also relentlessly plugged) and the Where are They Now? series (see, she didn’t plug everything–until now). She also co-edits anthologies with Charlaine Harris. Games Creatures Play, their sixth, will be released in April. You can visit Leigh at or Toni at Both versions are also active on Facebook, where they often squabble.

Readers: What is the hardest part of world building?


16 Thoughts

  1. My pleasure! Always lovely to be with my fellow New Englanders. (Not that my accent sound anything like most New Englanders.)

  2. Reading about Sid is next up on my pile of books, Toni/Leigh! Can’t wait. Thanks for sharing your world building with us. For me, when I build a fictional town based on a real one, I can get so immersed in the made-up parts that when I walk through the real town, I think, “I remember when James was arrested in that pub” or “Oh, there’s where Phillip lives” Oops – James and Phillip live only on the pages of my book. ;^)

    1. Edith, I picked out actual streets for one of my characters to live in, in my town. So when I drive by those places, I do have to remind myself that it’s–you know–fiction.

  3. (Totally off topic: I looked at that small picture of the Cowardly Lion et al. and thought it was the bridge of the Enterprise.)

    The hardest part is keeping the details straight from book to book (oops, didn’t I say his house was on the north side of town last time?). That’s why it’s helpful to start with a real place, where you can take pictures to remind yourself, and then change what you need for the story.

    Sid is a delightful character with some unexpected traits, like a partially concealed vulnerability. Not your average skeleton!

    1. Okay, I’m ready for an Oz-Star Trek crossover. “Bones, you’ve got to put the Scarecrow back together!” “Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor not a scarecrow stuffer.”

      Bones is, by the way, Sid the Skeleton’s favorite character on Star Trek.

  4. Welcome…I must look for Sid, he sounds like my kind of guy. By the way, we New Englanders do not have an accent! 🙂 Dee

    1. We will have to agree to disagree about the accents, Deanna! When we moved to New England, I would point at things — like the refrigerator, just to get a native to pronounce them. How I miss it!

  5. Leigh–We’ve got to stop meeting like this!

    Leigh and I were at a conference together the previous Sunday and then on a panel together Wednesday night, and then sat next to one another at a signing last Sunday. I guess that’s what happens when you have books come out the same day!

    Appropriately, all this started the day after I had my first bone density test.

    Sid is sitting on my nightstand. I’m thinking–perfect for Halloween.


    1. It’s true. Barb is stalking me.

      And yes, we share a book birthday. Clammed Up is an excellent literary sibling to have, too.

    1. Again for a serious moment, I wish death made sense more often. I’ve lost a sister, a mother, and even pet guinea pig in the last year. None of them truly make sense to me.

  6. Toni, thanks for sharing your take on world building. It makes so much sense to begin with an area you know and rename/reimage so you can continually reference it in your mind to keep your major locations straight.

    I love Sid and loaned my copy of the book to a friend. Now I can’t wait for her to read it – been waiting several weeks. Shucks. i wanted to be able to talk about the book with her!

    Since it’s Halloween today, and I have these small fake skulls laying around the office, I’m going to string them together and wear them around my neck at work. A little Halloween spirit – and I’ll think of Sid all day. I thought Sid quite charming and enjoyed his puns. Can’t wait for the next one!

  7. Read the first of the Sid books and loved it, especially when you had the daughter interested in anime and manga. Well written with likeable characters and already anxious to read the next in the series. Now I find that you’ve got a mystery series that takes place in a mill town? Jump start my heart! I love textile history, especially photographing old textile mills. Guess what I’ll be downloading to my tablet next

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