Edith here, north of Boston. And yes, it’s full winter.
I’ve been spending the month of January in frigid northeastern Massachusetts. You might think this blog is going to be about wishing I was on a sunny tropical island, like a couple of people I know (ahem, Barb Ross and Liz Mugavero). But it isn’t.
For the first half of January I was writing about an unusually warm and dry late May in northeastern Massachusetts for Mulch Ado About Murder. That’s not so odd. Authors’ deadlines often require us to write in seasons that don’t match the season when the story takes place, and sometimes to write about places where we don’t live.
For the second half of the month I’ve been immersed in February in southern Indiana during an exceptionally cold winter, polishing When the Grits Hit the Fan. And soon I’ll be back in a steamy 1888 July putting in editorial comments on Called to Justice (and after that returning to the first draft of Mulch, too). It’s enough to give an author whiplash.
People often ask me which of my series is my favorite. And my answer, to copy what my author pal Holly Robinson says, is, “the one I’ve been working on most recently.” How can I choose? I picked, or rather, created each of my settings and story premises because I like spending time there. When I’m on the farm with Cam Flaherty, her chickens, and her locavores, I’m happy digging in the dirt and digging up dirt right along with her.
When I’m flipping pancakes with Robbie Jordan in southern Indiana, listening to Officer Buck drawl out his colorful southern sayings, or watching Robbie ride her bike up and down the scenic hills of Brown County, I’m content. I enjoyed experiencing the slower pace of life in that part of the world for a few years and it’s always nice to be back.
And when I’m hanging out with Quakers and friends in 1888, I love the long skirts, the men’s hats, the graceful carriages, even the wood stove and the chamberpot. It’s so confusing, when I’m immersed in writing a Quaker Midwife mystery, to walk the streets of my town where the books are set and see all these modern cars and electric lights. At least the Friends Meetinghouse looks very much the same as it did when my series takes place.
Sometimes when I’m writing about my characters, I wish I could find a picture of them (a picture including a head). I know what they look like in my brain, and how I have described them, bit by bit, in the stories. My characters, especially my protagonists and their main sidekicks, are so real to me. It seems strange that I can’t Google them and find Cam’s picture on the farm web site, the photograph of Robbie with her late mom, or Rose’s portrait. (Although my story “A Questionable Death,” featuring my 1888 characters and setting, is up for a free read over at Kings River Life Magazine right now, and they came up with some great pictures to illustrate it.)
We’ll all just have to settle for words. And that’s what we do here, after all – paint pictures with words and do our best to transport our readers into the worlds of our stories.
Readers: Which books transport you? Can you picture how the characters look, or doesn’t it matter? And anybody want to sign up to create a portrait of our protagonists?
I love the Lucia books by E.F. Benson for transporting me to another time and place. Benson describes the people and the places with such clarity and affection it is impossible not to emerge at the end of his books blinking and wondering how you ended up away from Riseholme or Tilling.
I’ll have to give those a try, Jessie!
I love the Lucia books!
The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. I know I’ve mentioned them frequently but her writing is so warm and puts you right there with her characters whether it’s seeing the first horseless carriage or pumping the well for a drink. I think the thing I don’t like about movie versions of books is seeing characters that don’t look anything like the character looks in my head.
I agree! I get pulled right out of a movie or show when I have to keep saying, “But that’s not what he looks like!” I never watched the Lord Peter mysteries on PBS because the actor playing Lord Peter simply did not match my own image.
One of these days I’ll read one of those, Sherry. My mom, who loved the Ladies’ Number One Detective Agency books, did not like the movies of them (although I did). That’s another series that really puts you into the setting, this time in Botswana.
As it happens, the book I’m finishing this week takes place during a blizzard in Ireland–for once the timing worked out.
I’ve always found Tony Hillerman’s and Craig Johnson’s books set in the west took me to the places they describe, and I’d never seen the west when I started reading them (I have since, and was not disappointed). I do collect old photographs at antique shows, and have used a couple of them for characters, although not the central ones. Something about those long-ago faces is compelling.
So agree about Hillerman, Sheila.
Yes, I’m here in Key West, but for me it’s all winter, winter, winter. I handed in my Christmas novella ten days ago which takes place in a fairly typical coastal Maine December. Now it’s back to Iced Under, the fifth Maine Clambake Mystery where it is snowing and blowing and the power is out.
Brrr! But power out is perfect for a mystery, isn’t it?
Reblogged this on Brand Fearless ~ Kim Fleck and commented:
There’s nothing like being transported to another time or place especially when your surrounded by cool characters and animals.
So many books transport me to another place if not another time. It’s one of the reasons I love reading.
I must confess, the descriptions of the characters often don’t register with me. I get a picture in my head based on the name, and that’s what sticks with me. I’m often surprised when discussing a character with someone else and realize I’m been picturing them all wrong. But that is the character to me.
And that’s all that counts, Mark, really – your own interpretation of the character.
I get drawn into every book I read. So much so that my wife thinks I’ve fallen asleep with the book in my hand. I close my eyes and I’m in the scene as a bystander watching the action as it takes place. Then my mind takes a left and I’m looking at alternate takes on the story (I have a vivid imagination).
I love that – watching the action as it takes place.
Whenever I read I feel as if the characters come to life inside my head, and it always feels like I’m watching a film. I picture the characters and time periods and love to be whisked away as if I’m binge-watching a marathon of a TV show. As it turns out, that’s also part of the reason I don’t watch TV shows very often. They don’t give my imagination enough to latch on to and I can get bored easily, ha ha ha.
On a different note, whenever I write about a character, I always love to spend time and draw them in a quick sketch. What they are wearing and how they stand always depicts their personality and I find a have a more complete idea of their image and characteristics as I write because I refer to their “portrait” that I drew.
If I were a better sketcher, I might try that. But since I’m not, they live in my imagination. Thanks for stopping by the blog. Hope you’ll be back!
There are a couple of writers who always transport me. Elizabeth Peters makes me believe I’m in the English countryside or digging up artifacts under the sweltering sun of Egypt. And Daphne DuMaurier is the queen of atmosphere and setting. Under her expert hand, Cornwall becomes perfectly real to me. As for my characters, sometimes I give physical details, sometimes I don’t. Just don’t ask me to draw them! Not my talent at all. 🙂
Same here! I think I’d better read some Elizabeth Peters…
I stick with the series I follow because they are so descriptive and I can really see the words unfold in my mind. But, one of the series that really transports me is the Consignment Shop Mysteries by Duffy Brown. It takes place in one of the most magical cities I have ever been to, Savannah. All of the series I follow take place in areas I am very familiar with, and this helps me connect with the story. But, there is just something about Savannah, and I love reading this series becasue each book takes me back for a long over do visit.
That’s a recommendation if I ever heard one, Margaret. Thanks!
Hi, Margaret. Thank you so very much!! That you have fun in Savannah with Reagan and Walker and the Savannah gang sure makes my day. I just love Savannah too. My daughter went to school there and I fell in love with the city. Savannah in the spring is pure magic! Thanks for thinking of me. If you’d like some swag just email DuffyBrown@DuffyBrown.com. have a great day. Hugs.
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