News Flash: Celia Fowler is Liz’s winner. Congratulations, Celia! Check your email.
Edith here, loving me some August. I’m delighted to welcome my friend Liz Milliron to the blog today. Her debut adult novel, Root of All Evil, releases today! It’s her first Laurel Highlands Mystery, although she’s has several compelling short stories in juried anthologies recently. I’ve been following her progress toward today and am so pleased her book made it into the hands of the reading public. We’re also fellow sprint buddies over on Ramona DeFelice Long’s page every morning. Here’s what Amazon says about the book:
Rumors of a meth operation in rustic Fayette County catch the attention of Pennsylvania State Trooper Jim Duncan. When he learns that Aaron Trafford, a man who recently dodged a drug conviction, has returned to the county, the conclusion seems obvious. Trafford has set up a new operation.
Meanwhile, assistant public defender Sally Castle’s colleague, Colin Rafferty, has become uncharacteristically nervous and secretive. Her suspicion that he’s hiding something serious is confirmed when she learns of a threatening visitor and discovers a note on his desk stating, “You’d better fix this.” Colin’s subsequent murder is the first frayed thread in a complex web of deceit. Jim fears Sally’s stubborn determination to get justice for her friend will put her in a killer’s crosshairs, but Sally won’t rest until she finds answers–even if it costs her everything.
Take it away, Liz! Oh, and she’s giving away a signed copy of the book to one US commenter here today.
Thanks so much to the Wickeds for having me! Place is incredibly important to a good mystery – to any good book, in my opinion. The best stories transport you to a place. Who wouldn’t swear that Three Pines was real, or glory in visiting Paris through Aimee LeDuc or Hugo Marston?
When an author decides to pick a place for her story, she has two options. The first is to make one up, either inspired by a real town or out of whole cloth. Many cozies, including a lot of books from the Wickeds, go this route.
Big advantage: You have total control over your town. Even if it’s inspired by one of your favorite small towns in Massachusetts, you can decide where to put roads, buildings, what kind of businesses populate Main Street, the works. Sure, you need to keep track of these things because six books in you need to know where the post office is in relation to the police station. You can’t simply change things willy-nilly!
However, if you made Walnut Street one-way in book one, and now in book three you need it to go both ways, it’s not impossible to fix. Reference a fictional town meeting that changed the traffic flow on Walnut and your problem is (probably) solved. Bonus points: make it a contentious town meeting that ties into your story.
When I sat down to write The Laurel Highlands Mysteries, I went the opposite route. Fayette County, Confluence, Uniontown, and the Laurel Highlands are all very real. That meant I spent a lot of time with maps: paper, Google Maps/Earth (thank you to whoever invented Google Earth!), and taking trips for research. The Fayette County courthouse is on East Main Street in Uniontown and the street is one way. No matter how much I might want to, I can’t change that. I’ve looked at intersections to get street names correct, and the type of neighborhoods to make sure I don’t drop houses in the middle of the business district.
Before you start thinking this is all terribly constricting, it’s really not. I’ve only written one story (“The Far End of Nowhere” in Fish Out of Water) that used a made up town. Sure, you have to be careful not to mess too much with the landmarks and topography, but using a real location means you can take advantage of what the area has to offer. For example, the Laurel Highlands is full of historic landmarks, as well as locations such as resorts or Frank Lloyd Wright houses. Rich fodder for a storyteller.
There are, however, a few “rules” I have for myself:
1 – Crimes, or other nefarious doings, do not happen in real businesses/places. Unless they are public spaces. I don’t want to impugn someone’s workplace.
2 – I make up businesses as I need them. You won’t find Dex’s in Uniontown; its amazing Reuben only exists in my imagination. (The Lucky Dog Café does exist. I needed a place for Jim and Sally to grab a bite; I thought I made up the Lucky Dog, but I must have seen it on one of my trips and the name sunk into my back-brain.)
3 – Specific house numbers are fictional. It feels like too much of a violation of privacy to use someone’s real address (I may have used their house for inspiration).
I hope I’ve done justice to the wonderful locations in the Laurel Highlands. But one thing’s for sure: real or made up, place is of supreme importance for your story!
Readers: Do you prefer real places, made up locations, a mix, or don’t you care? One (Us-only) commenter will win a signed copy of Root of All Evil.
Liz Milliron is the author of the Laurel Highlands mystery series, featuring a Pennsylvania State Trooper and a Fayette County public defender in the scenic Laurel Highlands of southwest Pennsylvania. The first in the series, ROOT OF ALL EVIL, was released in August 2018. Liz’s short fiction includes stories with the same characters in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales and The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos, as well as stories in Mystery Most Historical, Fish out of Water, and Blood on the Bayou. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime and is a member of Pennwriters. Liz and her husband live near Pittsburgh with their two children. (Headshot by www.erinmclainstudio.com). Find her at http://www.lizmilliron.com/, https://www.facebook.com/LizMilliron/, and https://www.instagram.com/lizmilliron/