by Julie, grateful for the break in the heat wave in Somerville
I first met Gabby Allan in Mechanicsburg, PA at a tea festival. I was struck by her wonderful dresses, cheerful demeanor, and love of writing and her readers. I’m delighted to welcome her to the blog today to celebrate the first in a new series.
Heading back to Catalina by Gabby Allan
There are so many elements to any story but one of my absolute favorites is setting. Now, I love writing the characters and the community, and heck yeah on the murder investigation with its twists and turns. But setting is pretty high up on the list of things I feel are part of a strong foundation for stories, especially if it’s going to keep showing up in a series.
So when I decided to set my books on Catalina Island off the coast of California, I of course, made the ultimate sacrifice for my art and headed over to research––that’s what we’ll call it on the taxes anyway…
And when I arrived in Catalina with my aunt, we dove into being tourists, but also trying to get into the nitty gritty of island life so I could make it come alive on the page. We visited restaurants and stores, walked around the streets and admired the homes. My favorite stop was definintely the golf cart rental place! I am prone to asking weird questions, and I did not disappoint when I asked the poor guy at the counter if it was possible to chirp the tires of a golf cart. He gave me the side-eye, which I totally don’t blame him for, but then we got down to logistics. And the answer is, if you were wondering, only as you’re stopping because the take off on a golf cart is not powerful enough within their fleet to chirp at the start. Disappointing but still usable.
I also took in the smells and the sounds, the way the light hits the ocean at certain times of day, the fact that there are a lot of boats anchored out in the water some distance from the shore. I asked questions about groceries and how to get a car on island (thirty-five years on the waiting list is not out of the norm), and then marveled at how some very ingenious people found a way to get a car on island without having to wait. The amount of small cars with the bumpers chopped off in order to fit the length requirement was astounding!
And this will all go to into the ground work within the story. I might not use any piece ever, or I might pepper them in throughout each book. I might turn the fact that you have to pay to have everything shipped to the island into a reason why most people don’t have very heavy furniture. I might use the discovery that they filter salt water for fresh water on the island. But all of it is there for my taking to make the setting almost a character of its own.
Because in the end, I want any reader to be able to escape to the small island of Santa Catalina off the coast of California. I want you to be able to feel the breeze in your hair coming in off the ocean as you read about murders and shenanigans with Whit and her chonky cat Whiskers, especially if you’re sitting in the middle of America wishing any breeze would kick up and ruffle even just the grass at your feet.
To me that’s one of the greatest things, helping the reader put away whatever is happening around them and dive into not only the mystery but the community, check in with the characters you wish were real so you could go ask them out for coffee, mentally hop into the golf cart with Whit, or watch as she tries to (just once) get Whiskers to do as she asks. Feel the sand between your toes as Goldy walks along the beach in her high heels and cover-up. And that all starts with setting.
Readers, do you have a favorite aspect of mysteries? No answer is ever wrong. It could be characters, justice, animals, the chase, clue finding…whatever floats your boat, I’d love to hear it! I’ll choose a commenter and send them a copy of Something Fishy This Way Comes. US only.
After writing plays for her friends to act out as a kid, bad poetry in high school, and her high school Alma Mater song, Gabby Allan finally found her true passion—cozy mysteries. Being able to share her world with readers, one laugh at a time, and touch people’s hearts with her down-to-earth characters makes for the best job ever.
Since returning home from mainland California and finding her groove with the family tourism business, Whitney Dagner’s daily routine has become a wonderfully chaotic adventure. She and her nimble kitty, Whiskers, often find themselves at the center of the action on Catalina, from staged treasure hunts to gossipy birdwatchers. But before Whit can get too comfortable in the place where she grew up, a gift shop order leads to a stunning discovery—someone’s dead body . . .
One of Whit’s best boat tour client’s, Leo Franklin was young and newly engaged when he unceremoniously took his own life. Only it doesn’t seem like that’s what really happened—not after the suspicious activity displayed by his family’s old rivals at the scene of his death. As a bitter, generations-long feud between Leo’s kin and the local Ahern clan comes to a head, Whit and her police diver not-so-ex-boyfriend must lead a dangerous investigation into years of scandal and bad blood to figure out who’s innocent . . .and who’s covering a killer’s tracks.