Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by mystery / thriller writer JL Greger.
Is Location a Character in Your Novels?
Location is always a character in novels, but unfortunately authors often give insipid descriptions of locations without showing the sites’ personalities, sort of like the descriptions of Prince Charming in most fairy tales.
Some locations breed intrigue. The steamy and seamy sides of New Orleans have been featured in many novels. Think about: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice and The Pelican Brief by John Grisham. These novels would not have resonated with readers if they were set elsewhere.
Similarly it’s hard to generate a more creepy setting for a mystery than the slums of Victorian London as a dense fog blankets the foul cobblestone streets.
Other locations breed nostalgia for a happier or perhaps simpler time. Western fiction can be set in a number of states in the US (Kansas, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, or New Mexico), but generally the setting is the same – a spare, dry land that exudes loneliness. The protagonist generally looks like the land. He’s spare, often almost gaunt, dry with little to say, and independent because he has to be to survive on the land.
Occasionally a location resonates with a writer and suggests a story. That’s what happened to me several years ago when I climbed the narrow stone steps to the roof of Iglesia de San Francisco in La Paz, Bolivia and looked down on the Witches’ Market. I thought of so many “what if” questions as I compared the chaotic, colorful scene below with the cemetery-like roof.
The availability of coca everywhere, the press accounts of deplorable conditions in the silver mines of Potosí, and the lurid stories of life in San Pedro Prison in La Paz presented me with more scary questions about Bolivia. I added to it public health data on the poor indigenous people of Bolivia and a little bit about the politics in modern Bolivia. Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, is the first indigenous person to be elected to lead a nation in South or North America in modern times and once was a coca grower. Then I spun a story. The net result is Ignore the Pain. I think this story is scary because it is so realistic, but maybe because Bolivia is such a volatile character.
Curiosity and nostalgia draw readers to certain locations. I bet many readers purchased a copy of Clavell’s Shogun before they traveled to Japan or reread sections of The Da Vinci Code before they visited Paris. I dislike winter, but Smilla’s Sense of Snow made me want to visit Greenland.
I’m hoping curiosity about Cuba will increase my upcoming medical thriller Malignancy, where I juxtaposition the past and present of Cuba. For example, did you know that Cuban researchers have patented a vaccine against a certain type of lung cancer? Wouldn’t you like to taste a daiquiri on a hot afternoon in Old Havana at the La Floridita Bar, made famous by Hemingway?
Maybe you’ll give a leading role to a small sleepy town in Iowa or a dark corner of York in your next novel. Please have fun developing its character.
Thank you, JL.
A former biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, JL Greger puts tidbits of science into her medical mysteries / thrillers. She and Bug, her Japanese Chin dog, live in the southwest of the United States.
Her novels include: Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, and Ignore the Pain. A fourth novel Malignancy will be published this fall (autumn). You can learn more about her and her writing at her website: http://www.jlgreger.com and blog JL Greger’s Bugs: http://www.jlgregerblog.blogspot.com.
Her books are available through Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats:
- Ignore the Pain (paperback): http://amzn.com/1610091310
- Coming Flu (paperback): http://amzn.com/1610090985
- Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight (paperback): http://amzn.com/1610090624
In Ignore the Pain, Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission to assess children’s health in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past in New Mexico is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and trying to trap her at the silver mines of Potosí. Unfortunately, she can’t trust her new colleagues, especially the seedy Xave Zack, because any one of them might be under the control of the coca industry in Bolivia.
Note from JL: I enjoyed my visit to Bolivia and would recommend it to adventurous travelers.
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on this topic are… Andy Barten, Barbara Quinn, Kenneth Weene, Lea Ryan, Lou Allin, Paul Lell, Morgan St James, Peter Murphy.
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