Sunday, June 23, 2024

SMFS Member Guest Post: Location, location, location by donalee Moulton

Please welcome SMFS list member donalee Moulton to the blog today...


Location, location, location by donalee Moulton


Where your characters live, work, and solve mysteries can be central to the story. Or not. I’ve discovered that that location is not a requirement or an irrelevancy. It is a spectrum.

At one end of the spectrum, location is essential. As a result, you spend time bringing that location to life, making it real, and of real interest to readers. This requires knowing whereof you write or researching whereof you write. Or both. My latest book, a historical mystery entitled Conflagration!, is based on the real-life story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, an enslaved Black woman accused of burning the lower town of Montreal to the ground in 1734. Montreal as a place and as a community is intertwined with the plot and the characters, fictional and otherwise. As a result, I had to immerse myself in a time and place that no longer exist.

Move further along the location spectrum and you’ll arrive here: the location could be anywhere. The town, island, futuristic community where your characters go about their daily lives is woven into the story but not predetermined. It’s up to you. You may choose a place that is familiar, that fits within the theme of the book, or simply resonates with you.

My first mystery book Hung Out to Die introduces Riel Brava to readers. Riel is originally from Santa Barbara but now living in Nova Scotia, which is where I live. Fact is, Riel could have been uprooted to almost any location where cannabis production is legal. (Riel is CEO of the Canadian Cannabis Corporation. He’s also a psychopath (not the nasty kind), but we’ll save that for another blog.) I chose Nova Scotia because I know this location. Less research would be required, but I also have a deeper connection to this place because it is my place. Many readers have told me how the book feels so much like Nova Scotia. That was not intentional, but it reflects a knowledge of place that goes beyond street maps, tourist locations, and Yelp reviews.

Finally, we reach the other end of the spectrum: place is irrelevant. Indeed, a specific geographical location may not be necessary. I wrote a short story called “Moist,” that for the most part takes place in the main character’s home. Where that home is situated doesn’t matter.

After the story was published, there was a call for stories for a new anthology Santa Cruz Ghost Stories. I reached out to the editor to explain that my story wasn’t really set anywhere so it could be set in Santa Cruz. She agreed. Minor changes were made (like changing Canadian spelling to American (“savour” became “savor”) and using the name of a dollar store Santa Cruz residents would easily recognize.)

Ultimately, location is about character. The two go hand in hand.


donalee Moulton ©2024

donalee Moulton’s first mystery book Hung out to Die was published in 2023. A historical mystery, Conflagration!, was published in 2024. It is a finalist in the 2024 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.

A short story “Swan Song” was one of 21 selected for publication in Cold Canadian Crime. It was shortlisted for an Award of Excellence. Other short stories have been published in Black Cat Weekly, After Dinner ConversationThe Antigonish Review, and numerous anthologies. donalee’s short story “Troubled Water” was shortlisted for a 2024 Derringer Award and a 2024 Award of Excellence from the Crime Writers of Canada.

No comments: