On the importance of setting

I’ve never been much of a person for scenery as my friend Diane can tell you, which is probably because I spent many decades in Kansas where the scenery is very subtle, vast oceans of field and sky, and you can only distinguish landmarks after thirty years’ careful study.

One of my challenges as a writer has always been effectively rendering setting, and, yes, I long ago connected the dots. For many years I made my home in a place that effectively required me to live inside my head for entertainment purposes, and that leaves its mark.

Some writers make setting practically a character in the story—imagine Faulkner placing his stories in Chicago or Boston. You can’t.

A few years ago, I happened to go on a trip to Santa Fe with a friend and I’ll never forget how the landscape captured me. The low purple mountains, the green sage and the dust, the crunch of rock and sand beneath my feet, the curve of the road (roads don’t curve in Kansas).

I was hooked. Shortly after my return, I started revising the novel that became Coyote’s Poison and I set it in New Mexico because it was the right place for the story. I made up a town, Quinta, because I wanted a big city near the border to suit the themes of the novel, and so that the setting could serve my purposes and people wouldn’t be writing to tell me there isn’t actually a fire hydrant on the corner of Agua Fria and Alameda or that there isn’t a corner of Agua Fria and Alameda.

Now that I live in LA, it’s easier to see how setting can become a character in a novel. I’m not the same person I was in Lawrence, Kansas and that’s because LA has affected me already. I’m loving this and exploring it in an urban fantasy I’m working on, so stay tuned!

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