I’ve been asked how I come up with ideas for my mysteries. Maybe this will surprise you, but I start with the backdrop, by which I mean the setting for the book. Since I’m into mysteries that take place in the past, I have myriad choices and I develop my plot around the place or places I want to write about.
To help me decide on a place, I scout around for real life events, crimes, tragedies, disasters that happened in those places at different times in history. This helps me settle on a time period. For instance, being a native New Yorker, I always wanted to write about early NYC history. Maybe turn of the 20th century when immigrants were flowing into Ellis Island by the thousands. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the tragic deaths of 146 workers, mostly women, immediately drew me in. The tragedy itself, the stories behind the women’s lives and the horrible injustice of it all made it the perfect backdrop for a mystery.
Plus, the atmosphere of the time became paramount. The wretched tenements and sweat shops, the little pleasure these young women had, trying to help support their families, and the fight for better working conditions made it a perfect milieu for murder.
I set another novel during World War II in both Washington, D.C. and France. As a museum professional I was intrigued with the many stories appearing in the news almost weekly about Nazi confiscated art. So, yes, more wrongs to be righted. Plus, I loved both locales and wanted to do research on location.
I lived for a number of years in New England. Not surprising, my most recent book is set in a small town in Massachusetts, a town infamous for prejudice and scandal. Salem, home of the 1692 witch trials. Could I ask for a place more dark and sinister with grim events of real history? Truly a great backdrop with lots of atmosphere.
Books that stand out in my mind have a setting that I personally find intriguing. Stories set in cold places like Sweden or Iceland, even Minnesota. Or just the opposite: books set in the Louisiana bayous or the humid south. Extreme weather conjures up atmosphere and along with that, characters who must deal with these extremes.
Big cities, mean streets, small, rural towns, exotic lands, different cultures and languages. What kind of backdrop do you enjoy reading . . . or writing about?