Real Settings vs Fictional Settings

One of the important choices a novelist needs to make is whether to use a real or invented setting in a book. When this comes up, I envy science fiction or fantasy writers. Heck, just set the story on a made-up planet! Sure, you have to keep track of the rules you created to be sure your world stays consistent, but nobody is going to write to tell you that you didn’t describe the place accurately.

That can (and does) happen when you choose a real place as a setting. You may get readers commenting that there’s no way your character can drive from Main Street to Oak Boulevard in ten minutes, or that the turnoff to the waterfall is not at milepost 85. And if you mention a real business in your setting, you should check to make sure the owners don’t object to the corpse you’ve placed in their building, or they may complain that you damaged their reputation.

On the other hand, fictional locations can get you into trouble, too. My setting for Endangered was an invented park in Utah. One reviewer wrote “Fantastic descriptions! I can’t wait to visit Heritage National Monument.” Kind of embarrassing, when the setting doesn’t really exist.

So, I tend to compromise, using a real place for inspiration, then giving it a fictional name. (“No, I did not say the killer worked at Burger King, I said he worked at Burger Kingdom.” “Sure, in The Only Witness, the location of the gorilla compound may seem a lot like Ellensburg, Washington, but look again, those gorillas are in Evansburg.”)

Then, to make the issue more complex, setting includes not only place, but also time. And over time, things change. Now that I’ve been published for more than a decade, I’ve run into this time problem a lot. I recently read a good article ( that described four distinct time frames that will affect a book: author time (when the work was originally written or published), narrator time (when the narrator in a work of fiction supposedly narrates the story), plot time (when the action depicted takes place); and reader time (when a reader reads the work)

Ack! None of my books is historical, so each story is set in the “present,” and I’ve run into this time-tangle on multiple occasions. When I wrote Endangered , I did my best to incorporate state-of-the-art technology so my character could blog from the backcountry. Now all those gadgets are out of date. When I wrote my novel Backcountry, I was attending weekly country line dance lessons, and I set a pivotal scene in the dance club, convinced that this would help advertise the place. Around two weeks after that book was published, the club was sold and the name changed. Thanks to Covid, that club is now out of business. So much for using a real place for authenticity.

I also smack into this issue of author time vs reader time as a reader. I’ll be reading along and think, wow, this author is ignorant about recent events, then look at the copyright page to find that the book was published a decade ago. I hope my readers do that instead of choosing to believe that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

As a writer of suspense, I often run into problems with plot time in real settings. In my novel Undercurrents, those who are familiar with the Galapagos Islands may realize that there’s no way my character can get from this island to that one in only a few hours, but hey, I needed her to do that. It’s hard to maintain tension with a lot of travel time between islands, unless there’s a murderer on the boat.

My most recent Sam Westin mystery, Borderland, takes place along the Arizona-Mexico border wall. Sure, there’s a wall there now, but will there be a decade from now? This setting stuff is tricky.

Guest Blogger ~ C L Bee

THE GHOSTLY AND PARADISE TAXI – Book 1 in the 3 book series The Ghostly And Paradise Taxi is a mystery with no predictability, essentially a book for our time when no one knows whether they will survive another day.

From the first chapter with the heading “Remembrances of time past and present” the mystery of this cross genre Kindle eBook begins.  The unnamed  “he and she” are having a conversation, but I drop a few clues the reader can pick up when “she” indicates that finally, she’s written the first paragraph of the book she has always wanted to write.  And “he” asks whether she will use her pseudonym. Another clue for the reader to pick up comes when she asks him to read the first paragraph.  And the title of “her” book is the same as the title of this book.

The process of writing an intriguing mystery involves knowing how to plot a step by step  to parts of the puzzle.  For my book to have its twists and turns, early on in the writing, I keep a time line file in my head until I get the sense of how to move the plot and characters toward the denouement.  Sometimes I use a time line that is part of the chapter heading.  I want flawed characters to write about, because I am offering the reader a view of humanity, and as we know, no one is perfect.  In writing the book I’d like to read, I have to plot a way to move my characters toward a life changing experience, in other words, their epiphany, but some of us never learn, and those are the characters I want to receive a punishment apropos to their malicious intent. 

I know readers will enjoy solving my mystery along with me when I also wonder what happens next.  For me, writing is like tending the grapes in a vineyard.  To make certain my words are conveying the story, it’s like making fine wine, I know my story ends when all the pieces complete the puzzle, then I’m ready to send my manuscript to my publisher.   For years I wrote for editors who edited writers to “put a coat of polish” on the contents of their magazine or newspaper.  I wrote a popular monthly column entitled “Travel Agent Spotlight” for a travel industry magazine, but for the two years I had written the column, I couldn’t find one word that I wrote.  I finally told the Editor that I would send her a summary.  She told me to keep handing in my copy as usual, but I had an idea for a book, and I quit. 

Now, I’d like you to read my book, here is the Amazon Kindle url:

As a bonus for the readers of Ladies of Mystery’s blog, you can read this book for free. 

My publisher is Kindle exclusive, and  Daccord Press plans to offer a free Kindle ebook promotion, the website is:

Use the link on the right of the Daccord Press website for the email contact, but if you are reading this blog, here it is:  Ask to be on the email list and leave your email contact.  Daccord Press will send out an email to you with the “day” or “days” you can take advantage of this offer, all you have to do is put the url of the book:  

Claim your free Kindle ebook, if you don’t have a Kindle, download to your computer.

CL Bee is a former freelance writer who worked overseas and was based in Paris, France. Now she’s back in the USA and writing the fiction she didn’t publish during those years when she was freelancing.  CL Bee is currently at work on her first eBook, The Ghostly and Paradise Taxi Book 1, in the series The Ghostly and Paradise Taxi, published by Daccord Press, an indie small press.

To Seek an Award or Not by Heather Haven

Most writers are pretty opinionated on the subject of soliciting awards. Some believe that entering a contest, often paying a fee, is buying the award. I personally, don’t believe that is true. Hundreds of books are often entered into a contest. Sometimes larger contests have thousands of entrants. Many from all over the world. If your book can win out over those odds, I say good for you.

For some authors, being nominated by their peers is the only way to go. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. The nomination of a book by members of an organization or those attending a conference is lovely. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is, as I say, lovely. Sometimes the public nominates a particular book. In a way, it’s a popularity contest, but so what? If you have fans, if you have a following, and they want to acknowledge your book, that’s wonderful.

I have garnered a few awards over the years and I think they all add to the mix. For me, it’s a form of publicity and advertising.. Between good reviews and awards, I believe it helps a reader who may not be familiar with my work, to be willing to take a chance on buying one of my books. That’s all in all. Buy my book and read it.

If i am going to enter a contest, I try to be very circumspect. I like to know, first off, that it has merit. I take a little time, look through the credentials and past winners. Often awards are not a money making proposition for those running the contest. They have to hire readers and/or judges to read all the entries. They have to have some kind of technical or data driven system in place to handle the entries. It all takes time and money.

I recently won another award. I am deeply honored. The Drop-Dead Temple of Doom was the 2021 BIBA® Mystery/Cozy Mystery Winner! I get lots of publicity, stickers to put on my books, and received a beautiful crystal award. They even spelled my name right. I just love it.

Let’s Begin

January. The beginning of the new year seems an appropriate time to talk about beginnings. Such as, how to begin a novel, or story.

Where is the beginning? Is it where the protagonist enters the action? Or at a point deep in the back story, a place that can be glimpsed in a prologue?

The decision of how best to start a writing project is a personal one that varies from writer to writer.

Kindred Crimes, the first Jeri Howard novel, introduces my Oakland-based private investigator. I toyed with several different beginnings and wound up with the traditional private eye opening scene: Jeri meets with her new client in her Oakland office. The man is looking for his missing wife. Seems like a straightforward case. Or is it? All is not as it seems. That much is revealed in the first two paragraphs. And as Jeri delves deeper into the case, she discovers much more.

Man, woman, and child posed in front of a thick green Christmas tree, its branches laden with silver tinsel and gold balls. He stood behind her chair, hands resting lightly on her shoulders. Her blond hair fell in waves past the collar of her red dress. In her lap she held a cherubic toddler. They smiled at the camera, the image of a perfect middle-class nuclear family, caught forever in a five-by-seven glossy.

“When did she leave?” I asked.

The second Jeri Howard book, Till the Old Men Die, took me in a different direction. An earlier version began with a scene in which a woman with a shady past shows up at the history department office at the California State University branch in Hayward, California. The shady woman wants the papers belonging to a professor who was murdered some months ago in what appears to be a random mugging. Upon reading that version, a fellow writer commented that it was a shame reader didn’t get a glimpse of the murdered man while he’s still alive. I obliged, in a brief prologue that gave readers a look at how the man was killed.

I also included a prologue in Take a Number. It wasn’t back story. Instead, it was the only time Jeri meets the man she’s investigating, Sam Raynor. Jeri’s client is in the process of divorcing this abusive man. As he talks with Jeri, he tries to charm her. When she calls him on his bullshit, he reveals his nasty, manipulative personality. The next chapter backtracks, describing how Jeri got involved in the investigation. We meet her client and get some background on the case. The husband has money but known that California is a community property state, but he’s hiding it from his wife.

Then, of course, he winds up dead. His wife is the most immediate suspect, but Jeri discovers a long list of people with motives to kill him. As Jeri says:

Sam Raynor was the biggest slug who ever oozed across my path. Anyone who wanted to kill him would have to take a number and get in line.

With the Jill McLeod series, featuring my traveling Zephyrette in the early 1950s, the first two books, Death Rides the Zephyr and Death Deals a Hand, start out in a chronological fashion, with Jill on one of her train runs aboard the train. The third book, The Ghost in Roomette Four, starts with the ghost. How could I have a ghost and start any other way? It’s late at night and Jill sees something she can’t explain. A spectral presence, or maybe she’s just tired.

I am not seeing this, Jill McLeod told herself. But she was.

Light shimmered at eye level, about ten feet in front of her. The apparition seems to have no source. None, anyway, that Jill could discern. What’s more, she could see through it.

Jill took a step toward the light. It brightened, then dimmed. She took another step. The light flickered and moved into roomette four.

For my recent Kay Dexter mystery, The Sacrificial Daughter, I went back to the client-in-the-office beginning. Kay is a geriatric care manager who helps people care for elderly family members. As the book starts, she’s meeting with a prospective client who is having a difficult time with her mother. This first chapter introduces Kay and her profession and gives the reader an idea of why someone would hire a care manager.

“I’m at my wit’s end,” Sheryl Garvin said.

I could see that.

She had the stretched-too-thin aura of someone who wasn’t getting enough sleep. Her voice sounded tired.

Beginnings. One hopes that they lead to endings. I’ve got a good start on the book I’m working on. Now that January is here, it’s time to get to work and finish it.

Guest Blogger ~ Melissa Yi

War and Drink by Melissa Yi

“I could make Hope a custom gin.” —Nathalie Gamache, artisan distiller and board-certified gynecologist

Nathalie’s offer to create a gin for my main character, Dr. Hope Sze, delighted me. I’m an emergency doctor myself, and when we met online through a physician group, I felt that Nathalie understands Hope’s courage and fears as a resident doctor who solves crimes.

In honour of a custom gin, though, I’d have to focus on alcohol in my next medical thriller. And I hardly drink!

However, I was soon fascinated by the history of booze and crime. I began reading Frenchie, the story of a Quebec man who joined Al Capone’s gang in Chicago for 8 years.

I discovered that Montreal, the main site of my Hope Sze series, was a vacation magnet during Prohibition, as Americans flowed north for “giggle water” (liquor), jazz, and “pro skirts” (prostitutes in 1920’s slang). Unfortunately, buildings from the era were destroyed to make way for new construction.

Luckily, la Maison de Bootlegger is still standing in Charlevoix, Quebec. This building was a speakeasy, a place where they illegally sold alcohol, so you had to “speak easy,” or softly, about its location. Now it’s a restaurant with a nightly rock and roll show. Make your dinner reservations early so you can get the tour. I enjoyed tiptoeing into hidden rooms, observing hidden booze shelves, and creeping through a secret passageway in Elvis Presley’s footsteps.

Seriously, Elvis was here. He even left his signature!

Much further east, at the Age of Sail Museum in Nova Scotia, I noted the Family Temperance Pledge in their Bible and realized that of course the Maritime provinces, right on the sea, would sail liquor to the U.S. I read later that the income was a boon to Nova Scotia fishermen, suffering from a regional recession in the 1920’s. But as the Temperance movement pointed out, that money came at a social cost: alcoholics beat their families and spent their money on drink instead of food.

So there was no shortage of writing inspiration for me, both in terms of liquor and of crime. But how could I weave it all together in my novel, White Lightning? Especially when I took a side journey researching 19th century England, how could I draw it all together into a thriller featuring my thoroughly 21st century heroine, Hope Sze?

The solution: more research.

Hope visits the Rumrunner’s Rest, a Prohibition inn inspired by la Maison de Bootlegger, but in Windsor, where 75 percent of alcohol flowed across the Detroit River onto U.S. soil. To maximize the chaos, Hope also has to navigate a con filled with people dressed up like fictional villains from the The Wicked Witch of the West to Children of the Corn.

I literally played with the historical elements: I wrote the 19th Century portion first as a play called “The Climbing Boy” in a playwriting class at George Brown College, which was turned into a Lego stop action movie at the digital Winnipeg Fringe. I folded “The Climbing Boy” into White Lightning thanks to some inspiration from author Simone St. James.

In other words, in White Lightning, I tried to capture the glamour as well as the murder and treachery of Prohibition.

As William Faulkner pointed out, “War and drink are the two things man is never too poor to buy.”

So let’s raise a glass and grab a book as we turn the page on a new year!

White Lightning

Hope Sze Medical Mystery Book 9

Prohibition and Predators. 

Hope Sze escapes for a romantic weekend away at the Rumrunner’s Rest, a Roaring Twenties inn once celebrated both for Prohibition’s best alcohol and the smoothest jazz bands north of the Detroit River.

Then a convention of fictional villains overrun the tavern, her friend glimpses a ghost, and Hope uncovers a grisly surprise in the fireplace that may be related to Al Capone.

Tonight, unless Hope unravels a century’s worth of clues, death will collect several more lives. Including the one she holds most dear.

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Melissa Yi, also known as Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes, studied emergency medicine at McGill University in Montreal. She was so shocked by the patients crammed into the waiting area, and the examining rooms without running water, that she began to contemplate murder. And so she created Dr. Hope Sze, the resident who could save lives and fight crime.  Her most recent crime novel, White Lightning, is already up for many awards. She appeared on CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning and recently had so many print interviews that an addiction services counsellor said, “I see you in the newspaper more often than I see you in the emergency room.”

Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes applied to medical school mostly because she wanted to save lives, but also because she’s nosy. Medicine is a fascinating and frustrating window into other people’s lives. She shares her sometimes painful, occasionally hilarious stories in The Medical Post, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and in her essay collections The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World, FIfty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy, and Broken Bones.








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