The Chicks are extremely excited to welcome Eleanor Cawood Jones, author extraordinaire of short crime fiction, to the blog today. She may just tell us how she comes up with her stories’ amazing settings. Take it away, Eleanor!
When NIMBY turns to YIMBY for the short story writer
Once upon a time, my oldest first cousin says to me, “I just read your first book.” (A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Tales of Murder and More.) And naturally, since she’s family, I wait for her to say something along the lines of, “It is, in fact, the BEST book I’ve ever read in the HISTORY OF TIME.”
Instead, she glowered at me and said, “You hooked me into 13 sets of characters, and 13 times the stories ended too soon. Now I’ll never know what happened next to All. Those. People, and I got attached to them. Not to mention the ones you killed off.”
Ouch! Sorry, Cousin Carolyn. But that reminds me of a few of the quandaries of being a purveyor of short fiction. One, you have to constantly invent and introduce new characters if you’re not doing a series of related stories. Especially if you’re writing murder mystery shorts and some of the characters aren’t going to come back for sequel stories unless they are ghost guest stars (hey, there’s an idea). And they all need to be fresh and different, each time. It can be a challenge.
Same thing goes for settings.
Searching for settings, real and imaginary, is a constant quest for this writer, and I would think most writers. I was lucky enough to spend a few years traveling the globe (no offense to Flat Earthers, but seriously, you can see it’s round from the plane window), and some of the settings literally jumped out at me. Easter Island, surrounded by statues of giant heads? Yes, that’s a given. (That one ended up in last year’s Malice Domestic anthology, Mystery Most Geographical.)
Green Bay, Wisconsin when you accidentally stumble into a clown convention? Oh, please. Yes, yes, yes. (Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional).
Weird and wonderful Florida? Oh, sure. That landed in the 2018 Bouchercon anthology, and if you’re in a weird and wonderful mood and have a minute, you can actually read it here: GirlsGoneChillin.com/Hollywood-Motel.
But sometimes the best settings are right around you, and you don’t have to go anywhere much at all. Have you ever heard of NIMBY? (Not In My Back Yard; No thanks, don’t build that highrise/superstore/helipad/drag racing track behind ME.) But as a writer, I embrace YIMBY—Yes! In My Backyard!
I was walking through the tiny park behind my condo looking at new spring flowers and BAM—what would happen if a murderer in the next block hid a body in that hollow tree? And what’s lurking under the tennis court next door? And don’t even get me started on what might wind up in the dumpster to my left.
By now you’re all thinking, wow, I bet she’s a lot of fun to walk with. But the point is that whether you travel by armchair, plane, or train, you can find a place to set your story and run with it with just a little imagination. And the good news is you’ll never, ever run out of places if you just say to yourself, “What happens next?”
So I’ve been thinking a lot about where to set my next story, and maybe even creating a set of stories with the same characters—Cousin Carolyn would like that—and I’ve been wondering… As a reader, what kinds of settings do you like to read about, and is setting in fact important to you? As a writer, is setting something you struggle with? Do you use the same settings over again? Are you a YIMBY writer or a globetrotter/I-must-see-it wordsmith?
And do you have a dream setting, that one place you really mean to write about, or read about, someday? I’ve been told setting is a character, and I embrace that, whether it’s right in my own backyard or on that next big roadtrip.
Meanwhile, and speaking of our own backyards, my hometown bestie has just solved the Mystery of the Nesting Chicken. The short version is her new all-girl poultry flock turned out to not actually be all-girl. One day Mary Jane started crowing, and shortly after that, Ingrid started nesting. Could the two be related? And indeed they were. I mention this because it’s a “Chicks” blog, and because they are cute, and just in time for Easter, and it seems a good way to close.
In fact, I think that’s my next setting… right in her own backyard. See what I mean?
Eleanor Cawood Jones is a former journalist and reformed marketing director who packs a suitcase with very little prompting and spends any spare time creating short fiction, and longs to create longer fiction if just she had the attention span. Find Eleanor on Facebook and Twitter and visit her website at GirlsGoneChillin.com, too!
Readers, please say hi to Eleanor and tell her the favorite place you’ve ever visited–bet she’s been there!