Special Places by Patricia Dusenbury

 

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Special good or special bad, some places are simply more interesting than others. A unique character makes them tourist destinations—and popular settings for fiction. My first three books are set in pre-Katrina New Orleans.

The Big Easy, The Crescent City, The Paris of the Americas—New Orleans has nicknames to spare, and more than enough personality to support them all. How can you not be charmed by the food, the music, the glorious mix of people, and the easy-going atmosphere? But wander off the beaten path and you’ll see poverty. Don’t go too far or you’ll risk being mugged. Dig a little deeper and see how easy-going can lead to an acceptance of corruption. Put the good and the bad in a pot, stir it up, and you have a great setting for mysteries.

New Orleans also has numerous old houses in various states of repair, which makes it a perfect location for Claire Marshall whose vocation is the restoration of historic houses. Claire loves her adopted city, but she learns that its old houses hold secrets: hidden cupboards, ghosts, skeletons real and metaphoric. People have their secrets, too, things no one wants to talk about, and if you insist …  Well, you get the picture.

After three mysteries set in New Orleans, I wanted a change of scenery. Geary, NC cannot be found on any map, and the imaginary 700 miles that separate it from New Orleans are a chasm. Where New Orleans is a diverse and tolerant port city; Geary is small town Appalachia, homogenous and judgmental. The anonymity that is part of city living doesn’t exist in Geary, but there are things no one wants to talk about.

The new setting gets a new heroine. Older and wiser than Claire, Susan Randolph has been around the block. Her history includes a shotgun marriage to the scion of Geary’s first family, two sons, growing unhappiness, and a hasty departure. That was eleven years ago, and as far as Susan is concerned, Geary exists only in the past.  But then she sees Chris on television. The boy she left behind is now a young man, a suspect in a brutal double murder, and the object of an intensive manhunt.  Susan, who works for a criminal defense attorney in New York City, thinks she knows where Chris is hiding. She knows she can help him. Desperate for another chance to be a good mother, she returns to the town she hates.

I think the right setting adds color to a story, and some settings cry out for a story. Copper Hill TN and McCaysville GA, really one town divided by the state line, are calling to me. For almost a hundred years, they sat in a biological desert. Deforestation and copper smelting had created fifty square miles of eroded red clay and acid creeks where only man, the species that made the mess, could survive. Much has been written about the environmental devastation and the decades of reforestation efforts that, finally, is bringing back plants and animals. What interests me is the people who lived there.  Does such an extreme environment affect behavior?  I’m thinking the answer is yes, and one day I’ll set a book there. Meanwhile, the second installment of this blog will be a stranger-than-fiction true story from McCaysville.

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Before she became a writer, Patricia Dusenbury was an economist and the author of numerous dry publications. She is hoping to atone by writing mystery stories that people read for pleasure. Her first book, A Perfect Victim, was named 2015’s best mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition. Book 2, Secrets, Lies & Homicide, is a finalist in the 2016 EPIC award and was a top ten finalist in the Preditors and Editors 2014 readers’ poll. Book 3, A House of Her Own, released in October 2015, completes the trilogy. It has been nominated for InD’tale’s RONE award. Pat’s newest book, Two Weeks in Geary, is a finalist for the Killer Nashville 2016 Claymore Award.

 

When she isn’t writing, Patricia is reading, gardening, hanging out with the grandkids, or exploring San Francisco, the fabulous city that is her new home

 

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8 thoughts on “Special Places by Patricia Dusenbury

  1. Trish Jackson

    Great post. I enjoy thinking about where my next story is going to take place, and the possibilities different places present. In my Redneck P.I. Series I made up a small Alabama town and named it Quisby. If you look up the meaning of quisby. you’ll see it has a multitude of different meanings, but ‘weird’ is one of them, and the other is ‘nothing.’ So a weird place where nothing happens?

    Reply
  2. Cynthia B Ainsworthe

    Such a wonderful piece. I thoroughly agree with you, Patricia I agree with the idea that a location is important to the color of a story or novel. I prefer Paris as my hubby and I used to visit there every six months back in the day. The three books in my Forbidden Series all have Paris as a backdrop, beit a small portion, or most of the book.

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  3. Miki Thornburg

    I love stories with a strong sense of place, and your New Orleans mysteries certainly have that! Knowing where your people are grounds a story for the writer AND for the reader. Can’t wait to read your new one.

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  4. James L. Secor

    I guess it all depends on the kind of story you’re writing. Having any kind of setting helps “set” it, anchor it, delimit it. With my “crime” endeavors, yes, a specific place is necessary. But my crime writings are uncharacteristic. I did set a historical fiction in a largish actual place: Shikoku. The entire island, though only the geography is actual.
    But if you don’t want it in a specific somewhere. . .and you want it wide open so the reader can “set” it wherever she wants. . .having a specific place is unimportant. This is not untoward. There are ancient Chinese texts that are not set anywhere in particular or are in some unnamed town or other or are so specific as to be based in this house and over the wall in that house. What’s important are Chinese cultural repressions/demands and how people deal with them.
    How, then do you anchor these situations?

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  5. Micki Peluso

    Patricia, great post on the importance of location in fiction, and I believe non-fiction as well. I enjoyed reading about your own technique used in writing your books.

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  6. nathan

    I totally agree. I place people and situation in places I know well or have an emotional connection to – so the setting has a resonance for me that helps make the scene, and the events that occur in it, more real.

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  7. Ricgard Sutton

    Thanks for a really important post, Patricia. Writers are constantly being bitch-slapped by those who “know” that you can’t do this, or you can’t do that in fiction. Their myopic fear of narrative passages often eliminates any real sense of place, and for me at least, a sense of place is equal in importance to the characters. It’s the ingredient that along with the emotional connection to another human being (or not… depending…), immerses me into the story. Your work, thankfully, does just that.

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    1. Patricia Dusenbury

      Thank you, Richard – and sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I’ve been traveling, etc. I’d return the compliment re settings. After reading On Parsons Creek, I felt as if I’d hiked that land.

      Reply

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