Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Location, Location, Location

by Deb Baker

“Love the voice. But no, thanks.” “We don’t know how to market it.” “Not interested in small regionals, but we like your writing. Submit again.” “Native American doesn’t sell. Come up with something other than Hopi Kachina Dolls.”

These are comments from New York editors, all directed at some of my past proposals.
I don’t get it. I was so excited about the prospect of writing a fourth doll collecting mystery about Kachina Dolls. After all, the series is set in Phoenix, Arizona. The doll’s history is rich with color and stories and beliefs. Didn’t Tony Hillerman (trust me, I’m not comparing the two of us) write about the American southwest, about the Navajo culture? “Yes, but he’s the only one who has managed to make it work,” said my boss.

Then there’s Steve Hamilton and his Alex McKnight series set in the Michigan Upper Peninsula in Paradise, population 445. The first won the Shamus and Edgar, and was nominated for the Anthony and Barry.

My guess is that if you want to write about the desolate desert or the frozen reaches of Upper Michigan, you better make that setting a very unique character. It has to leap at you just as the characters do. And you have to find a publisher who isn’t afraid to take a chance.

How about you? Where are your stories set? Does my next proposal have to take place in New York or L.A. or Chicago?


Joe Moore said...

I think this is one of the major differences between mysteries and thrillers. Mysteries usually are confined to a central location whereas thrillers tend to move about. Lynn and I span the globe in our thrillers hopefully avoiding the location issue. In the course of four books, our protag Cotten Stone has raced from NYC to Miami to New Orleans to the Vatican to Washington, DC to New Mexico to Peru to London to Orlando to Vienna to Ethiopia to Kentucky to North Korea to Moldova to Moscow and a couple of places I’ve probably forgot. Our theory: you can’t hit a moving target. Or does it have something to do with racking up frequent flier miles?

Candy Calvert said...

My Darcy Cavanaugh series is set aboard cruise ships, so the ship itself becomes her "home"--and we sail for different ports in every book. New England, Canada, Caribbean . . .

Dolls . . . hmm . . . maybe you could shake up some of those too-cautious publishing folks by writing a Voo Doo doll? ;-)

Mark Terry said...

I was going to echo Joe, actually. My Derek Stillwater novels, being what they are, take place in a different U.S. city each book. "The Devil's Pitchfork" took place in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., "The Serpent's Kiss" takes place in Detroit. The third, "Angels Falling" (scheduled currently for May 2008) takes place in Colorado Springs. The fourth, which I expect to complete this week (yes, Barbara, it's true!) takes place in L.A. (and Islamabad, Pakistan).

Part of the plan is to have Derek in a different city each book. I have ideas for several more Derek Stillwater novels and I'm hoping to spend some time with Derek in Texas, Florida and I have one very important story idea that takes him to Russia.

I would also point out that many, many editors and agents were wrong about Tony Hillerman. He commented that it was either his editor or agent, who, when he wrote the first Leaphorn book, told him the mystery was good, but take out all the Native American stuff.

I often wonder just how insulated and isolated New York editors (in particular) get, especially since they seem to view NYC as the center of the universe.

Rick Bylina said...

I can talk big, because I'm still unpublished. It's about the story not the location. ;-)

I alternate locations in my novels from two mythical towns. One is near where I went to college in northern PA called Marshfield. The other is near where I live now in central North Carolina called Big Woods. The key, I hope, is to have characters and situations readers will love and side trips to keep the action/scenary from becoming stale.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Deb, this just proves that NY publishers are nuts. Margaret Coel does pretty well with her Native American based books. And I think focusing on Kachina Dolls in your doll series would be a natural and something your readers would find very interesting. But that's my non-NY, non-publisher opinion.

My protagonist is in Newport Beach, CA but I move her around during the story along the freeways of Southern California. In book 5 she will head back East for an adventure. I like the idea of mixing it up a bit.

I love reading books set in other locations. It's like visiting them, as well as having a good read.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...


It's not just locations. My first Odelia, Too Big To Miss, was turned down left and right because several of the NY houses didn't think women would read a series about a fat woman. There were already a couple of series out with a plus size character and they didn't feel the market could support another. Fooled them!

Deb Baker said...

That's what is so special about Midnight Ink. They aren't locked into that narrow view.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Absolutely, Deb. I have had several authors with bigger houses tell me their publisher has an unwritten, but known, "do's and don't" list they are expected to follow when writing the story (talk about formula!). And recently, I was at a party where one author was telling us how her publisher was insisting she include certain historical figures in her next book.

Stuff like that would drive me nuts.

Keith Raffel said...

One of the great things about setting a book in someplace besides NY, SF, LA, Miami, or Chicago is the built-in audience you get. If the people in the place where your book is set aren't blase about being the setting for a mystery, you can sell a ton.

Kathryn Lilley said...
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