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Friday, September 17, 2010


Today’s Book Club Friday guest author is Radine Trees Nehring. Radine is the author of the To Die For mysteries. You can find out more about Radine, read the first chapter of each of her books, and talk with her about Real Place Reality at her website. Her books are available from both brick and mortar and online booksellers. Radine will be giving away a copy of A River To Die For to one lucky reader who posts a comment this week. -- AP

by Radine Trees Nehring

Ahhh...the driveway is shoveled, my frigid toes are thawing in fuzzy slippers, and I have thirty minutes all to myself. Think I’ll begin one of the books I just bought. Um, which one...? Oh yes, that one!

Chapter I, Page 1:
“Summer in Benteen County, Kansas, is a season possessed of all the gentle subtlety of an act of war.... A week ago, the thermometer had risen past the unbearable mark...and, in automatic response, the humidity rushed after it–-to a level technically described as obscene.”

How about it? Would you rather read this description from the opening page of J. M. Hayes’ mystery novel, Mad Dog & Englishman in summer--or winter?
Winter, you say? Me, too, because from the very beginning of that novel, I feel heat. (When it’s hot outside, I suggest enjoying something like Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger, where you can experience a white-out blizzard--and frozen body--in northern Minnesota.)

Good mystery writers are master manipulators, creating atmosphere and location inside minds. They take us to places dark and stormy or glaring and sharp, thrill us with spooky ice caves, steaming jungles and worlds that may be far away or charmingly familiar. The more skillful the writer, the more willing we are to believe, share, travel, and enjoy--riding along eagerly with characters and events that become real for at least the space of a novel.
But there is also a real place reality in fiction that goes beyond hot Kansas or cold Minnesota; ice caves or steaming jungles. Novels using real place reality enable us to experience actual locations while we enjoy the entertainment of a mystery being solved there. This type of novel offers a mini-vacation without the expense of travel, (though quite often readers end up wanting to see the described location for themselves.)

When my own fiction writing career was getting under way, I was a relative newcomer to the Ozarks. My husband and I chose Arkansas for our home after spending time thinking about going “back to the land” in several parts of the United States. My love for Arkansas led to an interest in writing about it, and, in a burst of energy, I spent fifteen years selling articles, essays, and poetry about the Ozarks to publications in the United States as well as other countries. After publishing one non-fiction book set here, (DEAR EARTH, A Love Letter from Spring Hollow) I decided to try my hand at writing the type of book I enjoy reading most–-the traditional mystery.

My first effort, A Valley to Die For, (St Kitts Press, 2002) was set in the same country Ozarks area as Dear Earth, an easy location to describe, since I live here. Then, in Music to Die For, I decided to send my protagonist, Carrie McCrite, to another Ozarks spot I love, Ozark Folk Center State Park in Stone County. (Picture Sturbridge Village with an Ozarks setting and Ozarks history, plus a music theater where old-time music can be enjoyed every day the park is open.)

It wasn’t long before I discovered it was not only fun to site books at Arkansas tourist destinations, it was good business. When people ask “Do you have to get permission to use a real place as a book setting?” I report that I do, indeed, get written permission as a courtesy. However, that’s never difficult because the people in charge of such places are often smart enough to realize--as I now have--that an adventure story set in their location is excellent advertising, bringing tourists to see the place where it all happened. Settings in my novels are real enough that, at signings, I give actual tourist brochures and location maps to everyone buying one of my To Die For novels.

Do I really need to tell you I enjoy research? And, not only are people at my various book settings eager to be research assistants, they’re often caught up in the magic of the forming story. They leap into the idea with me, acting out possible plot twists and saying something like: “she could...” or, “what if....”  We have a very good time.

As a mystery reader, I’m excited when I find a new author who takes me into a real place, enhancing it with an adventure puzzle capable of holding my attention. As a writer, I love telling stories set in real places I have chosen to visit, absorb, and share with readers.
People frequently ask, "How do you decide on plots to fit your locations?"

Once a location has caught my interest and imagination, the plot rises organically out of the area's history and circumstances present-day.  For example, the plot in A Treasure to Die For, set in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, is based on Hot Springs' checkered past as both a spa location and "Sin City."  Ripe for mystery-making? You bet!

This novel had a terrific two-day launch party in the lobby of the historic Fordyce Bath House, where much of the adventure and menace in the story takes place. The Fordyce is now the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center and Museum. Tourists who purchase my book, A Treasure to Die For, in the Fordyce Gift Shop, sometimes take time to write and tell me what fun it was to follow the plot in a real location. 

This same pattern occurs in all my stories. In A River to Die For, Carrie and Henry travel to Buffalo National River (another Arkansas National Park) where the looting of archeological treasures dating back as much as 10,000 years is taking place present-day. What a plot opportunity!

Journey to Die For (a May, 2010 release by Wolfmont Press) visits the historic Arkansas River town of Van Buren, where a steamboat said to hold a safe full of silver coins was sunk during the Civil War. Carrie and Henry ride the historic Arkansas and Missouri Excursion Train on a pleasure trip to Van Buren, and end up in a tangle of mystery related to long-ago events.
As a reader, I’m always glad when an author uses her or his mind and powers of observation to describe a place so realistically that I’m there. As an author, I simply write about wonderful places as they really are!
And hope you'll join me there.

         Thanks for joining us today, Radine! I know I love books set in real places. What about the rest of you? Have you ever read a book and realized you recognized the locale? Let’s hear from you. Everyone who posts a comment this week is entered into a drawing to win a copy of A River To Die For by today’s guest author. -- AP


Jill McCullough said...

It's interesting that you begin building your stories with setting. (I like to hear how other authors are inspired). I agree that setting is one of the most important components of a novel and I love it when writers are able to put me right in the world of their story.

I read a lot of fantasy, which are (obviously) set in a lot of completely fictitious places, but your post made me think about those sf/f books that are set in real locations, like Kat Richardson's Greywalker series (Seattle), S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire series (Portland), and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight (Forks, WA). Hmm... the west seems to be a hot bed of inspiration... might have to plan a research trip out there soon. :-)

Happy writing!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Hi, Radine, you already know I love your books. The only think I know about Arkansas is from your books. I've never been there.

Of course, in my case, I write about real places but give them fictional names so I can change things around a bit.

Hope to see you in the coming year.



Jill, have you noticed how many vampire stories are set in Denver and Seattle? Makes me wonder what's going on in those cities.

Kathye Quick said...

I try to give a sense of real location in my stoires. I get a lot of comments saying the readers love to identify with the setting.

Nice post - thanks

Jill McCullough said...

I think some places just have more mood than others. They make great settings. Denver is a fantastic city. We're actually headed out there this winter. (My brother and SIL live there). I'll have to take some inspirational location shots as well as the usual family photos.

Anonymous said...

I love reading about places I know or want to go. I am so glad one of yours is set in Hot Springs!!!!

Thanks for the chance to win a book.

Brenda W.

Unknown said...

i always enjoy seeing someplace I recognize in a book. But a recent one that stands out is Phyllis Smallman's Margarita Nights. I've never been there but sent the book on to a friend in Florida because I knew it was her kind of book. When she wrote back she had recognized many of the sights and had even narrowed down where Smallman stays when in Florida. That's good location writing!

Janet said...

I have spent several vacations in Arkansas and consider it an under-rated state, I am glad to see a book that recognizes how beautiful Arkansas is. I love the Ozarks.


Radine said...

My wish is that everyone could--at one time or another--visit this lovely state. SO much to see and do. Any of you been searching for diamonds in Arkansas? We have the only surface diamond mine open to the public where searchers can keep anything they find. I haven't been there yet but it's one place this Arkie would sure like to see!

Kathy said...

I love to read books about real places. I've added your books to my list of must reads. I hope we get a lot of snow this winter so I can spend all day inside reading.


jeff7salter said...

Radine, I enjoyed learning how you write out of real places and derive inspiration (about plots & characters) from some real-life events.
In the second of my five novel manuscripts (so far), I took a real-life Civil War experience of my wife's ancestral family -- right here on the property adjacent to ours -- and combined it with another real-life story which happened some years later less than a mile away (though her family was not directly involved --- at least not as far as we know).
Together, those two intriguing stories formed the basis of the entire novel and my heroine's struggle to learn more about those mysteries.
Thanks for your post today.


I want to extend my thanks to Radine Trees Nehring for being our Book Club Friday guest author today and for offering a copy of A RIVER TO DIE FOR to one lucky reader who posted a comment this week. Be sure to stop back tomorrow to see if you're the winner.

Carol-Lynn Rossel said...

Thanks Radine for sharing how you work setting into your books. I'd never thought about getting permission to use setting. I'll remember this.

Tony Burton said...

I truly enjoy reading all Radine's stories, even though I began publishing her novels only with the latest one, JOURNEY TO DIE FOR. Radine is a very real person, too, folks, with a real love for the places she writes about, and it has been a great benefit marketing her work, setting them in places that are touristy spots.

One thing I like about reading books set in real places is the immediate connection I can make if I know the place. Of course, one thing that authors have to put up with is the occasional nitpicky person who will get furious if you put the cafe on the wrong block of the city. That's why it takes really good research if you don't already know the setting location!

pennyt said...

Hi Radine - I've read and very much enjoyed your first two books - I've never been to the Ozarks, except "via your books" but they make a lovely setting. Thanks for the chance to win a book.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Jeff...I sure look forward to reading the Civil War setting book! Pea Ridge National Military Park is near us and, thus far, I have set one short story there (at a re-enactment). The anthology it was published in is unfortunately out of print. However, JOURNEY TO DIE FOR uses Civil War events as part of the plot (at the Battles of Van Buren and Prairie Grove, both in AR) and MUSIC TO DIE FOR also includes some Civil War history. It's all around us here, as the Confederate forces were trying to break through Missouri to St. Louis to gain control of the Mississippi River. The Pea Ridge battle is considered the one that saved Missouri for the Union.

Again, thanks to all and congratulations to Carol-Lynn. Radine

jeff7salter said...

The battle which figured into my wife's ancestral history was the rather small skirmish at Dutton's Hill in Pulaski Co. KY.
Two Rebel soldiers, stragglers from that battle, made their way along the Caney Fork [creek] and to the log cabin where these ancestors lived. One was wounded terribly; not sure about the other. The family gave them shelter, food, and tried to tend the mortal wounds, but the one soldier died during that night. He was buried early the next morning, before daybreak, because the family would have been in serious trouble if they were found to have helped a Confederate. This part of KY was occupied by Union troops at that time.
I find this true family story fascinating, so naturally it was fun to incorporate it into a novel.