Moving into her second decade working in education, Jodi Rath has decided to begin a life of crime in her Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series. Her passion for both mysteries and education led her to combine the two to create her business MYS ED, where she splits her time between working as an adjunct for Ohio teachers and creating mischief in her fictional writing. She currently resides in a small, cozy village in Ohio with her husband and her seven cats. Learn more about her and her series at her website.
A Guide to ‘Setting’ up a Cozy Mystery Village
I’ve loved to write as long as I can remember. One of the biggest hurdles for me to jump over is setting. I always look to authors like the late great Sue Grafton, as she spun amazing roads both literally and figuratively throughout her novels. Sara Paretsky personifies Chicago in her V.I. Warshawski novels. Chaucer’s pilgrimage in the springtime to visit Beckett’s shrine in Canterbury gives life to the setting. So, why do I always find myself staring at a page full of words that round out characters, create sensory details, and advance the plot but have little pebbles worth of information on the setting?
When I first set out to write a cozy series, I held back for the longest time. Why? You guessed it: setting fears! I understood the need to create a cozy little village that entices readers to feel they live in that setting as they read the book. Talk about giving me the nervous sweats. How would I ever be able to do this when I struggle with the setting?
I’ve never been huge into fantasy as a reader. I’ve always leaned toward mystery first with English Literature a quick second (I was an English Lit major in my undergrad years and taught English Literature to HS students for two decades, so…).
When I got serious about writing that cozy mystery, I decided to visit the fantasy section of my local library where I grabbed several books with maps in them. I found a quiet little cubbyhole in the corner of the library to study those maps and took some detailed notes. Next, I went and found a globe and circled it for a bit. I always have my handy-dandy journal with me wherever I go, so I got that puppy out and began jotting down some notes on mapping out a world, a town, a street, down to a room.
I made lists. From those lists, I created descriptions using sensory details. I looked up places online and realized (and duh, I was an educator after all so I should have known this) that I learn best visually. Seeing those maps first, then writing, helped me so much. Looking at actual pictures of exact places online or searching for places based off of detailed terms I created in my head, gave me more of a visual to work from. I now had a strategy for writing setting.
So, off I went, back home to my office with my seven cat staff to begin developing The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series, which is set in Leavensport, Ohio. This is a fictional village, but I live in Ohio in a small village myself. Leavensport is partially modeled after the village I live in, but a lot of visual research also went into creating my little world. I found several pictures that I studied and spent hours free-writing, trying to get the right spots in the correct places to be able to help me write this fourteen book series.
Once I did all that, I created a really bad map online. It was truly horrible to look at, but fun to make. So, after putting that atrocity in my first book, my editor kindly said: “Having a map is a great idea, but why don’t you have a professional set it up for you?”
Um….yes, that would be good. Writers, don’t ever think you don’t need an editor. I was so proud and puffed up from my research and time I committed to making the crappy map that I couldn’t really see (or smell) how crappy it was. So, I got a professional who made me a black and white copy for e-books and a colored map for my website and blog interviews like this one. It is beautiful. I do love it. I love all the names I’ve come up with for the village, and I look forward to murdering people in just about every place in town—on the page that is!
Pineapple Upside Down Murder
A Cast Iron Skillet Mystery, Book 1
Introducing Jolie Tucker, an introverted yet passionate restaurant co-owner of Cast Iron Creations, who, at her best friend Ava’s request, steps out of her comfort zone, which leads her into the shade of a killer in the small, cozy village of Leavensport, Ohio. The victim is the village’s beloved Ellie Siler who runs the village sweet spot, Chocolate Capers. Jolie finds her grandma Opal is a prime suspect and goes on a search for answer only to find out that her family’s secret recipes may not belong to the Tucker family at all. Jolie’s job, family, and livelihood are all on the line. The answers are assuredly lethal.