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Wednesday, July 10, 2024

AUTHOR VALERIE TAYLOR ON JOURNEYING FROM ROMANCE TO MYSTERY IN BOTH GENRE AND SETTING

Award-winning romantic comedy author Valerie Taylor recently debuted A Whale of a Murder, the first book in her new Venus Bixby cozy mystery series. When not writing or reading, she enjoys practicing tai chi and being an expert sports spectator. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Journey vs. Destination

Ralph Waldo Emerson has been credited with saying, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” That may be true in life. But what about in a novel? What’s more important? The plot (the journey) or the setting (the destination)? Clearly, the answer resides in the opinion of each reader.

 

However, consider this: Could a story, no matter how intriguing the characters or captivating the plot, exist without a setting that readers can inhabit as they’re turning pages? How many books have you been halfway through and then stopped to ask, “Where is this taking place?” I’d bet few to none.

 

Choosing where to set my debut romantic comedy, What’s Not Said, which I wrote in 2018, was relatively easy. I’d lived in and loved Boston and had vacationed in Venice in 2016. So, too, was the process of selecting the settings for the subsequent books in the trilogy: What’s Not True and What’s Not Lost. With Boston as home base in each, my vacations to Paris and Greece provided ample fodder for featuring those destinations.

 

Little did I know, however, when I decided to write a cozy mystery, my inspiration would derive from a day trip to the New Bedford Whaling Museum in the summer of 2016 after I retired.

 

I’d found writing about a destination I knew well, like Boston, was as delightful as eating a piece of cream pie. Even scenes in Venice, Paris, and Greece evolved effortlessly.

 

Such was not the case when I decided to switch genres from romantic comedy to cozy mystery. That’s because cozies have their own distinct rules and require certain elements. Elements such as who was the victim and what was the cause of death and must include a large cast of characters: the murderer, suspects, a sleuth.

 

Most of all, though, unlike the real-life locales in my romantic comedy series, my cozy mystery needed to be set in an enchanting fictional town. Think Cabot Cove in the Murder, She Wrote television series.

 

Bingo! I recalled visiting New Bedford, MA, and decided to create my fictional town in its image. Naming it Chatham Crossing was a fun exercise. Those familiar with Cape Cod know the popular town of Chatham. And since my town would be located, like New Bedford, between Providence, Rhode Island, and the Cape, the word Crossing seemed a logical fit.

 

But that was only the start. I had to build Chatham Crossing.

 

For assistance, I logged into one of my favorite author resources: OneStopForWriters.com, which is chock full of reference materials and tools. I headed straight for the tab labeled “Worldbuilding Surveys.” While worldbuilding is often associated with sci-fi or fantasy (think Game of Thrones), I needed to build a cozy village like no other. This meant that before even starting to plot the journey I’d take readers on, I had to know the town’s physical characteristics, the rules the residents live by, and what their cultural norms were. Through an extensive question and answer roadmap, I was not only able to conceive the structural aspects of the town, but also fresh plot ideas emerged. 

 

Then, I downloaded a map of New Bedford and went to work re-naming streets, parks, businesses, and so on, ending up with a working map of Chatham Crossing.

 

I rounded out this research with frequent visits to the New Bedford Whaling Museum website and attended online evening discussions about the history of the whaling and shipping industries. 

 

Once I had a view of Chatham Crossing in focus, I jumped into writing the narrative. But there were more aspects to consider to bring the village alive. Some writing coaches advise that each page should include a reference to the five senses: see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. I confess. I don’t do that religiously. Although I do have a Post-it note on my monitor as a reminder.

 

If I had to honestly assess my journey as an author, I’d have to admit along the way I felt setting was my Achilles heel. Apparently, through diligence, practice, and four books under my belt, I’ve improved. Reviewers often remark that they enjoy the description of the historic whaling village of Chatham Crossing, as well as the journey the story takes them in A Whale of a Murder.


A Whale of a Murder

A Venus Bixby Mystery, Book 1


Retro-music store owner Venus Bixby will do anything to be named to Chatham Crossing's prestigious Town Committee. But when she stumbles over a body in the garden where her fiftieth birthday party is scheduled to be held, becoming both a suspect and an amateur sleuth is not what Venus had in mind!




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