Why setting is so important in a mystery series

Blood in Tavasci MarshWhen I began planning the Pegasus Quincy mystery series, my prime impetus was to share the beautiful Verde Valley with the world. The area is a paradox, a small valley with one major river and five named creeks in the middle of a state, Arizona, renown for its deserts.

The first novel, Death in Copper Town, introduced the fictional small town of Mingus, located in the mountains that were made famous during their copper mining heydays. The second, Blood in Tavasci Marsh, continues exploration of this setting by moving down the hill to the Native American Indian Ruins at Tuzigoot and the marsh below it.

Setting can involve time, as well. What better time of year to visit a ghost town than at Halloween? In this second novel, Mingus prepares for the holiday in typical small town fashion: Pegasus visits the old mining cemetery, Isabel prepares for the Day of the Dead ceremonies, and the entire town, shops and all, decorate for the holiday with skeletons and pumpkins.

Setting involves not only plants, but animal life. Blood in Tavasci Marsh concerns a young man in love with the beauty of indigenous butterflies, his brother who is breeding redbone coonhounds, and Shepherd’s cat, who becomes more than a match for Pegasus.

Weather is another ingredient of setting. The second novel in the series takes place in the volatile autumn season in Mingus, where one day is sweltering hot, and the next brings an ice storm that paralyzes the Valley. Both will influence how the story develops and resolves.

Characters in a novel, no matter what the genre, must be developed three-dimensionally in order for the story to work. But setting is no less an integral part of story development.

Join me as Pegasus Quincy continues to grow as a person and as a law officer in the novel Blood in Tavasci Marsh! 

 

This afternoon I heard a cardinal sing

Observed near the Salton Sea, this female quai...

I woke this morning thinking I heard quail, and that was patently impossible, because I was surrounded by dozens of parked semi-trucks beside my motel, miles and miles of freeway on the other side, and a room three stories up. But I awoke thinking I heard the quail.

I had driven from my little town to Phoenix for the weekend. These communities are less than a hundred miles apart, but at the same time, are places that belong to different worlds: Phoenix-metro has about three million people; my little town about fifteen thousand. In my town right now the iris and forsythia are blooming; in Phoenix, the palo verde trees have turned a brilliant gold and the ironwood trees are a filagreed lavender.

Did I mention the traffic? We have only four-lane roads in my little town, and not too many of those. Phoenix has hundreds of miles of ten-lane freeways, as evidenced by the sooty residue on my car’s windshield this morning.

And money! We don’t have a lot here; WalMart is our big time shopping adventure. Scottsdale, on the edge of Phoenix has Neiman Marcus, a dedicated Mont Blanc shop, and the newest of Tesla showrooms.

Churches, too. I visited a Phoenix church this morning boasting a magnificent choir, acres of stained glass windows, and a membership approaching five thousand. The little church I often frequent in my home town has maybe two hundred members in attendance on a good Sunday—say, Easter.

Both places are important to me, for different reasons. I like to visit Phoenix, because it gives me perspective on my problems and goals and adventures. Somehow ninety miles from home I can see clearly what I cannot envision up close and personal in my easy chair.

I need, not the affluence of the metropolitan area, but rather the contrast of differences, the ability to say, oh! there is another world out there, not better or worse, but unique in its own way. I am not alone in my searching.

Northern Cardinal / Cardinal rouge

And this afternoon, when I came back, a cardinal singing in the crepe myrtle welcomed me home. A good journey, indeed!