Alice Duncan Discusses the Settings for her Novels

Award-winning author Alice Duncan lives with a herd of wild dachshunds (enriched from time to time with fosterees from New Mexico Dachshund Rescue) in Roswell, New Mexico. She's not a UFO enthusiast; she's in Roswell because her mother's family settled there fifty years before the aliens crashed. Alice no longer longs to return to California, although she still misses the food, not to mention her children, one of whom is there and the other of whom is in Nevada. Alice would love to hear from you at And be sure to visit her Web site at
Settings are very important to me as an author, perhaps because I write historical novels. I want my readers to immerse themselves in the period during which my stories takes place, and they can’t do that if I don’t make the settings clear from the get-go.
At the moment, I have three historical cozy series going. One (my “Spirits” series) is set in Pasadena, California (my home town) in the early 1920s.
The second is the “Angels” series, set in Los Angeles, California, in 1926.
The third is the “Pecos Valley” series, set in Roswell, New Mexico (where I now live) in 1923, although I call Roswell Rosedale in the books.
I particularly enjoy writing books set during the ‘twenties (can you tell?) because so much was going on at the time. The Great War, also called the War to End All Wars (ha), had just ended; many young people felt jaded and helpless to affect their lives in any substantive way (hence, the “Lost Generation”); women were beginning to assume more freedoms—we females here in the USA got the vote in 1920 (Turkey allowed their women to vote in 1918, but who’s keeping track?); Prohibition was supposed to be the law of the land; motion pictures were all the rage, as was spiritualism; there was a financial depression going on (yes, in the ‘twenties); older people despaired of the youth of the day; anarchists seemed to be running wild here and abroad; and skirts had taken a shocking hike upward. “Bright Young Things” routinely drove their parents wild; pretty much everyone had an automobile; radio was just beginning; baseball truly was America’s pastime; and most towns had both a baseball team and a brass band. An absolutely fascinating decade!
Naturally, although I am very familiar with Pasadena, having been born and reared there, I had to do tons of research into Pasadena in the 1920s. But that was just fun. Every time I visit Pasadena, which I do as often as possible, I spend at least a day or two downstairs in the Periodical Room reading magazines from the ‘twenties. Daisy Gumm Majesty, protagonist in my “Spirits” books, is a child of her time, but since she has to support her war-injured husband, she had no use for folks who fritter their time away in speakeasies and so forth. I love Daisy.
I had to do a lot of research about Los Angeles, too, but I enjoy research. Mercedes Louise Allcutt, protagonist of my “Angels” books, is a transplanted Boston Brahmin who wants to learn about the “real” world (as opposed to her ivory tower in Boston). In doing this, she actually takes a job, something no female in her family has ever done before, thereby earning the wrath of her family. She works for a jaded ex-cop, current P.I., Ernie Templeton. Mercy’s aim in life is to become a private investigator’s assistant and write gritty crime novels.
My Roswell/Rosedale books were a bit easier when it came to research, since my mother was born in Roswell, NM, in 1913 and spent her youth here, only leaving in the early ‘thirties to live with her sister in Altadena, California, and get a job. Jobs have always been hard to find in Roswell. Anyway, she told me all about Roswell as it was when she was a little girl, and it sounded kind of like a rugged western town in the 1880s. Roswell is still, as it was then, isolated from any larger city by at least 200 miles. Poor Annabelle Blue, my protagonist in the “Pecos Valley” books feels her isolation keenly, and really wants to have an adventure or two before she gets old and gray.
Anyhow, here are links to my three books that were published this year, one from each series:
· PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL (featuring Annabelle Blue and set in Roswell, NM, in 1923):  
· FALLEN ANGELS (featuring Mercedes Louise Allcutt and set in Los Angeles, CA, in 1926):
· GENTEEL SPIRITS (featuring Daisy Gumm Majesty, and set in Pasadena, CA, in 1922):


Alice Duncan said…
Thanks for having me on your blog today, Marilyn!
Anonymous said…
Alice and Marilyn: Always enjoy reading about fellow readers and writers (especially mystery genre) and send thanks and good vibes and cyber hugs :-)
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and great reading and good luck to all of us,
Jackie Griffey
Jean Henry Mead said…
I enjoyed your post, Alice, and look forward to reading your books about my "hometown," Los Angeles.
Thank you, Alice. I especially admire writers of historical books because their setting is not just a place but also a time, and that means that both the physical world and the attitudinal world need to come alive. And accurately. It's a whole different level of work, and so far in my life I've been too lazy to attempt it, but I'm grateful to those, like you, who do.
I think it's always a good idea to set novels in places you really know and haved lived. The authenticity adds credibility.
M.M. Gornell said…
Hi, Alice, I so agree with Timothy. You have a "special" talent.

Alice Duncan said…
Thanks for dropping by, Jackie!

I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, Jean, but I love L.A. Randy Newman and I are probably alone in that :-)

Thanks, Tim. I prefer to pretend the old days were better than nowadays (although I know I'm wrong), so It really isn't so tough. I love history.

Thank you very much, Jacquie and Madeline!
Marja McGraw said…
Alice, this was such an interesting post. For you it's the twenties, and for it it's the forties. I understand the draw. Now I have to order one of your books, because they really sound interesting.
Jackie King said…
Enjoyed your post on creating settings, Alice. And I especially enjoyed the comments that followed.

Marilyn, I'm so glad that you chose settings for your part of our Tour.
This has been fun for me too, I'm so tickled at how differently each author has approached the topic. Thanks everyone who has commented.

Peg Herring said…
I love Alice's settings. And her characters. And the fun I have reading her books.
Alice Duncan said…
Thanks, everyone! If you guys like historical mysteries, you should try Peg Herring's Elizabeth and Simon books (that's Elizabeth I, guys).

Thanks, Marja!

And just because people seem to enjoy Daisy, her next adventure, ANCIENT SPIRITS, just got a -- gasp! -- good Kirkus review! Boy, that doesn't happen to my books very often when it comes to Kirkus :-)
Mike Orenduff said…
Alice is so great. If she published her shopping list, I'd buy a copy.
WS Gager said…
Alice, I too admire people who can write in the past. The first book I tried to write was set during World War II (another war to end wars??? NOT) I realized it was hard enough to figure out how to write a novel, I couldn't deal with getting the history and nuance right so dropped the project. I would like to revisit that now. Maybe..
Hi Peg. Good to see you!
W.S. Gager on Writing
Alice Duncan said…
Bless your heart, Mike.

It's kind of scary at first to get into another era, Wendy, but it gets easier the more you do it. Trust me on this :-)

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