Earl Stagg's Speaks On Setting

My wife and I spent most of our lives and raised our two daughters in and around Baltimore.  Like most Marylanders, when we wanted to get away, we’d go to the ocean.  That meant crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the part of the state known as The Eastern Shore and following Route 50 for two hours to the beaches along the Atlantic coast.  Our favorite destination was Ocean City, a jewel of a family resort town with a wide boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants that seems to go for miles and a white-sand beach that goes even farther.   Our girls went from toddlers to teenagers in the years we spent weekends and vacations there.

It was a natural and easy choice to set my first mystery novel, MEMORY OF A MURDER, there.  We had moved away from Maryland by then, but my memories of Ocean City were so engrained, I could write it without research.
My protagonist, Adam Kingston, lives in a sixth floor condo apartment on the Boardwalk in Ocean City.  My favorite times there were early morning and late evening, and I wanted Adam to experience them as I did.  Here’s a morning scene from the book.

He went into the kitchen, poured a fresh cup, carried it into the dining room, opened a sliding glass door, and stepped out onto his patio.
* * *
The green-carpeted patio ran the full width of the apartment and extended out twenty feet. Adam stood at the concrete retaining wall and looked toward the Atlantic Ocean. From the horizon to the surf, the morning sun spread its glaring reflection in a jagged golden path across gently tumbling waves. On the wide beach between the surf and the Boardwalk, seagulls and sandpipers scurried over freshly combed sand, searching for crumbs of food missed by giant cleaning machines.
As far as he could see in either direction, hundreds of sea birds floated above the surf, diving and snatching when they spotted a morsel behind a receding wave. Their frenzied squeals punctuated the constant rush and slide of water against sand to complete the familiar symphony of a seashore morning.
* * *

In this scene, Adam is on the Boardwalk at night.

During the day, he thought of the Boardwalk as a thoroughfare for the hordes who trod its tireless planks and rode its shuttle trains in sun-bleached pursuit of their pleasures. He liked it better at night when the superficial noises of the day surrendered to the ageless voices of the sea and wind. He walked across it now with his hands deep in his pockets, listening as the soft lapping of cresting waves became gentle accents above their own rhythmic onrush and retreat into themselves, letting cool, salt-laden breezes playfully tease him from one direction then another.
No stars were visible, and the moon was a hazy gray splatter on an endless, black canvas. Far out, beneath a barely discernible horizon, a brightly-lit cruise ship slid past nodding pinpoint lights of small fishing boats. He watched a couple stroll barefoot along the surf, their pants legs rolled up, their inner hands linked, shoes and socks swinging in their free hands.
Watching them, he thought of other nights on the beach, of blankets spread on the sand, of chilled wine disguised in paper cups, of sitting with Caroline for hours, listening, feeling, touching.
* * *
I don’t consider myself good at descriptions, but I hope these passages did some justice to a setting that will always be dear to me.

A Mystery Novel
By Earl Staggs
Available through bookstores and from Amazon or B&N online.

****Earned 13 five Star reviews on Amazon and B&N****
Adam Kingston, a widowed former FBI agent, is drawn into the mystery of a sixteen-year-old murder. When this triggers a rash of new killings, he must call upon all his resources to keep himself and those
around him alive. Past and present collide even more when he is forced to collaborate with homicide detective Brenda McCort. His attraction to her challenges his devotion to his beloved late wife.  In a suspenseful, action-filled race toward a climactic showdown with the killer and the revelation of murderous secrets of the past, Adam is forced to face truths about his own personal future.

Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His column “Write Tight” appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre. He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery. He hosts workshops for the Muse Online Writers Conference and the Catholic Writers Conference Online and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups. 
Email: earlstaggs@sbcglobal.net  Website:  http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com

I hope you’ll drop by my Blog/Website at: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com and visit with my special guest for the day. 

While you're there, you can read Chapter One of MEMORY OF A MURDER, my first mystery novel, which earned thirteen Five Star reviews.

Also while you’re there, don't forget to sign up for the drawing on December 9. The first name drawn from those who comment will receive a print copy of MEMORY OF A MURDER.  The second winner will have a choice of an ebook or print copy of SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, a collection of sixteen of my best short stories.

 From Marilyn:
Earl, I lived on the Eastern Shore (Cambridge) when I was first married. 1951-52. I wasn't really enamored with the place at the time. We went back several times for visits and I learned to enjoy the charm, even when we stayed right on the Chesapeake Bay during Hurricane Isabel. Enjoyed your post!


Earl Staggs said…
How cool, Marilyn, that you lived in Cambridge. Incidentally, that's the hometown of Kaye Barley, a mainstay on DorothyL. Maybe Kaye will drop in here and say Howdy.
Hi, Earl and Marilyn,

Your mystery sounds very interesting. Setting really is important to mystery fiction. That's why I think it's important to choose a place you know well to lend authenticity to a novel. Obviously, you've done that successfully.
custom thesis said…
Very interesting article! Thanks.
Jackie King said…
Good article, settings are so important and yet difficult to write successfully.
Earl, my hubby was born and raised in Cambridge. Kaye Barley and I have talked about it, but so far haven't found anyone she knows that he knows.

So glad you came to hang out with me today.

WS Gager said…
Earl: I love this line: "he thought of the Boardwalk as a thoroughfare for the hordes who trod its tireless planks and rode its shuttle trains in sun-bleached pursuit of their pleasures." Great description!
W.S. Gager on Writing
M.M. Gornell said…
Wonderful descriptive passages, Earl. I've only been to the East Coast once, so very unfamiliar with the Atlantic ocean. Your passages took me there, I was standing side by side with Adam.

"...and the moon was a hazy gray splatter on an endless, black canvas." Loved it.

Jean Henry Mead said…
Beautifully written, Earl. Maryland is my dad's home state and I have many relatives there. I lived in Dover, Delaware, for two years and made many trips across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, one of the longest in the world.
Beth Anderson said…
I was a Baltimore baby myself, Earl. Lived, during my early childhood and again for a while in my teens in Overlea. I went to Kenwood High. And oh, every time anyone even says Eastern Shore, I still smell the saltwater in the air. My best memories, actually. Nice descriptive phrasing, you're doing great!
jenny milchman said…
I love the role of setting in crime fiction. Beach-y or shore settings can be particularly dramatic.
Mike Orenduff said…
Good post, Earl. It's hard for me to imagine writing a book set in a place I don't know.
john M. Daniel said…
Earl, you say you're not good with settings, but this excerpt proves you wrong about that. I've never see Atlantic City, but now I feel I've been there.
john M. Daniel said…
I meant Ocean City. Sorry!
Alice Duncan said…
Loved your post, Earl. Am also loving WHERE BILLY DIED (although I doubt it will change my mind about the final resting place of Billy the Kid). :-)
Anne K. Albert said…
"He liked it better at night when the superficial noises of the day surrendered to the ageless voices of the sea and wind."

Beautiful, Earl. Especially as I've spent 3 glorious weeks at the beach and am now on my way home. The crash of waves against the shore is imprinted on my psyche, and will be sorely missed.

How could I not put Memory of a Murder is on my TBR list?!
Anonymous said…
I am going to have to have my own copy of "Memory of a Murder" just for those descriptions.

Morgan Mandel said…
The picture you paint is a different world from mine in Illinois!
Morgan Mandel
Earl Staggs said…
You're right, Jacqueline. Setting can be as important as the characters sometimes. If the setting doesn't ring true, the story can fail.

custom thesis, I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for coming by.

Jackie, settings are extremely difficult for me and take an incredible lot of time. I'd rather write a car chase or a gun battle.

Marilyn, it's too bad your hubby and Kaye don't know anyone in common. She is such a sweetiepie.
Earl Staggs said…
Wendy and Madeline, many thanks for the compliments on my descriptions. I really struggle hard with them.

Jean, how neat that you dad has Maryland roots. Crossing the Bay Bridge is always a thrill for me.

Beth! You actually lived in Bawlmer? Terrific! I remember where Overlea is. That sortakinda makes us homies.
Earl Staggs said…
Jenny, thanks so much for dropping in. I think most people have fond memories of a beach somewhere, and that's why I chose that setting.

I'm with you, Mike. If I use a real setting, I make sure to get the details right, and it's so much easier if I've been there.

Thanks for the kind words, John. You should visit Ocean City. You'd love it.
Earl Staggs said…
Alice, open your mind to the truth. You'll be a better person for it.

Anne, I envy your having 3 weeks at the beach. Great place to relax and recharge.

Brenda, I hope you like the rest of the book, too.

Morgan, there aren't any beaches in Central Texas either. That makes me miss Maryland even more.
Phyllis said…
Earl, I loved your descriptions of Ocean City. I look forward to reading Memory of a Murder. Marilyn, I love Tempe Crabtree.

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