The Importance of Setting by Thonie Hevron
In a recent post, our host Marilyn Meredith talked about setting and why it is important. I think it’s only fair to share with her my thoughts on setting.
Setting is the reason I got serious about writing. I’d always written but never seriously and rarely completed a work. By 1997, I’d spent two decades in law enforcement in Northern California. When my fire fighter husband suffered a career-ending injury, we stepped up plans to retire to the high desert/mountains. Until I qualified to retire—a few years at most—I got a job as a dispatcher at a small municipal police department. It took less than a year in the Sierras when I found myself so homesick that even the catastrophic floods of 1996-97 in my old neighborhood made me want to be back in Sonoma County. I’d worked three previous floods and missed helping during the disasters.
One night, seeking a bit of solace, I scratched out a description of a Russian River (Sonoma County) home I saw in a magazine. Then the seed of a story began. Then I wrote the story. That tale became By Force or Fear, the Nick and Meredith Mysteries, about a Sheriff’s detective Meredith Ryan (and her partner Nick Reyes) stalked by an influential judge.
Sonoma County has a rich topography to draw from—Pacific coastline, primordial redwood forests, mountains, vineyards, livestock pastures, and the Russian River. Since my husband and I moved back in 2004, I’ve written and published a total of four books—all set in Sonoma County (the exception is Intent to Hold, the second book, begins and ends in Sonoma but the bulk of the tale takes place in the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico).
To me, setting is another form of character. Written well, it can engage your senses with the smell of the redwoods, the spray of the ocean waves, humus underfoot (smell and touch), and the inspiring sights of all these. A good character portrayal often includes quirks and habits. So can setting. I love to incorporate a natural event-often a disaster. In By Force or Fear my deputies are called upon to rescue residents of a tough-to-access canyon during a flood. A mudslide complicates characters’ escape in Intent to Hold. A rampant wildland fire almost thwarts a murder investigation for Nick and Meredith in With Malice Aforethought. In the fourth book, Felony Murder Rule, I decided to rely less on Mother Nature and make the most of maternal instincts. Meredith Ryan’s father dies leaving her an ugly secret that endangers her family. I set this novel in Petaluma, my hometown. I’ve been here off and on since 1976 and consider it home.
I hope I do this setting justice.