Setting the Stage

Jul 15, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Cathy Perkins

Details at the end of this post on how to win an ebook copy of the first book in the series So About the Money, and a link to purchase it.

“The world only exists in your eyes, your conception of it. You can make it as big or as small as you want to.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ll never forget a New York publisher telling me eastern Washington state was an exotic location. Either she didn’t get out much or her definition of “exotic” meant a place no one has visited. Her comment did make me think about the setting for a novel, however, and how that location choice impacts the story.

Setting is as much a component of the story as the plot and characters. Not only is it the background, the physical place where the action occurs, but it also includes the social environment with its history, nuances, and norms. Think about how deeply intertwined William Kent Kreuger’s stories are with northern Minnesota, Jonathan King’s ventures can only occur in the Florida Everglades, and how Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch investigations are inseparable from LA. The setting is so connected to the story, it becomes a character as well.

The internet has opened access to the physical appearance of pretty much any location. There are newspaper articles, Nat Geo, Google Earth, and YouTube, and whatever else is relevant to your plot and character. But there’s nothing like actually visiting (or living in) a particular place.

In the first book in the Holly Price series, So About the Money, Holly moved back to Richland, her hometown, in eastern Washington. Years earlier, she’d bolted out of the area, headed to Seattle for college and a high-flying career. She’d seen Richland as too conservative, too restrictive. Returning as an adult to help her mother, she still chafed over some of those same perceptions, but she can now see positives in the close-knit community.

Drawing verbal pictures of the area was easy since I was so familiar with the three river-side cities (Richland, Kennewick and Pasco are known as the Tri-Cities) and the surrounding wide-open spaces. I knew the ninety-mile view across the rivers from the Nature Preserve to the Blue Mountains and the beautiful desolation of the Snake River. Mom and Pop stores along Richland’s main drag? Yep, place really does reek of the 50s. Cell phone dropping during an emergency call to Detective JC Dimitrak? I knew exactly where that was going to happen along the Kahlotus Highway. An element like that wouldn’t work in a larger city and dying cell phone batteries have become their own cliché.

Snake River

With Calling for the Money, I moved Holly out of both Richland and Seattle. Holly’s business trip to California allowed me to reasonably bring Holly’s father back into the picture. After the family conflict simmered in the background of several books, it was the right time to confront that particular problem head-on. Moving her father and Seraphina Vincent, his new honey, from a Sedona sweat lodge to tony Coronado Island slammed a lot of issues into focus.

Venice Beach was a deliberate location decision. I was able to take advantage of day-job business trips to the area to describe the current influx of businesses and restaurants into what has been frankly considered a seedy area. (Of course, others saw it as fun and funky, if a little over the top.) Over the years, I saw both the changes to Venice Beach and the push back from the locals. (Yes, my client might’ve been one of those intruding tech companies.)

The novel’s location change from Washington to California served to isolate Holly from her Seattle-based work team at Falcon, as well as her mother and friends back in Richland. That isolation played directly into decisions Holly needed to make about her future. It made Holly’s initial interactions with Max Vincent not only fun to write but simply possible. United by their mutual irritation with their parents, the isolation helped draw Holly to both Max and his friends and ultimately to her involvement in yet another mystery.

Wherever an author takes her readers, the setting enhances the story and thus the reader’s experience. And hey, you might visit all sorts of “exotic” locations along the way.

To enter to win an ebook copy of So About the Money, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “money,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 25, 2020. U.S. residents only for print copy, and you must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A new episode went up last week!

You can use this link to preorder the book on Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories. When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd. For more information, visit her website.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Sounds like a fun read. Looking forward to reading the book.

  2. We have a winner!


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