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An Author's Perspective:

Advice for Mystery Writers:
Write Where (Yes, Where) You Know

by Larry D. Sweazy

© 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Latest Title: Where Can I See You

Publisher: Seventh Street Books

Release Date: January 10, 2017

I grew up in a factory town. My great-grandfather migrated there in the mid-1930s, searching for work in the Great Depression. My grandfather soon followed, bringing with him my grandmother and their five children. The work was a constant through all of their lives; they all worked in the factory at one time or another, including my mother, the youngest of the five. My grandmother quit factory work after an accident severed her right index finger. It was sewn back on, but was never the same. My grandfather retired after thirty years of working in the factory, and he and grandmother moved away from our town, to a small lakeside community, about one hundred miles north. It was that choice, among many others made before my time, that changed my life. I spent summers at the lakes until I graduated high school and left home. It is in this location, highly fictionalized, that I set my new novel, Where I Can See You.

The lakes were a weekend destination for many factory workers at the time. The place was full of quaint little cottages, travel trailers, and places to pitch a tent. There were ice cream stores, putt-putt golf courses, and amusement rides, all built to capitalize on the short summer tourist season. My grandparents lived in a retirement community, and there were rules there that were unheard of back then, concerning the types of trashcans they could set out, all to the way to the length of grass allowed to grow in their yards. It was a precursor to today's strict homeowner associations. But things started to change once the factories began laying off in the early 1980s, and the automobile industry started to fade from its post-World War II glory. Decay set in, and it was a long time before I revisited the area. It was just too difficult after my grandparents had died to go there, to see everything as it was, compared to how I remembered it.

Going home again is a universal story made famous by Thomas Wolfe in his novel Look Homeward Angel. I always liked that idea. It struck me at some point, that the place I'd spent most of my childhood in, and then the changes that had taken place since, would serve as the perfect backdrop for a detective story. Especially a detective who had suffered a tragedy in his childhood, left home, and then returned as a seasoned, middle-aged adult. Hud Matthew's mother vanished without a trace when he was eight years old. There are no flashbacks in this novel, but Hud sees the past wherever he goes. He never stopped looking for his mother.

I would have never set a novel in a lake community if I hadn't spent a lot of time there. But I didn't want to use the real place. I wanted to have the freedom to move buildings around, the lakes around, to suit the needs of the story. For example, when we turned on the road to go to my grandparents house, we went down a dip just before we entered the retirement community. In this dip, a man kept wild animals; lions, tigers, bears, ostriches, etc. for whatever the reason. I never knew why, just that the collection of animals was there. I could hear the lion roar at night as I lay gazing up at the stars. I used that real situation in this novel, but I changed the odd little place in the road to an ice cream shop and a small zoo, called The Dip.

Choosing this location was writing what I know, but it was also writing where I know. It was what I remembered and what I wanted it to be, which I hope serves the story on a deeper, more emotional level than ordinary scenery might suggest. I hope my experience spent in a lakeside community convinces the reader that the place is real. So if you're struggling to write a story, try picking a setting that you're familiar with, treat it like a character with good and bad attributes, and use those little details that maybe only you know, then scramble them up a little bit. Writing what you know can also be writing where you know. PnC

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