Novelist, take me away
Does setting matter?
Re-play time! Originally posted at Lois Winston’s blog, Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers
As a writer and reader I enjoy the “take-me-away” aspect of new and different places in fiction. Off to a foreign land without all the inconveniences of travel. I’ve used settings as far away as Moldova but my two novels set in France are close to my heart.
The books feature Americans but they rely as much on their setting as almost anything else. This France, far from the stylish boulevards of Paris and the sunny beaches of the Côte d’Azur, is the Dordogne province, originally called the Perigord. This southwestern region is a fertile land known for its wine, foie gras, duck confit, and black truffles. Its back roads wind through deep canyons, with villages clinging to cliffs. Here the Hundred Years War was fought and Nazis laid waste to the land. Remnants of war and violence remain.
Much of the first book, Blackbird Fly, is centered around small village life. In the second book, out this month, the Bennett sisters, all five lawyers, take on a walking tour of the Dordogne. Merle Bennett, the middle sister, is turning fifty. The “girl” in the title of the sequel, The Girl in the Empty Dress, is a law colleague of one sister. Secretive, demanding, and a bit rude, she hasn’t made many friends. Her secrets become the key to unraveling several mysteries.
History really comes alive in these old places where the ‘bastide’ walls are still solid after 800 years. But the delicacies of this area are the real delights. Black Perigord truffles are famous around the world. Difficult to harvest, they are becoming more scarce as climate change alters their natural habitat in these sunny hills and valleys.
Dogs are often trained today to hunt truffles. A highly-trained truffle dog is very valuable to any truffle hunter. In The Girl in the Empty Dress the women come across an injured dog in the ditch. This dog, they soon find out, is famous for its truffling exploits. How it got to be injured and out on its own sets off the mystery.
I went on a French walking tour myself. Six women, a love of wine and cheese, and winding trails through the vineyards made for a fabulous time. Afterward I saw a ‘Sixty Minutes’ story on truffles. One man, a dog owner who had his prized truffle dog stolen, really got to me. He searched for years in vain for his dog. I decided to write about a stolen truffle dog. I couldn’t figure out how to come at the story, then the walking tour came back to me. The dynamics of a small group are always interesting. The sixth wheel, the woman who is secretive and annoying, sets up the conflict. As a writer once you come up with the central conflict you’re off to the races.
A delicious setting doesn’t hurt of course.
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