Guest post: a sense of place

Texan crime writer Jim Wilsky is one half of the team behind Blood on Blood, one of the many excellent books produced by the publisher of my crime novel, Ghost Money, Snubnose Press. He and Frank Zafiro blog at the site, Hardboiled Partners in Crime.

Blood on Blood is a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game as two estranged half-brothers race against time (and each other) to try to find jewels from their father’s last big heist. It’s on my Kindle. Why don’t you put it on yours, too.

Frank was good enough to drop by to talk about a sense of place and how it features in his writing.

Take it away, Jim.

First of all, I want to say what a pleasure it is to be doing a guest post on Andrew’s page here. Being asked to do this by a brother Snubnose Press author makes it even better.

If you’re reading this, but you haven’t read Andrew’s new book Ghost Money yet, then I have to say you’re missing the boat. You’ve had a tragic lapse in judgment. Redeem yourself! Get a copy of Ghost Money. You’ll enjoy a terrific book.

Andrew wanted me to write a little about the crime fiction scene in Texas, where I live and work. What’s hot, who’s writing it and what are they writing about.

I started and stopped several times.

At first, I tried focusing on Texas authors and their books and it was an impossible task, because there are a multitude of great writers both known and lesser known.

To do it right, you mention one, you need to mention them all. Too much material and too long of a post.

Then I thought, okay, I’ll look at specific genres. That wasn’t any better though, I couldn’t whittle anything down below writing a damn novella about the subject. Finally I came up with another angle to take, while also trying to stay on point. So, I’m going to go against my marching orders as writers seem to do and as I’m sure Andrew pretty much expected of this undisciplined troublemaker anyway.

Personally, when I write a story, I’m a big believer in place being extremely important. To me, where is almost as big as who. Again, my opinion only. The setting provides the necessary background feel I need while writing and what I believe the reader needs to fully appreciate the tale.

For me, place frames the story and characters. Place can shape and determine to a great extent the profiles of your characters, how they act, how they talk, personalities and what makes them tick.

I ‘see’ many of my stories like a movie on a screen when I write them. I want that background in the scene to be vibrant and dramatic. So whether it a desert, a river, a mountain, a cornfield or a big city alley behind the pool hall – I want it right there and I want it to be heard and smelled. I want the reader sweating because it’s so damn hot you can hardly breathe or I want them shaking because that brutal cold crosswind is cutting into you like a knife.

As the old saying goes, you write what you know. So, when I’m writing a story and the setting is up for grabs, well, it’s hard to stray from Texas. Of course not every story I write, or even half of them are set in Texas, but the ones that do seem to come very easy. I am biased to be sure, but there are few places in my small mind that offer up such diversity in land with such a rich cultural stew of people.

Just in the storied land itself, there is a treasure trove of countless possibilities that have yet to be thought up or told. Throw in the heavy historical influence of Spanish Conquistadors, Native Americans, Settlers and adventurers from the colonies, Mexico, Missions and towns, wars and famous battles and you have some serious stories to dream up and tell. Bandits and lawmen who don’t necessarily ride horses much anymore, but they’re here, in great numbers.

Using the backdrop of big cities like Dallas, Austin and Houston, big towns San Antonio and Fort Worth certainly satisfies the urban itch in a story. For a rural setting you only drive a little ways out from one of the cities and you hit the small towns. Or you drive half of a day and find the smallest towns with names like Cut ‘n Shoot, Meansville, Point Blank, Grit, Notrees and Gun Barrel City.

There are a million more one stoplight towns like that in this state. Texas is 268,596 square miles of land and water. Second only to Alaska in the size of individual U.S. States. Only a speck of course, compared to the land mass of Australia.

It has drawn people like a magnet for centuries and still does. There is a certain mind set of the people here. There is a tendency and fondness for a fight but also for fun. A wild hair of a place, urban or rural, you take your pick. It has always been a place of the law and the lawless. A place to live for and a place to die for. It can be a hard place, ballsy and uncompromising. Fiercely independent? No question. Stubborn? Oh hell yes. Borderline obnoxiously proud and loyal to what is commonly called the Republic of Texas by native Texans? Absolutely. Unique? Without a doubt.

But no matter what you read, or what you are told, it’s not exactly what you think it is. It’s not the stereotype picture that is so often painted. It’s so much more and for a writer like me, Texas is a literal gold mine of times in the future, current and past. A multitude of different settings, characters and plots. Unwritten books just waiting to be born.

So yes, setting is big for me in the who, what, where and when of story writing. Now, I’m sure I’ve kicked this can down the road way too far already. I hear snoring off to my left, so I’ll sign off. Thanks again for having me Andrew! It was a pleasure and honor to be here.

Details for where you can purchase Blood on Blood are here.

3 Responses

  1. Andrew,

    A late thank you for allowing me in here. Then again, I’m always late.

    I’m waiting for you over at Hardboiled! – Jim

  2. Pingback: Book News: November 16th, 2012 | My Bookish Ways

  3. Hi Jim,

    Hey, I agree wholeheartedly, place is damn important. There was a reason, often a very important one, that brought the characters to a specific place, and so it absolutely defines their past, present, and future.

    Congratulations on Blood on Blood. It sounds like the high-tension kind of read I like. I’ll put it on my ‘to read’ list.

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