Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Guest Author Diane Burton Talks Location, Location, Location

Posted by: Veronica Scott

Veronica: I’ve known Diane in the author community for quite a while, and enjoyed her books greatly so it’s my pleasure to welcome her back to Here Be Magic as our guest today!

Diane: Thank you so much for inviting me back. I write in three genres: science fiction romance, cozy mysteries, and romantic suspense. As different as they are, all of them have their own reader expectations. But one thing that’s the same is a location where the story takes place.

In contemporary stories (including romantic suspense and mysteries), we call it a setting. In fantasy and science fiction romance, we describe it as world-building. Basically, we do the same thing for both. My SFR stories can take place in a starship or on an alien planet. In order to ground the reader, I have to establish all the external factors that influence my characters. The reader doesn’t need to know everything I do, but I’d better figure it all out—things like the climate/weather, government (or lack of), customs, food, holidays, religious observances, etc. And, I need to keep track. I keep a separate file for each book titled “details” (so original, LOL). If I’m writing a series, I copy the file to the new book and add those details.

My Private Eye mysteries require the same thing. A few things we can take for granted when writing contemporary stories—the government, for example. But my stories that take place in a small town on the west coast of Michigan will have different foods, customs, or events than a story set in New York City, the Pacific NW, or Japan.

“They” say you should write what you know. Okay. That works for my contemporary stories, but what about the sci-fi romances? I would love to experience traveling in a starship at faster than light speed or teleporting from Michigan to Arizona to visit my granddaughter (well, her parents, too). Since that’s not possible, I have to do a lot of research. Besides Google, I love Pinterest for the pictures that give me so many ideas.

I grew up in a rural community where everyone (except us) was related or had known each other since birth. I’ve lived in medium-size cities, metropolitan suburbs (Detroit and Chicago), and a small town. Now I live in a Lake Michigan resort town, though not as small the fictional town of Far Haven in my Alex O’Hara PI mystery series.

Seasons in Michigan are different from those in Arizona. Traditional foods, too. Western Michigan was settled by the Dutch. I’d never had, or even heard of, oliebollen or bankets before living here. Those pastries are quite yummy, by the way.

During the Tulip Time Festival (early May), visitors and locals get to sample all kinds of Dutch food, watch klompen dancing (in wooden shoes), or watch the kinderparade with children from the area schools marching in Dutch costumes. I had to include those local customs in my stories.

Parts, if not most, of my SFR Outer Rim stories take place in a desert colony on the frontier of space. I used what I know of the desert in the American Southwest to make the setting seem familiar. Heat, penetrating sun, cold nights, grit and sand everywhere and in everything. For my PI mysteries, I set each story in the same small town but in a different season. To ground the reader, I mentioned the depressing gray skies and the bone-chilling damp cold of winter around the Great Lakes as well as “lake effect” snow. Or the distinct smells of autumn and spring.

As with all descriptions of setting—or world building—readers will skip info dumps, so we have to weave in the details subtly. Here’s an excerpt from my newly released Alex O’Hara PI mystery, The Case of the Meddling Mama.

Nick and I ran through Waterfront Park. Now that he was back again, running together was our only alone time. We stayed on the jogging path lined with tulip spears poking their leaves through the ground. If the weather cooperated, we would have a beautiful display in time for Holland’s Tulip Time Festival. Considering how close Far Haven was to Holland, we got a lot of spillover from the tourists. I had mixed feelings about spring. The influx of tourists boosted our economy. It also turned our sleepy, little town into a tourist haven. Nightmare was more like it, especially traffic. I liked knowing everyone in town. It made me feel comfortable, secure. All the strangers made me . . . edgy.
For a while, the only sound came from the screeching gulls and our shoes slapping the hard-packed sand. We ran to the Point then turned around. A couple of hardy souls in black wet suits kite-surfed about a hundred feet out into Lake Michigan. Their brightly-colored kites danced in the wind while their boards skimmed the water. The sun glinted off the gentle waves, sparkling like tiny fireworks. In the distance, a freighter headed south. Fully loaded considering how low it rode in the water.
On our way back, Nick stopped at the park. “We have to talk.”
Nothing ever good came from a conversation that started with those words. He pulled me down onto a bench. For several seconds, he just gazed out at Lake Michigan. In the distance, a freighter headed south. Fully loaded, considering how low it rode in the water.
I couldn’t stand Nick’s silence any longer. I was about to ask what he wanted to talk about when he said, “Did you really mean what you said? After Ma showed up. About not wanting to be married to me?”

Once again, Alex O’Hara is up to her ears in mysteries. After surviving an attempted murder, all she wants is R&R time with Nick Palzetti. But his mother leaving his father (“that horse’s patoot”) and moving in with Alex puts a crimp in their plans. Then Nick leaves on assignment and the teen she rescued from an abusive father believes his buddy is doing drugs. Meanwhile, Alex has two easy cases to take her mind off her shaky relationship with Nick—a philandering husband and a background check on a client’s boyfriend. Piece of cake.

Available at:

About the Author:

Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction and romance into writing romantic fiction. Besides the science fiction romance Switched and Outer Rim series, she is the author of One Red Shoe, a romantic suspense. She is also a contributor to the anthology How I Met My Husband. Diane and her husband live in Michigan. They have two children and two grandchildren.
 For more info and excerpts from her books, visit Diane’s website:

Connect with Diane Burton online

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