On Writing: The Importance of Setting

Novel WritingDeborah J Ledford, in “Captivating Settings,” a section from Novel Writing Tips and Techniques From Authors of Second Wind Publishing, stresses the importance of setting, of putting readers at ease and giving them a visual at the beginning of each chapter, especially the first time the location is presented. As the author of the popular Deputy Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series, Deborah J Ledford knows what she is talking about. We do need to be aware of our surroundings.  In real life, if we were to awaken in an empty room — or heaven forbid, hanging in empty space — with no indication of where we are, even the most equanimous would be uncomfortable. The rest of us, of course, would be panicked out of our minds.

Although being unacquainted with where we are in a story wouldn’t panic us, it would prevent us from settling into the novel. We’d be searching the pages warily wondering where we are and even worse, wondering if we want to continue reading.

In the past couple of days I had the dubious honor of reading the first chapters of two new books on the market, and combined, they show the importance of setting a scene and doing it properly.

The first book had absolutely no setting. It was as if the characters were hanging in the air, held to the page only by the thin strings of their words. There was no “there” there, and I had no desire to keep reading. If the writer didn’t care enough about me as a reader to let me know where I was, I certainly didn’t care about the story.

The second book had too much setting, describing the initial scene at great length with lots of awkward constructions using “had”s and “you”s, and meanderings into the past, that I had no interest whatsoever in the story, even though I did know where I was. Instead of describing the setting using vague and anecdotal constructions, she could have used the setting in a more dynamic way, evoking mood, atmosphere, making the setting part of the action. Most importantly, she should have searched for a couple of telling details — the sights, sounds, smells, feel, tastes that evoke the entire feeling of the setting.

In the 1980s, bookracks in grocery stores were full of gothic romances. Perhaps you remember seeing those covers: a brooding mansion in the background, a woman in a diaphanous gown running away from the house, looking back at it in fear. Despite their triteness, those were dynamic covers: the pictorial description of the house, the effect on the character (fear), and how the character reacted (running away.) Written description can be as vibrant as those covers; it just means taking the description a step further and filtering it through the senses of a character.

In this example from my novel More Deaths Than One, we already know that Bob and Kerry are in a hotel in Bangkok, but now we get an impression of the hotel room from Kerry’s reaction.

Bob opened his eyes, then squeezed them shut against the light. From the heaviness of the air and the brightness of the day, he presumed it was mid-morning. He opened his eyes again and this time managed to keep them open.

He turned his head toward Kerry. She lay on her back, hands behind her head, eyes focused on the ceiling. Following her gaze, he realized she was staring at one of the ubiquitous green lizards. Her body vibrated with excitement.

He smiled to himself. Leave it to Kerry to be thrilled with this small reminder they were no longer in Colorado.

“Isn’t this great?” she said in a hushed voice. “We have our own private watch lizard.”

Bob brushed away a fly buzzing around his head. “We could use a few more.”

Later, the description of the hotel becomes an integral part of the Bob’s worry.

The hotel was built around a courtyard accessible from all the rooms. Bob took his breakfast out to the courtyard, but couldn’t enjoy the fountain, the bushes, the flowers. He kept stealing glances at the windows, wondering if anyone was watching him.

When dark clouds rolled across the sky, pushing a stifling humidity before them, he took refuge in his room. It did not have air-conditioning, but the slowly revolving ceiling fan offered a modicum of relief.

He paced the floor, feeling as if he were a stranger in this land. It didn’t matter that he had lived here for sixteen years, he realized; any place would seem alien when he wasn’t with Kerry. She was his home.

He tried not to worry about her all alone on the streets, but as time passed, the worry grew too strong to ignore.

Then the rains fell. There was no light spattering gradually increasing in intensity as in Colorado, but an abrupt opening of the skies as if someone had turned on a spigot.

Because of the emotions evoked, the brief descriptions in no way stop the forward movement of the story.

Other posts you might be interested in:

Describing a Scene in an Interesting Way
Describing a Winter Scene
Describing a Winter Scene — Again
Describing a Winter Scene — Again. And Yet Again.
Describing the Nondescript


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Help Prevent the Disappearance Of Native American Languages

Deborah J Ledford, an award-winning author and one of my very first online (and later offline) friends, has come up with an innovative way to finance her next project. IOF Productions Ltd. established the NatAmGoGo crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo to produce and distribute the audiobook version of her latest thriller novel, Crescendo from Second Wind Publishing.

The NatAmGoGo campaign will also benefit The Blue Feather Corporation, a Native American language and culture nonprofit organization.

The professional audiobook presentation of Crescendo will be narrated by TV and film actress Christina Cox, who has appeared in a variety of films and television episodes including NCIS, Dexter, 24, Castle, Chronicles of Riddick, Better Than Chocolate and Nikki & Nora. IOF Productions Ltd will record Crescendo in November at Costa Mesa Studios in Southern California for download and to purchase as CDs for a December 2013 release.

CRESCENDO_CD“We are thrilled to have Christina Cox set to perform Crescendo. Her exquisite voice and acting prowess will truly bring my words to life,” Ledford says. “The audiobook will be recorded by an experienced staff, with the quality that will equal narrated books presented by top publishing houses.”

Contributor packages for the Indiegogo/ NatAmGoGo project include a PDF version of Staccato, the first book in the Steven Hawk/Inola Walela mystery series; autographed poster of the Crescendo audiobook cover signed by Christina Cox and Ledford; print versions of book series, including Staccato, Snare and Crescendo, signed and personalized by the author; a leather bound package containing all discs of the Crescendo audiobook with booklet signed by Cox and Ledford; a full content edit by Ledford of a manuscript up to 90,000 words, and hand-crafted jewelry created by a renowned Navajo, Hopi and Taos Pueblo artists.

Ledford spent her summers growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, where her novels are set. She met Floyd “Mountain Walking Cane” Gomez in 2006 while doing research for her award-winning novel, Snare. Several years later, Floyd expressed the need to protect languages and culture on reservations throughout the United   States, which is why he is establishing the Blue Feather Corporation.

“The storytelling campaign is an effort to prevent the disappearance of Native American languages and culture,” says Arizona author Ledford, who is part Eastern Band Cherokee.

“Native tribal languages and ancient ways are dying on our nation’s reservations,” Ledford explains. “We want to ensure that ancient societies survive.”

The Native American nonprofit foundation will receive 50% of the royalties from downloads and sales of the Crescendo audiobook. “But once the funding goal is reached, any excess will benefit the foundation 100 percent,” Ledford adds. “We can’t let another language or culture disappear,” Ledford concludes. “‘Wado,’ which means ‘thank you’ in Cherokee.”

A Great Blog to Check Out

Recently there have been some fascinating articles posted on the Second Wind Publishing blog that are worth checking out. All the articles on the blog are great, of course. These are just the most current ones.

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The Importance of Locations by Deborah J Ledford. Deborah describes the wonder of her childhood summers spent in North Carolina, and how they have colored her writing.

Spring by S.M. Senden. Sue talks about the importance of spring cleaning, cleaning out the old, clearing out closets as well as old notions that no longer work, in order to make room for the new.

Air Travel in the 1950′s, a kid’s memory by Juliet Waldron. A fascinating look back at the way air travel used to be. This was of particular interest to me, considering my recent flight via “Sardine Airlines.”

The Day of the Trickster by J J Dare. J J muses on the origins of the April Fool, postulating that perhaps it originated in the old days of Rome. As she said, “these guys and their mythological gods loved to party.”

Headed for adventure by Nichole R Bennett. Nichole tells us about the life of an active-duty military couple. But now she and her husband are headed for adventure by themselves.

Peaches Peppers & Pork Chops by Ginger King. Who would have thought that peaches, peppers, and pork chops would have made a good combination? Ginger King, that’s who! Sounds like a great recipe. I’ll have to try it some day.

Writing a Collaborative Mystery Serial — by Pat Bertram. I wasn’t going to include this since it’s a reprint of an article I did for this blog, but I am proud of our collaborative efforts and the authors who are participating, and couldn’t bypass the opportunity to shout about it.


Deborah J Ledford, S.M. Senden, Juliet Waldron, J J Dare, Nichole R Bennett, Ginger King, and Pat Bertram all have books published by Second Wind.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

How Did You Do the Research for Your Novel?

I researched my novel Daughter Am I for two years, but I also had help from a historian friend, and in fact, he was the one who inspired me to write the book. He used to regale me with tales of gangsters. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch a gangster film with him because he’d keep up a running commentary about all the things the filmmaker got wrong, and I’d miss half the story. I did a lot of research myself, though, and it was a special joy when I discovered something he didn’t know! Most of the information isn’t on the internet, but resides in . . . gasp! . . . books.

Here are a few ways other authors did research for their books. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview by Deborah J Ledford, Author of Snare and Staccato

I’m part Eastern Band Cherokee and knew that I wanted the Native American element to be instrumental for SNARE. Once I decided on the Tribe to focus on I came into contact with the communications director on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Floyd “Mountain Walking Cane” Gomez read every word of the manuscript as I composed each draft. He either approved scenes, characters and elements, or told me flat out “No, you cannot use this.” (he told me this quite often!) Elements Floyd wasn’t sure about were cleared by elders and the Taos Pueblo Tribal Council.

From an interview by T. C. Isbell, Author of “Southern Cross”

I spent a great deal of time researching my book. I used period magazines like Post, Life, and National Geographic. Some research was accomplished using old books and the Internet. However, information on the Internet has to be approached with a grain of salt.

From an interview by Polly Iyer, Author of “Hooked”

You’d be surprised how many upscale women write about their adventures as a call girl. Like Tawny, these are smart women who think why not get paid for something they’re giving away free. The top women go places with exciting, rich men and make big bucks to do it. Just click on Google, and there they are, telling all.

From an interview with Bonnie Toews, Author of “The Consummate Traitor”

I do intense research so that my facts are as realistic as can be in a fictional setting. I scour libraries, Google, read travelogues of areas I have not visited so that my descriptions are as true to life as possible, either today or in the time of the book’s setting. For that I interview people who lived and endured during the period. One interview for The Consummate Traitor was with an actual German aerocraft designer Canada protected so he could work on our Avro jet. He began as a fanatical NAZI with access to Hitler’s inner circle (He hated Goring) but by the end of the war, was so disillusioned that he ended up with a disassociated personality. During our interview he split from one to the other depending on what I described that triggered him to relive the past. I gained amazing insight from that interview and gave his hands to my NAZI villain. I have never seen hands like his — his finger tips were square, not rounded, and his shoulders were so slumped that his arms seem to hang too long for his body. I could picture him in an SS uniform with the shoulder paddings squaring off his body. He died a few years ago. He had Parkinson’s.

What about you? How did you do the research for your novel?

Books Make Good Christmas Gifts

Of course books make good Christmas gifts. You know that. Here’s a list of books you may not have heard of by relatively unknown writers — at least they are relatively unknown at the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two or even all of the authors are household names by this time next year.

The Medicine People by Lazarus Barnhill is a deceptively lighthearted mystery with great characterization and surprising twists and turns.  Why has triple murder suspect and fugitive Ben Whitekiller returned to his hometown to give himself up? Click here to read the first chapter.

Staccato by Deborah J. Ledford is a well-orchestrated thriller about three world-class pianists, two possible killers, one dead woman and a great mental soundtrack for those who know music. Ledford draws you into her world and doesn’t let go until the final crescendo. Click here to read the first chapter.

Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire by Malcolm Campbell: Though Jock Stewart is a throwback to the Hollywood’s film noir reporters, Campbell’s delight in words and wordplay shows through the hardbitten shell, and the novel has a gleeful undertone. Click here to read: an excerpt or the first chapter.

Heart of Hythea by Suzanne Francis is an epic novel full of romance and adventure, with a strong female protagonist who isn’t always sweetness and light. Suzanne’s world is filled with colorful details and captivating characters. Click here to read a synopsis and an excerpt.

Dead Witness by Joylene Nowell Butler is a novel of international intrigue and danger with a hero who fights criminals and the FBI to take control of her life “with every ounce of fury a mother can possess”.  Click here to read the first chapter.

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill is an unlikely romance between a man who has lost everyone he ever cared about and a womanwho has been betrayed and abused by every man she has ever met.  Click here to read the first chapter.

And be sure to check out the books from Second Wind Publishing Company. You might even see a familiar cover or two.

Daughter Am I Is Finished!

DAII received my final proof copy of Daughter Am I, my young woman/old-time gangsters coming of age adventure, and I’ve reluctantly agreed to let it go to the printer.  There is always that moment when you realize this is it — you have to live with any mistakes that end up in the book. If there are any, though, it will be sheer accident. The novel went through several good editings, including a final scrubbing by Deborah J Ledford, fellow Second Wind author and editor extraordinaire. It was also scrupulously copyedited by Donna Russell, (creativemuse1(at)aol(dot)com) a treasure I found on Facebook. So my reluctance is more imaginary than real — the book is as perfect as I can get it.

When I received the final copy edits from Donna, she enclosed a note:

Thank you for the opportunity to edit your book, Daughter Am I.  You certainly put a lot of time and effort into researching all of the historical elements, and did a good job incorporating them into the plot without overwhelming it.  I learned several new things — Hegelian dialect, terms such as “lamster,” and a lot about guns, cars, and the Mafia.  I personally enjoy it when an author sends me to the dictionary or encyclopedia (or Google). There were also many excellent lines in the book. I thought these were especially good:

“The loss of something that never was can be as devastating as any other loss.”

“They thought they could rule by fear, but when fear is around every corner, people lose their fear of the fear.”

“They worked in silence, their excitement so great it seemed to shimmer in the air like a heat mirage.”

“It’s odd—I never used to be aware of old people as real persons. I’m not stupid. I know they weren’t born old, but it didn’t occur to me that heroes and villains, killers and great lovers could be hidden in those feeble bodies.”

I also enjoyed your use of humor, and the way you developed the characters.  It was nice to see Mary grow into a more confident woman, see her influence on the old gangsters, and the way she and they came to genuinely care for one another.  You made me care about the characters.  Have you considered a possible sequel?  I can see the potential for more “adventures.” Anyway, just a thought.

Hmmm. A sequel. Could be interesting, but first I have to sell the original. Luckily, it will be released soon  — maybe in two weeks. Sounds like a good excuse for a party! 

 Daughter Am I will be available soon (!) from Second Wind Publishing, LLC

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Aaaarrrgggghhhh!!!!! Now I Have to Write a Review!

StaccatoWhile most of the world is talking about the new Dan Brown bestseller, Second Wind Publishing, LLC has quietly released a thriller of its own — Staccato by Deborah J Ledford. You won’t find all the elements that have become Brown’s hallmarks: cartoonish characters, amateurish prose, tin-ear for dialogue, internal inconsistencies. What you will find is a well-written, well-constructed story that will keep you enthralled.

The product description on Amazon says it better than I could: Performed against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Staccato transports readers to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of professional musicians, the psychological twists and turns of its characters, and in the end, retribution that crashes in a crescendo of notes played at the literary pace of a maestro’s staccato. The only drawback to Staccato is that it doesn’t come with a soundtrack — each meticulously chosen piece of music enhances the mood of the scene it accompanies, and unless you are much more informed about music than I am, you will miss some of the brilliance of this composition.

Readers are in for a treat, and me? Aaaarrrggghhhh!!! I have to write another review! Well, I don’t have to, but the book deserves all the attention it can get. So, I will add it to the stack of other books I’ve promised to review, yet haven’t:

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill
The Medicine People by Lazarus Barnhill
Steel Waters by Ken Coffman
Toxic Shock Syndrome by Ken Coffman
Mazurka by Aaron Lazar
Heart of Hythea by Suzanne Francis
and now, Staccato by Deborah J Ledford

Although all these books are much more literate, readable, and enjoyable than Dan Brown’s pap, the best I can come up with as a review for each of these deserving novels right now is, “Good book. I liked it and you will, too.”

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To Trust or Not to Trust?

I recently helped run a short story contest for Second Wind Publishing, LLC — the first contest that was sponsored solely by the company — and it went smoothly. Until last week. That’s when we found out one of the finalists had copied a story from another writer who had posted it on the Internet. Whoooo. So not the thing to do!

Deborah J Ledford, a friend and fellow author keeps warning me about posting my writing on the Internet since such episodes are not uncommon, but I still persist in posting just about everything I write except for my novels. And even then, I post the first chapters on various sites. It might be prudent to be careful of what I post, but I have only one way of selling my books — getting known. And the only way I have of getting known is to write articles, bloggeries, mini fiction (100 word stories), whatever my brain can conjure up in the hopes of attracting some attention.

The way I figure it, a person can decide to trust everyone and post at will or distrust everyone and never post. So far, it’s been worth the risk. One of my blog posts was copied once, but I notified Google, and they made the people remove it. More importantly, I have made many friends because of my posts. I’d hate to have to worry about posting what I write — what new friends might I end up not meeting if I curtailed my writing? Still, it’s something to be aware of.

See also:
Plagiarism by Mike Simpson, Second Wind publisher

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Self-Editing — The List From Hell

Some people have asked for the list of words that I check during my final edit, so here it is. I don’t eliminate all the words, but I do go through the manuscript and check the usage of each instance of these words to see if I can delete them or rewrite the sentence to get rid of them (particularly in the case of was, were, and had). The problem with some of these words, though otherwise acceptable, is that if you use too many of them, it gives your book a wishy-washy feel. Words like quite, rather, almost, mostly, somewhat, suppose, guess all blunt the edge of your prose. If you can eliminate them, do.  

If you have any words to add to the list, feel free to suggest them. Though you do know, don’t you, I will never forgive you for adding to my woes? Foremost on my list of people to never forgive is Deborah J. Ledford, author of the soon-to-be-published novel Staccato. She’s the one who brought “was” to my attention, as well as the suggestion to eliminate colons and semi-colons in dialogue. (Seems to me I need to add “She’s the one who” to the following list. A bit wordy, that.)

I feel good about sharing this list from hell. Now I don’t have to suffer alone.

a little



can’t help but



























begin to



is all






start to

































a bit


















kind of





















end up









off of



:  (in dialogue)



at least 



there was



;  (in dialogue)






it is












use to (s/b used to)



off of






come up with









by the way









at the very least






in spite of



the fact that






all of a sudden



if nothing else






tried to



a matter of fact



you know



all the while



I guess



take a look
























 it (clarify)



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