Setting as Character

I’ll be doing a workshop on Setting for the good folk at Litquake next Saturday (assuming my voice returns–I have to say, conferences like Left Coast are just super for sharing: favorite writers; plot ideas; viruses…) so I’ve been mulling over the settings I use in my books. I haven’t used New York (yet…) even though I’ve been there a bunch–


but I no sooner set foot in Fez than I knew this was a place for a story:

And I have to wonder, how would a character’s story change if it took place in a London mews

or in the southern reaches of London

or even the warm, crowded, watery city of Venice?

So I’m asking, what setting in my books resonates with you? Russell’s Japan, or Kate Martinelli’s visit to the central valley? Harris Stuyvesant’s Paris, the Fool’s Berkeley, or…? What place/character interaction most appealed to you?

(Oh, and if you’re interested in the Litquake workshop, there may be one or two places left, here.)

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  1. Mary Achor on March 31, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Japan, Japan, Japan… That’s why I nagged you about it for years!!!

    • DMouat on April 1, 2018 at 1:34 pm

      Clearly, no contest, the Island in Folly.

  2. Shelia on March 31, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    I love when you write about the desert! So foreign but beautiful!

  3. Rebbie on March 31, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    Florence, Italy

    • Laurie King on March 31, 2018 at 2:17 pm

      Hmm, haven’t written about Florence yet…

  4. Geri on March 31, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Justice Hall was a character all by itself. Still one of my favorites

  5. Sharon King on March 31, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Mary Russell in England – anywhere in England. And this is my favorite. Beyond that, honestly Ms. King, I would read your grocery list. In fact, if you’re not recovered from Left Coast, and with all due respect to the folks with tickets, I hope you do reschedule Litquake . I’ll be out of town celebrating my parents 50th wedding anniversary. That is the only thing! that would keep me from being there. An Admirer.

    • Donna on March 31, 2018 at 6:48 pm

      I totally agree. Wish I was Marry Russell.

  6. susan on April 1, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Palestine was one of my very favorites. Fascinating people, area, and history. i love the re visits to Sussex. i just finished re reading The Game in prep for Island of the Mad and i was also intrigued by India….Palestine and India are truly “foreign” countries: so different than our Western experience. it is good to learn about other cultures and begin to have an understanding of them. (you also have more than once sent me off on my own “research” project to learn more! i thank you for that!)

    • Mary Stueben on April 1, 2018 at 9:39 pm

      I also found the setting in O Jerusalem to be the most powerful for me to read about, as it had been most powerful for me as a young seminarian to go through for studying archaeology and historical geography in the fall of 1982. Our group lived in the Arab quarter of the old city, and I spent time tracking down the source of a particular woven fabric in the cotton area used in the story, so I kept reading things you wrote that were very concrete for me because of my months living there.

  7. susan on April 1, 2018 at 10:30 am

    you know, i made my comment and then went off to make coffee. while making coffee (not the way Mahmoud does…) i started thinking about places for stories. Holmes says he spent time in Chicago and Chicago during Prohibition was a very dangerous place. Also half of Russell’s family resides in Boston (close to New York) perhaps there is a mystery to solve in either of those places that would bring the Russell/Holmes partnership…

  8. Margaret True on April 1, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Dartmoor, I love it there in all weathers. But Florence would be an interesting setting.

  9. Mary Ann on April 1, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Japan was wonderful! Close seconds for Russell were Palestine and Morocco- oh, and Scotland. Paris is always intriguing, but I think I liked Stuyvesant better in good old Cornwall. The Theatre du Grand-Guignol in 1920s Paris and the preoccupation with death and horror and shock was rather off-putting for me at first, so grotesque and macabre, but it was a fitting metaphor for a France quite literally, soaked in the blood of a generation. I loved the atmosphere of Folly Island, and I like Kate anywhere. Actually, all the novels are superb in evoking atmosphere consonant with the plot and characters. Only P. D. James does it as well or better

  10. Judy Dee on April 1, 2018 at 11:59 am

    Russell anywhere. How about Naples?

  11. Kathe Gust on April 1, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    I loved Russell’strip to SF and the Peninsula. Since I’m a local it was interesting to see her here at an earlier time and notice the similarities and differences.

  12. Valerie on April 1, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    I love those locations and situations where Mary and Sherlock must don disguises! The more exotic locales have often provided the background for the more surprising transformations — as when Mary cut her hair to pass as a man. I also enjoy when they must learn the local customs in order to go undetected as well as honor their new environment. Bottom line, I vote for foreign shores requiring costumes!

  13. Catharina on April 1, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    אם אשכחך ירושלם תשכח ומיני

    If I forget thee, O Jerusalem!
    I have been to Jerusalem and loved it, but what wouldn’t give to explore historic Yisrael with Russell, Holmes and the Hazr brothers.


  14. Cynthia Fehrenbach on April 1, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    For me the most memorable of your settings is Folly Island, the rebuilding of a life and a home! I also love the San Francisco of “Locked Rooms.”

  15. Joanne on April 1, 2018 at 11:29 pm

    I’m a stick in the mud. I like England. What resonates with me is often weather–that frozen drizzly stuff in Beekeeper’s Apprentice, traveling over the moor while coming down with a cold. (Okay, that’s not exactly weather.) Etc, etc. Hmmm. Sounds more like what resonates with me is misery. I wonder what that says about me? Lol

  16. Guy on April 3, 2018 at 4:05 am

    Personally I think the stories work best in London and the Home Counties. I understand the impulse to send your characters off to exotic settings (this is something that seems to happen to most characters in a series whether on books or on TV) but somehow the detail works best when Homes and Russell are on home ground.

  17. Deborah Taylor-French on April 5, 2018 at 10:49 am

    As a reader, I have enjoyed all your settings. Of course “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” moors and pastures come to mind, then the steamboat trip to Japan.

    Also, your descriptions of the setting when, Mary Russell, visits the Bodleian Library at Oxford University inspired me to make my own visit. Now I am dreaming and plotting of the day when I return to learn more of the texts in that treasure trove.

    That said, I adored your book, “The Garment of Shadows” for the sheer thrill of stepping into narrow dark alleyways, small abodes, and tiled rooms.

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