Hope C. Clark's latest mystery, Murder on Edisto, uses setting for depth, and it has become her brand to place fiction in a real place.
The locals of Edisto Beach absolutely love it. The setting of the beach is perfect for influencing characters and it's just as important as plot and character. Most writers also don't realize how setting can help build one's author platform.
Some parts of this "oldie but goodie" 2014 written interview with Hope Clark was taken from our live interview back on October 31, 2014, over at my global radio show, Giving Voice to Your Story, which you can listen to here.
Me: (Dorit Sasson) How did you come up with the idea of using a beach for the mystery setting?
Hope Clark: I stumbled into it and discovered what works. Each of my Carolina's Slade books is set in a different place of South Carolina. The Slades books were about her. My goal is to acclimate people to other places other than Hilton Head and Charleston. I use place intensely in my fiction. For the second series, my publisher asked me to do something different - come up with a new series. They gave me a few parameters: family drama and pick one place in South Carolina that centers on the entire series. I've been going to Edisto Beach for years, and it's the last undiscovered beach in South Carolina. Commercialism is not allowed. It's "peace" personified. I decided to just give it a shot. Edisto is a part of everyone who lives down there. They call it "crossing the bridge to their own world" because you have to cross the bridge to get there.
Me: It makes a lot of sense to start locally then, right? There's a lot of authors out there who are trying to get known quickly by signing a five-digit deal with Random House or Simon and Schuster. It sounds like you really know your local scene.
Hope Clark: As an author, you do need to know your local community. It makes the most sense to start there. As part of building your own platform, let the local people who somewhat know you, let them start spreading the word rather go out there and try to run down complete strangers. A local community is going to embrace you quicker. They're going to get you off the ground quicker. For my release party, we sold 100 books at the local bookstore in Edisto that specializes in beach stories... what else?
The part of the story's identity is where it's at. You make it deeply part of the story to where local bookstores want to carry it so it speaks to locals.
Me: So what happens if you're a non-fiction writer and you don't necessarily have an idea for branding a series as a character, but want to maximize setting as a character in your book?
Hope Clark: My job is to make the setting pop. That doesn't mean you can't write a story that isn't driven by a character. But you need to pick out the unique intricacies and really draw out the intricacies and put detail into that place so that becomes its own identity. Setting has to be so important that will drive the entire series or a chapter or book. In the Edisto series, the setting is now carrying a heavier weight than the character did. People will see "beach" before they see the character. They'll think..."Oh, a beach story... what's that about?" because everyone loves the beach.
You can pick any type of location. It doesn't necessarily have to be a beach. It's a matter of identifying with where you are, what makes it home for you, and what makes it appealing as opposed to just reading about the place in a travel brochure.