Friday, April 27, 2018

Setting Inspires Treachery by Phyllis Gobbell

Phyllis Gobbell’s latest novel, Treachery in Tuscany, is third in the Jordan Mayfair Mystery Series that began with Pursuit in Provence (2015) and continued with Secrets and Shamrocks (2016). She also co-authored two true-crime books based on high-profile murders in Nashville: An Unfinished Canvas with Mike Glasgow (Berkley, 2007) and A Season of Darkness with Doug Jones (Berkley, 2010). She was interviewed on Discovery ID’s “Deadly Sins,” discussing the murder case in An Unfinished Canvas. Her narrative, “Lost Innocence,” was published in the anthology, Masters of True Crime (Prometheus, 2012) and is now available as an audiobook. She has received awards in both fiction and nonfiction, including Tennessee’s Individual Artist Literary Award. An associate professor of English at Nashville State Community College, she teaches writing and literature.
(Phyllis and I have the same publication date, May 2, 2018 for our new novels with publisher Encircle who chose to invite writers from former mystery publisher Five Star/Cengage to submit.)

Treachery in Tuscany

“There are plot twists and intrigue, family secrets and rivalries, a debonair lover, a delicious locale and all the usual accouterments of the satisfying travel cozy, but Phyllis Gobbell gives the proceedings her own particular spin.” ―Kate Falvey. Editor in Chief, 2 Bridges Review
Setting Inspires: Treachery in Tuscany

Some writers enjoy research. Some say they like it so much, they could stay in the research mode and never get to actually writing their book. That’s not me, not if you’re talking about tucking yourself away in a library for long periods of time or traveling the Internet highway. But we all know research is essential. Not only do readers expect accuracy, but they want to experience the world the writer has created. I have found that having the authentic experience myself is the most effective way I can provide the sensory images, the atmosphere, the color, the texture, and the depth that transports the reader emotionally into the setting--the little world--of my mystery.
True, setting alone cannot carry a mystery. Mystery has its own needs. But when I made the decision to set my mysteries in places like Provence (Pursuit in Provence) and Ireland (Secrets and Shamrocks), I knew I’d be a fool not to make the most of these exotic locations. Some call my Jordan Mayfair Mystery Series travel cozies, and they are. I usually refer to my books as traditional mysteries. As I grew up reading Agatha Christie, I loved losing myself in the small English village. Setting as character, setting that informs plot--that’s what I try to do.
In one of the first blogs I wrote about Pursuit in Provence, I said that I didn’t choose Provence; Provence chose me. I could have said the same about Secrets in Shamrocks. I had been to Provence twice when I wrote the first book in the series, and I had spent time teaching in Ireland when I wrote the second. It was logical to write about places I had experienced.
With Treachery in Tuscany, it was different. I decided that I wanted Tuscany to be the setting for my third book, and I made travel plans. My friend Cheri was up for the adventure. My writer-friend, Alana, has a historical mystery set in Florence, and she advised me to stay in a convent. What great advice that was! I kept a journal, of course, and recorded notes about the nuns, the staff, the guests, and the structure itself--yes, because my protagonist, Jordan Mayfair, is an architect. She would have to use her architectural skills, and the 15th century convent, with its elaborate mazes, provided a wonderful challenge. I sat in the piazzas and watched the street life around me. I kept notes of what I ordered, what everything cost, where the Hop-on-hop-off bus took us. We were shocked by the motorbikes that zipped by us, traveling at a dangerous speed, and I knew I would use that in my book. I paid close attention to how the Italians spoke English, their particular syntax, the nuances. We took a day trip to a vineyard in Tuscany--more grist for the mill. Our cooking class at the villa would find its way into the book, and not just to tell readers how to make ravioli from scratch. We took a train trip to Orvieto and stayed in a hotel on the piazza. How lucky we were that a huge festival was taking place. I did fall back on the Internet to come up with an authentic festival in Florence when the time came to write, but you can imagine that I put all of my photos of the Orvieto festival to good use.

I came home not knowing what the story would be for my third book in the series, but I had done plenty of research--the kind of research that suits me. I unpacked, watered my plants, and just let my thoughts swirl. I went through my journal and my photographs and remembered how everything felt. Eventually, the story began to take shape . . . a death in the convent . . . suicide, the authorities say . . . but amateur sleuth Jordan Mayfair will not let it go.

In many the mysteries I read, it’s clear the writer is inspired by setting, as I am. What are some of your favorite settings in mysteries?


Susan Oleksiw said...

Enjoyed your post very much. I love mysteries set in other climes, almost as much as I loved writing my series set in India. Mystery writers seem to have a knack for capturing setting and exploring how it influences people and events. I look forward to reading your books.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Intriguing settings is also something that pulls me into a story. I stayed in convents and monasteries when traveling in Spain. I haven't set a mystery there, but it's brewing. Best of luck with Treachery in Tuscany!

Phyllis Gobbell said...

Thanks - and Spain and India are wonderful settings, too!

Susan Coryell said...

My favorite setting for mysteries is at my own lake home in Southern Virginia. That said, I pine for a trip to Tuscany and am tentatively looking at this fall for the excursion. Will I be able to use this setting for my own "travel cozy?" Who knows! Thanks for the inspiration.

Phyllis Gobbell said...

Southern Virginia is a unique setting, to be sure. If you need any pointers about Tuscany, please let me know. There are lots of wonderful things about the region that didn't make their way into my book. You will have a great time!

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