October 19 – 25: “Does the layout of your home make appearances in your novel?” 

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members Camille Minichino, Mick Sims and Len Maynard, Paul D. Marks, Sandra Block, Leigh Perry and Rob L. Palmer as we discuss whether the layout of an author’s home, or those of friends or acquaintances, make appearances in their novels?




Untitled-4Leigh Perry writes the Family Skeleton mysteries. The Skeleton Haunts a House, the third, came out this very month. As Toni L.P. Kelner, she’s the co-editor of paranormal fiction anthologies with Charlaine Harris; the author of eleven mystery novels; and an Agatha Award winner and multiple award nominee for short fiction. No matter what you call her, she lives north of Boston with two daughters, two guinea pigs, and one husband.


ConvalescenceMaynard & Sims are the authors of fifteen novels with more scheduled, as well as numerous novellas and stories. They have won awards for screenplays, have been editors, essayists, publishers and reviewers. They are currently working on new novels, novellas, stories and screenplays.



Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning noir mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” His story Howling at the Moon (EQMM 11/14) is short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Short Story. Midwest Review calls Paul’s noir novella Vortex “…a nonstop staccato action noir.” He also co-edited the anthology Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea.


SurvivorsRobert Palmer is a lawyer and law professor in Washington, D.C. His clients have included cops and school teachers, members of Congress, judges, and agency heads – and more than a few psychologists. In his spare time he enjoys distance running, downhill skiing, and backpacking in the Blue Ridge, the Rockies, and anywhere else with mountains. He lives with his wife and son and their Portuguese Water Dog, Theo.



Camille Minichino has published 17 novels, eight in the Periodic Table Mysteries, featuring retired physicist GLORIA LAMERINO. As Margaret Grace, she’s published six novels in the Miniature Mysteries series, featuring miniaturist GERALDINE PORTER and her eleven-year-old granddaughter, Maddie. As Ada Madison, she’s published three novels in the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries, featuring college professor SOPHIE KNOWLES. The latest is A FUNCTION OF MURDER, paperback from Berkley Prime Crime. Camille is on the board of NorCal Sisters in Crime. She’s a member of NorCal Mystery Writers of America and the California Writers Club.


girl without nameSandra Block graduated from college at Harvard, then returned to her native land of Buffalo, New York, for medical training and never left. She is a practicing neurologist and proud Sabres fan and lives at home with her family and Delilah, her impetuous yellow lab. She has been published in both medical and poetry journals. The Girl Without a Name is her second novel.



  1. Oh yes. Write what you know may be an overused piece of advice but if you are describing a setting – room, home, town – it can help make the scene realistic if the surroundings are familiar to you.

    We very often use geographical surroundings we know. Two of the three Enigmatic Press novels we brought out in 2014 – Let Death Begin and Through The Sad Heart – feature Hertfordshire and London settings that we know well.

    We both find that whenever we are out, and wherever we are, we soak up the atmosphere, ambience, even simply décor or furniture impressions, and use them when they suit a scene.

  2. Sometimes. Especially if I have a crime that occurs in a home. The layout – how one room flows into another is a visual that can’t be ignored. An investigator and the bad guy will have the home’s layout firmly in mind.

    A bit of a stretch of this question, but I set my suspense in Houston where I can walk the layout – for the same reasons.

  3. Certainly! Not just homes of friends and family find their way into my writing, but also parks where I walk my dog, my favorite (and not so favorite) restaurants, my barbershop, even a church where a colleague was married. Those real places aren’t depicted as they actually are, though. There’s always a reason to change some of the details. Sometimes the reality is too bland and needs to be tarted up to be memorable. Otherwise, a descriptive quirk just feels right, so in it goes. And my own home? I can’t think of a single instance where it has been a template of a place I’ve written about. Of course, that’s only on the surface. The way the light streams through the living room windows on a brisk fall day, or the deep, salty smell of pot roast cooking – those sorts of things are buried in my memory. They show up in what I write, even if I don’t realize it as the words appear on the screen.

  4. Yes, particularly when I write stories set in L.A. and especially if I’m trying to give it that L.A. noir flavor of Spanish houses and the like. The houses of people I know now, and knew as a kid, often make appearances in my writing. Even the house that I grew up in, which is reminiscent of the house Barbara Stanwyck lived in in the film version of Double Indemnity, will sometimes make an appearance. I love this architectural style, maybe simply because I grew up with so much of it. And I feel like it gives my writing an L.A. ambience.

    People say Los Angeles is as much a character in my writing as the human characters. In my novel White Heat, Duke, the P.I. and main character, lives in a house completely modeled on a friend’s house from when I was a kid – a Spanish Colonial built in the 1920s. I might have made some minor modifications in the floor plan and in giving him a pool that the house it’s based on doesn’t have, but about 90% of the house is as I knew it growing up and as it is now, as I still know the people who live there. I could have based it on the house I grew up in, but our house had a second story and I thought it was just a little too big for a single guy.

    I like to see the way people live. How they decorate, do they have books? Pets, anything and everything. And just as writers take mental notes of snatches of conversation we overhear or things that happen to us or people we know or even strangers we pass on the street, I also take mental notes whenever I visit someone’s house, noticing the little things that give a house its personality and maybe reveal something about the owner or in the case of a story the character. My friends should watch out or their house might end up in my next novel.

  5. I often have particular real-life places in mind as settings. The town of Byerly, NC, the setting for my first eight books, was a blend of Granite Falls, Dudley Shoals, and other NC mill towns near Hickory, NC. And the house where the murder victim lived was my grandparents’ house.

    In my “Where are they now?” series, written as Toni L.P. Kelner, my protagonist Tilda Harper has bad luck with roommates, so is living in a new place for each book, but always in Malden, MA. I’m pretty familiar with Malden, so in each case, I have an idea of where it is she was living and what her apartments look like. So she started out on Russell Street, moved to Summer Street near the subway station, and ended up on East Border Road. When she went to New York City, the apartment she visited was my aunt and uncle’s former home.

    In the series I’m writing now, I base the design of McQuaid University–where my protagonist Georgia Thackery works–on a hodge-podge of New England campuses I visited while shepherding my daughter through her college search. It’s a lot like Salem State in Salem, MA, with a bit of Amherst thrown in.

    That being said, I have no hesitation or shame in switching things around if it’s better for the plot. And if it’s an imaginary location, of course. I don’t think people would appreciate me messing up Malden!

    1. Leigh:

      You are so right in your comment about messing up Malden. I’ve had a reader write in that I’d gotten a small-town street wrong: “That’s two-way, not one-way, since 1974.” He turned out to have been the volunteer town transportation director decades ago. The one and only living expert! Of course he was polite about it and just enjoyed sharing his knowledge.


  6. Yes, to all of these great posts. One time when for some reason I did NOT use a real place, I sketched out a fictional one and used it in book 1 of a series. By the time I was ready to write book 2, I’d misplaced the sketch. I had to have my character say something like . . . oh, by the way, I had to remodel after a fluke fire.

  7. I do the same kind of unobtrusive “snooping” Paul — looking for what the nonessentials say about the owner. Lots of knick knacks, or the kind of formal decor that looks like a photo in the NYT magazine section? My husband and friends say my office looks like a college dorm — a little neater maybe, but full of posters, bulletin boards, odds and ends.

    Anybody want to share what your writing space looks like?

    1. Hi Camille: My office is currently a disaster. I need to get back to my WIP but I can’t right in the midst of chaos. So, first things first (or is this procrastination) I sort through all the piles, file what needs filing and hope I don’t find any overdue bills. As for Sandra Block’s post, Jung considered houses to be avatars of the self. Freud would have thought the memory stuck because Sandra was sexually aroused by the shape and movement of the “brass belly of the pendulum on the grandfather clock.” Just saying……

    2. I’m not sure how “unobtrusive” my snooping is, Camille 🙂 . But it’s fun to see who people are based on their stuff.

      Hmm, what would someone be able to tell about me from my office? I like rock n roll, the Beatles, Dylan, Siouxsie and the Banshees. And old movies. Got some lobby cards. Lots of books, of course, many on killing people. What does that say about me?

    3. My space is a mess. A hodgepodge of books, papers, and skeleton toys. And a black toy poodle on top of my computer. HIs name is Deadline and he looms over me.

  8. This topic actually made me laugh out loud.
    Yes, LOL. Why? Because in writing my recent WIP, I had done this. I had accidentally constructed a room. This may sound odd, but hear me out. Virtual rooms offer a peek into the subconscious. Why do all the nefarious deeds in novels and movies occur in the basement? Only Freud can tell us for certain. But, it seems to be where the id resides.
    Writing my crime novel, I found myself describing a room in an uncomfortable scene. The detective was in the family room of a couple who’s child had been killed twenty years ago, trying to connect the murder to a more recent case. The living area was small and cozy, but also stuffy. I plunged the reader (and myself) into this room. The choking smell of the wood in the fire place. The cracked brown leather couch. The dark wooden paneling. The brass belly of the pendulum of the grandfather clock.
    The sensory details draw out the homey, yet constricted lives of these parents. Hemmed in by the grief of losing their son, they are still working to move on, building up a comfortable but limited life.
    That would be all good and well. But, in editing the novel, I realized (with horror!) that I had been describing, in vivid detail, an actual room of a childhood family friend. This was more of a parental friendship. The parents were older, with no children my age. I recall many nights spent counting over pennies from the rubbery piggy bank, or reading a book, in this warm, boxed-in room while the parents talked over boring parent stuff.
    Why did my literal brain and figurative subconscious take me back there? I honestly have no clue. I suspect it’s some discomfort I felt there as a child. Undercurrents within the family that I still can’t fully decipher.
    But they say writing taps into the subconscious – this is certainly proof.
    So, my question to you all is: has anyone else done this?

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