May 9 – 15: “What are your favorite places for settings, and why?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week ITW Members Larry D. Sweazy, Christine Goff, Patricia Rosemoor, Ralph Pezzullo, Dave Edlund, Jean Heller, Magnolia Smith and A.J. Kerns discuss cities, regions and countries when they answer the question: What are your favorite places for settings, and why?



hellerMost of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects reporter and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, Maximum Impact and Handyman by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, The Someday File, to publication in late 2014. Jean has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.



yemenArthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Diversion Books, Inc. NY, NY published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract, and the sequel, The African Contract. The third in the series, The Yemen Contract, is set for release in June 2016.



his deceptionNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author Patricia Rosemoor has had 98 novels with 8 publishers and more than 7 million books in print. Her novels are romantic suspense or paranormal romantic thrillers. Patricia won a Golden Heart from Romance Writers of America and two Reviewers Choice and two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times BOOKreviews; she taught Suspense-Thriller Writing at Columbia College Chicago.



DS front coverDave Edlund is a graduate of the University of Oregon with a doctoral degree in chemistry. He resides in Bend, Oregon, with his wife, son, and four dogs (Lucy Liu, Diesel, Murphy, and Tenshi). In addition to authoring several technical articles and books on alternative energy, Edlund is an inventor on 101 U.S. patents. An avid outdoorsman and shooter, he has hunted across North America, and he has traveled extensively throughout China, Japan, and Europe. A member of the International Thriller Writers, his debut action/political-thriller Crossing Savage received the 2015 Ben Franklin Silver Medal for Popular Fiction, and was a 2015 INDIEFAB finalist for Best Suspense/Thriller. Deadly Savage, the third novel in the Peter Savage series, will be released in May 2016. Edlund is the Founder & CEO of an alternative energy company, and he serves on the Central Oregon Writers Guild Board of Directors.


Hunt the DragonRalph Pezzullo is a New York Times bestselling author, and an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His books have been published in over twenty languages and include Jawbreaker (with CIA operative Gary Berntsen), Inside SEAL Team Six (with Don Mann), The Walk-In, At the Fall of Somoza, Plunging Into Haiti (winner of the 2006 Douglas Dillon Prize for American Diplomacy), Eve Missing, Blood of My Blood, Most Evil (with Steve Hodel), the SEAL Team Six thrillers Hunt the Wolf, Hunt the Scorpion, Hunt the Falcon, Hunt the Jackal, Hunt the Fox, and The Navy SEAL Survival Handbook (also with Don Mann), and most recently Zero Footprint.


tell me no liesBorn and raised in North Carolina, Magnolia Smith has traveled the world as a military spouse. When she’s not writing romantic suspense novels, she blogs about the stuff she loves, good food and wine, Southern history and herbalism.



owlsChristine Goff began her career as a newspaper columnist. Her Birdwatcher’s Mystery series has been nominated for two WILLA Literary Awards, a Colorado Author’s League Award, and have been published in the United Kingdom and Japan.




See Also Deception_ARC CoverLarry D. Sweazy is the author of See Also Murder, A Thousand Falling Crows, Escape from Hangtown, Vengeance at Sundown, The Gila Wars, The Coyote Tracker, The Devil’s Bones, The Cougar’s Prey, The Badger’s Revenge, The Scorpion Trail, and The Rattlesnake Season. He won the WWA Spur award for Best Short Fiction in 2005 and for Best Paperback Original in 2013, and the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for the Josiah Wolfe series. He was nominated for a Derringer award in 2007, and was a finalist in the Best Books of Indiana literary competition in 2010, and won in 2011 for The Scorpion Trail. He has published over sixty nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the Missing Detective: And 25 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories!; Boys’ Life; Hardboiled; Amazon Shorts, and several other publications and anthologies. He is member of ITW (International Thriller Writers), WWA (Western Writers of America), and WF (Western Fictioneers).



  1. I have one absolute “must” in choosing the site for a book. The setting must have what it takes to become a key character in the story. The setting has to be interesting in many ways: quirky, colorful, historic even on a minor scale, at once beautiful and ugly, and full of both pitfalls and potential triumphs for the protagonist.

    My Deuce Mora series, starting with THE SOMEDAY FILE, is set in Chicago. Honestly, I don’t think you can write a believably good story set in Chicago and avoid having the city become a key character. There is simply too much going on in the city, good and bad, to ignore it. The second in the series, THE HUNTING GROUND, also is also set there. I consider my choice of setting a success because many of the reviews I’ve read and messages I’ve received from readers say, “Reading THE SOMEDAY FILE made me want to visit Chicago.”


    There is a lot about my mysteries and thrillers that I make up. But I can’t make up Chicago. Nobody would believe it. The people who live here are unique – in the accurate definition of the word. There are no others like them anywhere that I’ve ever been. Ninety percent of them would make interesting characters in my books, and some of them already have. Chicago is a city of eighty-eight neighborhoods, each with its own food, history, personality, and ethnicity. Turn down any street in this city and there’s a place to set a few scenes and the characters to populate them.

    Robert B. Parker found those people and places in Boston. Les Roberts found them all over Cleveland, of all places. William X. Keinsle’s Father Koesler mysteries were wonderfully set in Detroit. Randy Wayne White and a couple of handfuls of other mystery writers found fertile ground in Florida, one of the quirkiest, weirdest places I’ve ever lived. Win Blevins, one of the finest writers of historic fiction in the country, has made a career in the Intermountain West. And Tony Hillerman did the same in the Four Corners area where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah come together.

    You get the idea.

    I still plan to write a mystery set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where I lived for five years. It has all the attributes I love.

    But I’m not done with Chicago yet.

  2. Far away places with strange sounding names have always held a fascination for me. The National Geographic magazine was one of my favorites, especially the old copies I found in the local library. The African Contract’s setting is the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Cameroon, and then we’re in advanced Namibia and the sophisticated Republic of South Africa. Sort of like going Yin and then Yang.
    The Yemen Contract features the Horn of African countries of Yemen and Eritrea. These are places I’ve visited and found captivating. They are off the beaten track and not your normal tourist destination. In fact, one can’t travel today to war-torn Yemen without bodyguards or carrying an AK-47.
    Exotic locals can become characters themselves in your stories or at least a strong background presence. For your protagonists or villains they can present as many problems as one’s antagonists.
    Still, I enjoy returning to a more civilized world. For instance, the magic and romance of the French Riviera, the locale I chose for The Riviera Contract. A nice place to visit, lean back, and enjoy. Study the shady people in sunny places. Maybe read a book.
    Then, there’s always Paris for a setting.

    1. I agree that exotic locals can be very alluring to the reader (and fun for the writer!). I’ve traveled to a lot of places in stories that I’ll never see in my lifetime. A good setting, exotic or otherwise, but revealed through rich and colorful prose, certainly bumps up the entertainment factor. And, it is a good way for readers to get exposed to other lands, other cultures. There’s nothing wrong with getting educated while being entertained 😉

  3. There are so many wonderful choices for settings in thrillers. Cosmopolitan cities are frequently used to good effect. This can be especially enjoyable if the reader has already visited the city and is familiar with the settings referenced in the novel. However, given that my protagonist, Peter Savage, is an outdoorsman (see last week’s Roundtable), it’s not unusual for Peter to find himself in the wilderness.

    I once wrote an extensive scene around a remote cabin on a deserted Aleutian Island. The island I selected is real—found it on Google maps and studied satellite images so I could accurately describe the topography—but the cabin is a product of my imagination. I’ve just completed a manuscript in which Peter is hunted by both law enforcement and assassins in the Cascade Mountains just west of Bend, Oregon. This is a wilderness I know well having spent a lot of time camping and backpacking the area, and placing much of the thriller there was a lot of fun.

    Of course, I’ve written scenes placed in cities too. Often, here in my home town of Bend. At another time, I made Moscow a significant plot setting, and once in Caracas. I’ve had the benefit of visiting both cities, but I still had to do a ton of research before placing my characters on the streets. In my current release, much of the action takes place in Minsk, at the Belarusian State University. In this case, my research was supplemented by conversations with of friend who studied there.

  4. Because I write mostly stand alone romantic suspense novels or limited series, I use settings of varied types, all of which I have personally visited and researched, but of course I have a few favorites all of which have the right vibe for the story I want to tell.

    Chicago is my city and therefore the setting I use the most. I’ve lived here all my life and know the neighborhoods, including the dangerous ones. A couple of decades ago, I worked for the Chicago Board of Education as a radio-television producer, work that brought me to areas too frequently on the news because of violence. Twice when I was sent out to get footage for a video (first on the south side and then on the west side) I faced down gang members protective of the building murals depicting their history. More recently, Dangerous was set on the north side, my part of the city, plus a few neighborhoods known for gangs that play an important role in the story. My heroine Camille Martell is a homicide detective; my hero Drago Nance is a P.I. with a reputation for protecting the people who live in his world from gang crime.

    Other settings are completely different from Chicago. His Deception is set in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, a tourist area that was like a second home to me. An author in my writer’s group hosted two or three writers retreats a year for a couple of decades. My heroine Katelyn Wade is the owner of Lakeside Guest House and Café, her dream job; my hero Thorne Hudson is her secret bodyguard.

    Northern New Mexico has been featured in several of my novels—Santa Fe being one of my favorite two U.S. cities to visit. And New Orleans would be my other favorite. Both places are as different from Chicago as can be, which is why I love them. I’ve enjoyed researching and using the Native American culture of New Mexico as well as a working cattle ranch as a setting. And the exotic French Quarter of New Orleans has exactly the right vibe for paranormal romantic thrillers.

  5. Setting has always been a character for me. My current series featuring amateur sleuth and freelance indexer Marjorie Trumaine is set in western North Dakota. The land and weather is unforgiving, desolate, and lonely. Surviving the winter will test the strongest person’s character. So I feel like location really defines a character and their core. How strong are they? What are their breaking points. How much grit do they really have? What do they really believe in, especially after being tested so severely by the elements? Place really helps me understand the basics of a character. Marjorie Trumaine, my main character in my mystery series, is also a farmer’s wife. Her work ethic and ability to deal with change and risk lead every movement she makes.

    And then there’s the weather and landscape, which has its own attitude and it’s own moods depending on the seasons. I’m drawn to remote places, mostly in the West, and have always seen setting as a character in its own right. I’m also drawn to small towns. I like the possibilities of secrets and grudges held in a confined space, passed from one generation to the next, with the truth becoming obscured and manipulated by time and fiction. There are stock characters in a small town, and the challenge for a writer is to make them fresh and original, but familiar. The question is how do you do that? How do you create a stock character that is fresh? And how do you create a setting that is a character all of its own?

  6. The right setting adds to the story. In both of my series, I chose the setting before I had the story. My thriller, DARK WATERS, came about because of a trip I took to Israel with one of my younger daughters. When she was eleven, she was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disorder and there was a doctor in Israel who was able to treat her. For two months we lived in Tel Aviv, and used the opportunity to travel around Israel and the occupied territories. I found myself fascinated by the culture, by the clash of Jews and Arabs and of Jews and Jews. It took us the first month to adjust to living in a society where the person next to you in the movie theater might be a soldier with a rifle propped up between his knees making out with his girlfriend; where you had to worry anytime someone left a purse on a bus; where you were searched going into the grocery store; and where people live as if they’re at war.

    It was during a trip to Tiberius, a town on the edge of Lake Kinneret (aka the Sea of Galilee) that I came up with the idea for DARK WATERS. It took me fourteen years to write the book. At the time I envisioned the story, I was under contract for the first three-books in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery.

    I chose the setting for those books based on theme and genre. As cozy mysteries, the Birdwatcher’s Mysteries needed to be set in a small town, with a group of birdwatchers and where bird-related things could happen. Hence, the first book was set in Elk Park, a town that bears an uncanny resemblance to Estes Park, a town known as the Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the top ten birding Hot Spots in the world. It was there that a small eyas, an unfledged peregrine falcon, was stolen from its nest and sold to a sheik in Saudi Arabia for $100K.

    It’s also funny how setting can dictate story. At the end of DARK WATERS, there is no place for Raisa Jordan to go but Ukraine. I had finished the book, sold the book and it was in production, when Russia invaded Crimea. Finding it necessary to spend some time in Eastern Europe in order to research the book, last May my youngest daughter and I traveled to Kiev. It was an eye-opening trip and clearly Ukraine is in the midst of a civil war exacerbated by the aggressions of a country that once ruled over the land. Even more fascinating was the ingenuity of the people. For very little money, my daughter and I were offered the opportunity to tour the front line. The guides would provide a Humvee, an armed escort, and a flak jacket and helmet for each of us. I was ready. But, an eighth grade social studies teacher, my daughter’s wisdom prevailed. I think her exact words were, “Mom! No!”

    Now I’m working on the second book in the thriller series, RED SKY, due out sometime in 2017. That book opens in Ukraine, and in May of last year, my youngest daughter and I made a trip to Eastern Europe.

  7. Setting is key to the HUNT series that I write with ex-SEAL Team 6 member Don Mann. Because of the kind of characters we’re dealing with and the roles they play, Don and I look to set each book in one of the world’s most dangerous locales (and currently there happen to be too many of them). A great deal of the action in past books have taken place in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Venezuela, Mexico, Turkey, and Syria. Our newest release, HUNT THE DRAGON, is set place primarily in the Ukraine and North Korea. Fortunately, either Don or I have been to most of these countries. That includes North Korea. It wasn’t me.

    Having grown up the son of a US diplomat, I find setting particularly fascinating, not only in terms of specific geography and other physical features, but more significantly, the history, religious beliefs, and culture of the local people. I’m fascinated by how citizens of countries view the world, and how they see us – something most Americans are unaware of. I’ve learned that all too often we assume that people in other societies see things the same way we do, which warps any relationship we form right from the beginning.

    Because we’re rooted in our own experience, we tend to view other societies with a certain cultural and political myopia. In terms of our execution of foreign policy, this has led to one unsatisfactory military intervention after another, including Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. To give an example: A Pashtun tribesman in southern Afghanistan is probably not going to respond to our presence in his country the way we expect him to. We might say we’re there to secure Afghanistan and turn back al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But he likely has only a hazy notion of what Afghanistan is. And as a Pashtun tribesman (which is the majority tribe in the country) he’s loyalties are probably more aligned with the Taliban (which is made up of Pashtuns) than the Afghan government which strongly represents northern Tajik and Uzbek tribes.

    The particulars of setting are not only fascinating, but in the case of the HUNT thrillers I write with Don Mann, they inform the challenges of each mission.

  8. My favorite settings for novels are oftentimes my favorite cities to visit or live in. Setting a story in a particular city gives me reason to go visit the city for “research”. I have to know the smells, taste and vibe of a city before I can write it, right?

    I’m from North Carolina and I really love the state – the beach, the mountains… the small southern towns and the larger cities like Raleigh and Charlotte. My novel TELL ME NO LIES takes place partially in Raleigh, but they also spend time in Jamaica (where hubs and I were married) and the NOVA/DC area which I also enjoy.

    Before I was married and even more so as a military spouse, I’ve had opportunity to travel the world and my passion for exploring the world is definitely expressed in my stories. I’ve traveled throughout East Asia and Europe – TELL ME NO LIES involves political intrigue with Taiwan and the following story in THE BLACK ORCHID SERIES takes place in Italy (and other places).

    THE BLACK ORCHID SERIES features government assassins and they women they love. As such, foreign affairs and international relations plays a big role in my stories. I have a graduate degree in International Relations (East Asian affairs) and my storylines always reflect this interest.

    I’m a foodie as well as a novelist, so food plays an important part in my stories – it’s a part of the setting for me because I use food to help reflect the culture and setting displayed in my stories.

    One of my absolutely favorite American cities is New Orleans! I can’t wait to write a story set in that city just so I can spend several weeks down there eating beignets, visiting plantations and writing.

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