Saturday, April 21, 2012

Set in Stone with Guest Blogger: Cathy Perkins

Welcome to our Weekend Special Edition 
with mystery & suspense author 
Cathy Perkins today at the Book Boost!

She's here to chat about what diamond ring settings and book settings have in common and here's what she had to say...

I admit it – I love to wear jewelry. Working from home, however, means yoga pants and T-shirts rather than suits and bling. My jewelry was relegated to the lock-box, hauled out for “special events” rather than every day wear. My sole adornment these days? My engagement ring and a simple gold band.

Backing up a bit, diamonds may be April’s birthstone, but April is also the month of my wedding anniversary. Many years ago, I married a fabulous guy. He gave me a lovely ring with extra special sentimental meaning – the stone had belonged to his grandparents – and I selected a simple solitaire setting for the diamond.

Fast forward (a lot of years) and one day I noticed a prong had come loose on the ring. The jeweler informed me he could fix the prong, but I had a bigger problem. After all those years of wear and tear, the head (that holds the stone on the ring) had nearly worn through. One ill-advised bump and the setting would’ve snapped.

New jewelry time! Aren’t those words women love to hear?

I’m going crazy with this re-design. I visited jewelers and browsed online, trying to decide on a new setting. The choices were over-whelming. Keep the solitaire? Add stones for an anniversary style band? More diamonds or colored stones? Lots of filigree or keep it simple?

Too many choices!

First question – what type setting would you select if you were “doing it over again” and selecting a new setting for your engagement ring?

Now we all know jewelry reflects personal taste. The same degree of personal taste influences how much “setting” we like in our stories. Since I’m trying to pare a couple of thousand words from an amateur sleuth mystery (my current work-in-process), I’m looking at anything remotely superfluous.

And that means eying the setting details.

So far, I’ve found other places to cut because I’m one of those people who think setting – as seen through the protagonist’s eyes – reveals character by informing how and what the heroine notices. Pushing the analogy, the setting enhances the story—makes it “prettier.”

I like atmospheric mysteries like those by William Kent Krueger (set in the north woods of Minnesota) and Jonathan King’s Max Freeman stories (based in the Everglades). In each, the setting is a character in the story, adding to or creating tension that affects both the plot and the characters. At the other end of the spectrum, Stephanie Bond’s “Hollywood” series features a protagonist who lives with her aunt in a retirement center condo, carries a cartoon-themed bag for a purse and sports purple spiked hair. Have you already built a mental picture not just of how she looks, but also her outlook on life?

The Professor (Carina Press) is set in South Carolina, amid crimes scenes, “cop-shops” and small college campuses. Since I’m still celebrating the release, here are the opening lines, with a little setting, as seen by the hero:

The body lay in dappled shade. Patches of light caught pale flesh—an ankle here, a hip there. Resurrection ferns spread lacy fronds, partially concealing the limbs. Mick wondered if the irony was deliberate.

Can you see the scene?

Second question – can you think of other stories where the setting is a character? Or where the details tell you who the character is—or wants to be?
A Note from the Book Boost:  I agree that when you have a great setting it can literally make or break the story.  Frankly, I believe it is what often makes a great story stand out from others in already over crowded book markets.  But on the flip side, setting details can be overdone.  So, I guess there is a real talent to getting just the right mix.  Thanks for joining us here Cathy.  Great blog!  Tell us more about your latest book.


The Professor presses his palm against her flank, feeling the liquid warmth of her blood, hotter than her skin. Hot, like the life force that he has claimed... The power over life and death is the ultimate thrill.

Someone is murdering women on South Carolina's college campuses: three women, three different schools. The Governor's order to State Law Enforcement Agent Mick O'Shaughnessy is simple: make it stop. More political maneuvering diverts Mick to nearby Douglass College. There, instead of another dead body, he finds Meg Connelly, grad student and faculty advisor for the latest victim.

Determined to finish her master's degree, Meg doesn't need anybody's help - including her estranged family - to succeed. There's something irresistible about Mick, but the last time she let someone get close to her, she lost everything except her self-respect.

As the investigation heats up, Mick's interest in Meg doesn't just endanger her heart--it puts her in the sights of the killer.

Once he gets her alone, he can take all the time he needs...     

Excerpt (edited for length):

Frank dropped the Greenville News onto the kitchen counter in Mick’s condo. “I got your paper.”

“Thanks.” Mick didn’t lift his eyes from the laptop on his dining room table. Normally he worked in the small bedroom he’d converted to an office, but the case files had outgrown the space. He typed in his password and waited for the computer to finish loading.

"Man, does your neighbor always dress like that to get her paper?”

Oh, jeez, Mrs. Wilcox strikes again, he silently groaned. The good mood that sleeping in his own bed and an hour at the gym had produced evaporated. He stared at the computer, urging it to start faster.

"It wasn’t so much what she was wearing, as what she wasn’t.”

He sighed. Frank wasn’t going to leave it alone until he responded. “What was she wearing this time?”

His partner rocked on his toes. Enthusiasm lit his voice. “She had on this little-bitty robe over a baby-doll gown. It was that kinda sheer material, you know, where you can see, but not really.”

"Hmm.” He focused on the laptop and launched the database program.

“That’s the best you can do? ‘Hmm’? What is wrong with you, O’Shaughnessy? She’s hot. I mean, she has these…”

He rolled his eyes. Frank was pantomiming cantaloupes or maybe watermelons. “Go for it. She’s not my type.”

"Your type?” Frank asked, incredulous.

“Yeah. As in Barbie has no brain.”

“Who cares?” The man’s hands rose and fell in exasperation.

Mick ignored him and opened the car file.

“Christ. Sexy woman throws herself at him and he bitches ’cause she isn’t a nuclear scientist.” He opened a cabinet, grabbed a mug, and poured coffee. “You’re out of sugar again.”

“There’s Sweet’N Low.”

Frank made a face, but emptied several packets into his mug. He moved to the refrigerator and stood in front of the open door.

Mick shot a concerned glance into the kitchen. Frank had been making too many comments like that lately. But what was he supposed to ask? Was everything okay between Marilyn and him? Was he thinking about having an affair? Their relationship didn’t work that way. Frank meddled in his life, not the other way around. His partner was supposed to be the solid, married man.

Frank pulled out the milk carton, sniffed and grimaced. “This is pathetic.” He examined and replaced a carton of orange juice. “What’s this?” He lifted a white container as if it might contain anthrax.

He leaned back so he could see what the guy held. “Probably leftover Thai. You might not want to eat it.”

“Do you have anything in here that didn’t die last week?”

"I haven’t been here. The apples and those little carrots in the bottom drawer are okay.” He’d had a handful for breakfast, along with a bagel he found in the freezer. “I need to go to the grocery store this afternoon.”

Frank grimaced and closed the refrigerator. He opened cabinets and finally found a box of Triscuits. “You want more coffee?”

He shook his head, his eyes never leaving the DMV records scrolling down the screen. “There are over two hundred thousand lines in this file. I had no idea there were so many old cars around here.”

“Half of them are in my neighbor’s yard,” Frank replied around a mouthful of crackers. He leaned against the counter, scanning the front page while he crunched noisily. “You see this?”

"You just brought the paper in.”

Frank held it up and Mick glanced at the headline. 

“The Professor, huh?”

“Yeah, he’s made the big time. Bastard has a name now. I’m sure he’s rejoicing, wherever the asshole is.”     

Want More Cathy?

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Siar said...

The book sounds good, but I don't think I have the courage to read.

flippingbook maker

CathyP said...


I've been buried in the last of the Daphne contest as the entries are returned from the judges - it looks like another close one y'all! - but I wanted to pop in and say hello.