Saturday, November 21, 2009


I’m ending the week of writer’s information by writing about setting. Setting is where your story takes place. The where. The best way for me to write about setting is to talk about how I used setting in A Stitch in Crime which comes out in February.

In this installment of the crochet mysteries, the group has gone on a retreat on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula at a place called Asilomar Conference Center. I personally love Asilomar and have been there numerous times, but went again while I was working on the book. Not that I really need an excuse to go to that area. Just writing about it now makes me want to pack my bag.

Asilomar is somewhere between a camp and a resort. It was originally built as a YWCA camp and designed by Julia Morgan who also designed Hearst Castle. The original buildings were built between 1913 and 1928. They are Arts and Crafts style which means lots of weathered wood shingles and stone from the area. Between the buildings the grounds have been left wild. The tall scrawny Monterey pines are native in a only two other areas outside the Monterey Peninsula. Fallen trees are left where ever they land. The other trees I associate with the place are the Monterey Cypress. The have gnarled trunks and the constant wind makes their foliage grow horizontally. To me they look like old men running away with their hair blowing in the breeze.

I had my characters stay in a building called Lodge which was built around 1917. I’ve stayed there myself and the accommodations are spartan. There are no phones or televisions, but the building has a common living room with a fireplace that’s usually going.

The beach is a short walk away and a lot of the action in the book takes place there. The sand is silky soft and very white and comes from the wave abrasion of local granodiorite rocks. The waves are rough and the water actually is sea foam green.

Food is served in a dining hall which was a great way to get all my characters together. There is an outdoor spot with fire pit where my characters met to roast marshmallows.

In addition to going to Asilomar, I bought books on the area and collected all kinds of printed material. I wanted to be able to mention the names of things, along with describing them. I ended up with much more information than I needed and had to cut out some sections that seemed to much like a travelogue.

There is a brooding moodiness from all those dark buildings and the almost constant fog that works nice with a murder. I blew in more fog for the story than I’ve ever seen there, but then it is fiction. I also played up the sense of isolation since Asilomar is literally located on the end of the continent.

I tried to include the smell of the place which is a combination of smoke from the fireplaces mixed with a strong pine scent and the damp ocean air.

And after all my work the Berkley art department did a great job of capturing the setting on the cover.


Camille Minichino said...

I can almost smell Asilomar from 2 hours away, Betty!

I like to include all the senses as you do - using them throughout the book in subtle ways. So, when it's time for a metaphor or simile I'll often use one that will evoke the sound of the area or the even something tactile, like calling something as coarse as the grains of sand that mingle with the grasses on the shore.

OKAY, that's not terrific, but it's not even 7 a.m. here - hope you get the idea!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Fantastic job. And the cover evokes the setting very well. Good on all of you!

Betty Hechtman said...

I'm glad I could send some Asilomar your way, Camille. You're right, setting is all about including all the senses.

Thanks, Joanna. I love the cover.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Isn't it fun the way interesting settings become almost characters in a book? Asilomar sounds like one of those, Betty. Love your description of it and how you've used it!

Betty Hechtman said...

It's funny you should mention that, Linda, because as I was writing about Asilomar, I was thinking it seemed like a character.

Betty Hechtman said...

It's funny you should mention that, Linda, because as I was writing about Asilomar, I was thinking it seemed like a character.

Terri Thayer said...

I just came back from Asilomar. They have a new vendor and the food is really, really good.

Everything was as beautiful as ever, although there was a huge TV in the lodge and there is talk of opening up a coffee bar. I really hate the idea of the TV but I guess nothing stays the same before. The coffee bar, now that I can get behind.

Of course I set my third quilting mystery there, too. It's too good not to.

Betty Hechtman said...

Terri, I knew you would share my feelings about Asilomar. I'm glad to hear the food is good.

Anonymous said...

Asilomar always sounds so lovely, and you sure caught it in your setting!