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Monday 4 June 2018

✉ Dangerous Places: Leah Nash Mysteries [3] - Susan Hunter

Today author takes over our blog to tell us about writing things that you know.

Susan's third book in the Leah Nash Mysteries series is Dangerous Places (, Himmel River Press, 348 pages), a Cozy Mystery,

“Oh, how I have come to love these characters! This 3rd in series book is great on its own, but even better having read the previous two in the series.” 

“Well, if you're not in it by now, you're not paying attention. With each new book, you get drawn further into Himmel, Wisconsin and Leah Nash and her adventures. You can empathize with most of the characters. I'm more hooked now, and am salivating for her next book.”

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Write What You Know

by Susan Hunter

A piece of wisdom often given to new writers is to "write what you know." I took the advice to heart when I began the Leah Nash Mysteries series. I set the series in a small town and gave Leah a job as a journalist. I'm very familiar with both the rhythms of small-town life, and small-town journalism. Though I hasten to add the disclaimer that Leah is not me and the small town of Himmel, Wisconsin is not the small town where I grew up. That said, Himmel shares many characteristics with small towns across the upper Midwest. And it's been fun to use it as a backdrop for the mysteries I've written.

However, it wasn't until a reviewer mentioned the town as an important part of why she enjoyed the Leah Nash series that I realized Himmel itself had become a character. By that I mean that Himmel doesn't serve merely as the backdrop for the action, instead its qualities and circumstances help to shape that action.

Once a prosperous upper Midwest community with bustling businesses, good-paying factory jobs, and an expectation that things would never change, Himmel has fallen on hard times. When Leah returns, it's not willingly, and she, like the town, is down but not out.

Solving the mystery—which always involves murder, and usually more than one—is the main plot of every book, but the crimes and their resolutions are rooted in the community—even when they extend beyond its boundaries.

I admit Himmel takes some liberties with the realities of small-town life—for instance, there are way more murders there than in the average town its size! In many ways, though, the series reflects small town life as it is, not as it's often stereotyped on television or in the movies. It's not true that everyone in a small community knows everyone else. It's quite possible in a town the size of Himmel (population 15,000) to enter a restaurant or a store and not recognize a single person there. After all, do you have a circle of 15,000 friends, regardless of where you live? Probably not. Nobody in Himmel does either.

Six Sibs
What is true of Himmel, and most towns its size, is that you will know the histories of many more people than you've ever actually met. Your neighbor's cousin's wife left her husband for a woman she met online. Your doctor's aunt lost all her money at the casino and her husband divorced her. Your mother's book club leader married a man who turned out to be a bigamist. You're privy to all these stories, because of the spider's web of threads that weave the town together, but you may never encounter the owners of the stories directly. You can know lots of things about people without knowing the people themselves.

I think that a town, like a person, can be welcoming or reserved, friendly or wary, accepting or judgemental. Himmel is a place that's been through a lot, has lost a lot, is a little wary of change, but is still in there swinging. A little bit like Leah herself. As the books progress, Leah's character begins to change a little, influenced by the changes in the town, and some of the changes in the town reflect the changes in Leah.

I set out to write a series with its roots in things that I know. But thanks to a reader's comment, I have a new perspective about a series I thought I knew very well. The characters in the Leah Nash Mysteries include not just the people who populate the town, but also, the town itself.

A person can't just vanish. Can she?

Dangerous Places
Available NOW!

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CMash said...

I have this series waiting for me on my Kindle and hope to read them soon!

susanhunter said...

Thanks for hosting me on your blog and introducing my book to your followers!