Setting Plays Its Role
Good writing often transports you to a separate reality. While in the comfort of your reading chair you can travel to faraway places, face dangers while your fireplace crackles, and have bullets whiz past your head with little risk at all . . . unless you knock over the glass beside you while ducking.
I love books that take me to places I’ve not been. Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun books sweep me off to Laos in the 1970s. John Burdett’s SonchaiJitpleecheep series takes me to Bankok darkest night streets.Tarquin’s Hall’s Vish Puri books fill my nose with the scents of Delhi. And Georges Simenon’s Maigret books show me the seamy side of Paris.
I also like books that return me to places I have been, and make me feel that I’m really there. James Lee Burke puts me on the streets of New Orleans. Robert B. Parker and Dennis Lehane share Boston as you rarely see it. Randy Wayne White and James Hall show off the greenest, dankest corners of Florida.
Texas is a place I wanted to share. When I got to Texas from New York City it was nothing like I expected. Where I thought I’d see deserts and cacti I encountered the green rolling hills and limestone cliffs of Texas Hill Country. Those Saguaro cactuses that you often see on books set in Texas are a product of that same misconception. There isn’t a native Saguaro cactus in the state. You have to go to Arizona for that, or a New York publisher.
Using Texas as a setting was a chance to both set the record straight and show off the interesting aspects of the place in the context of crime novels that drag the reader from the seamiest corners to the loftiest heights. From the brightly lit city of Austin to the backwoods rural neighborhoods where you can still find gun racks on the back windows of trucks. There is much to see, hear, smell, and taste in Texas, and it is, for many readers, that someplace else that is faraway and a fresh experience. The important part is how much to share as a backdrop for lively action and complex characters.
Stephen King put it well in his book, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, when he said, “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but must finish in the reader’s.” Not too little. Not too much. Just enough detail for the reader to see and feel in his or her head so the story becomes part of the reader’s experience and discovery.
That said, Texas has a lot to offer as a setting for gritty tales. In A Turtle Roars in Texas I draw on the yin and yang of miles of highways for year-round travel by good bikers, but room for bad biker gangs too. There is an organic farm and there are the nearby drug cartels in Mexico. There are beautiful hills and dales in the hill country, but there are prickly stickers and sharp edges on many plants, the reason cowboys wore chaps.
There are folks with a fierce sense of the Southern code of honor as well as plenty of people who come from a rough and tumble background. There are strings of man-made lakes and the mention of the many caves in the state may come up.
A reader can enjoy the beauty and splendor of all Texas has to offer as well as getting a taste of the harsh realities of the drug territory battles happening right under that pretty surface. Life can sneak up and be mean to an individual in a place like that.
So, retired sheriff’s department detective Al Quinn, who is old enough some think him a turtle, may be fishing one day and fighting for his life and the lives of those he loves the next. All in a setting as big as Texas.
Russ Hall is author of fifteen published fiction books, most in hardback and subsequently published in mass market paperback by Harlequin’s Worldwide Mystery imprint and Leisure Books. He has also co-authored numerous non-fiction books, most recently Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company (Financial Times Press, 2009) with Richard Brunner, former head of design at Apple, Now You’re Thinking (Financial Times Press, 2011), and Identity (Financial Times Press, 2012) with Stedman Graham, Oprah’s companion.
His graduate degree is in creative writing. He has been a nonfiction editor for major publishing companies, ranging from HarperCollins (then Harper & Row), Simon & Schuster, to Pearson. He has lived in Columbus, OH, New Haven, CT, Boca Raton, FL, Chapel Hill, NC, and New York City. Moving to the Austin area from New York City in 1983.
He is a long-time member of the Mystery Writers of America, Western Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. He is a frequent judge for writing organizations. In 2011, he was awarded the Sage Award, by The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation — a Texas award for the mentoring author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community. In 1996, he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction.