Today Susan Oleksiw is returning with another great "Anita Ray" Mystery, The Wrath of Shiva. So without much further ado, here's Susan.....
Every writer has a weakness in her work. For some the weakness is dialogue. The dialogue sounds wooden, every character sounds alike, the language is awkward. Other writers zero in on plot. They can’t get a story moving, or create suspense to hold the reader, or create a murder plot that doesn’t give away the ending. And for others, the weakness may be creating compelling characters.
I could go on identifying aspects of writing that are difficult or challenging, but that’s unnecessary. The point is we all have an area where we are weak. My weakness is not one I’ve mentioned above, though I may be weak in one of those areas too.
When I first started to write fiction I had trouble creating a fictional environment that seemed real. I had no sense of how long it took to cross my fictional city, or how the roads were laid out in my fictional town. When a reader asked me once, just how large is this park, I knew I was in trouble. If I want my setting to feel authentic, I need a real place to describe. I may alter the location or setting in specific ways, but I must first begin with a real place so I can judge correctly how my characters behave in the setting.
The Wrath of Shiva grew out of a trip I took through Central Kerala. I booked a room at a traditional home that was turned into a homestay, as bed and breakfasts are called in India. The homestay offered six rooms, with beds for up to eighteen individuals. The property was slowly being crowded by new homes built on land family members had sold off, but enough of the original estate was left to offer the tourist a rare, almost unique experience of the world of old Kerala.
The estate consisted of several acres, probably up to fifteen, and three buildings, or wings, in the form of the letter L. Two buildings were perpendicular to each other, linked by a gateway. The third was an independent structure with three rooms opening onto a veranda. This structure served as an unconnected extension of the longer leg of the L. Between the two structures was a small pond where the laundry was done and water was drawn for the gardens.
The three wings and their rooms were built along traditional lines. The third wing, where I stayed, was a concrete plinth on which was set a wooden frame with walls and a roof. I stepped over a foot-high sill to enter the room. The upper part of the walls were latticed. The wooden superstructure could have been lifted off the plinth and carried away if the family wanted to do so.
The estate sat along the river, and part of the land included a kavu. The kavu is unique to Kerala. This is sacred land that cannot be entered. It is dedicated to the family deity, whose image is set up at the mouth of the kavu and given offerings certain times of the year. The kavu is really one of the earliest known efforts to preserve land in its pristine state, and is important for protecting rare plants and animal life.
I walked around the property during the afternoon I arrived and again in the morning, but I was unsure about the distance from the edge of the kavu to the river. I had to rework part of the novel involving the kavu because, of course, I couldn’t enter that piece of land. In the story a villain enters the kavu, and I had no idea how long it would take that person to crawl through the jungle to reach the edge. I couldn’t be sure how long it would take someone to climb through the jungle to the river and how much the river curved, either expanding or reducing the size of the kavu. In the end I had to graft onto the real estate part of another one I passed on my way to a boat ride on the river. I used the distances from the second kavu for the story, but I sorely wished I could get inside the first one and be sure.
To be certain that I get distances and time spent traveling correct I use a map of the town or area I’m writing about. I record who lives where, what business or other buildings are where, names of streets and private residences, and anything else that is permanent. But when it comes to walking a path through the woods, or crossing a city by foot, I need to do it myself to be sure.
To learn more about the Anita Ray mysteries, go to www.susanoleksiw.com and click on any book cover.
Susan Oleksiw writes the Anita Ray series featuring an Indian American photographer living at her aunt's tourist hotel in South India (Under the Eye of Kali, 2010, The Wrath of Shiva, 2012, and For the Love of Parvati, 2014). She also writes the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva (introduced in Murder in Mellingham, 1993).
Susan is well known for her articles on crime fiction; her first publication in this area was A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. Susan lives and writes outside Boston, MA.
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Until later....take care & God Bless!