by Kathryn Gandek-Tighe
Julie Hennrikus moderated this panel on how to use setting to its most chilling effect. The panel’s three authors have books set in very different locations around New England. Kaitlyn Dunnett uses a location in rural Maine based upon where she lives. Kieran Shields’ setting is 1890’s Portland, which ties into a plot line concerning the anniversary of the Salem witch trials. Charles Atkins had a unique idea based on the antique markets of Connecticut so created a town that was an amalgam of the area.
They were asked about the importance of the setting and if their series could be located elsewhere. They all agreed that their series could not. Kaitlyn said her “characters have some universal traits but their eccentricities are related to small town rural Maine.” Charles’s setting needed the unique blend of antique dealers and older residents located in his area of Connecticut.
All use real settings to do research, although Kieran added that there was a fine line between writing about the settings and not writing too much about them. He pointed out downfall that using real settings limits what a writer can do because reality doesn’t necessarily match what you want to have happen. Kaitlyn felt the need to change names of people and settings to protect the reputation of the local police department, although she acknowledged that townspeople liked to try to identify people and places in her books. The authors were asked how they tracked their settings, what they looked like and what happened in them. While using real setting helped, they also used “big, badly drawn maps” and bibles to write down all the details.
Julie asked if New England has become a cliché setting, and the agreement was that it hasn’t. Kaitlyn observed that “to many publishers Maine is exotic.” The uniqueness of New England is still considered an appealing setting. “We are built on the bones of our ancestors in New England,” observed Charles.