Where the heck Wednesday: Margot Kinberg

Welcome to another instalment of Where the Heck Wednesday, this time courtesy of crime writer (and fount of all knowledge when it comes to crime fiction!) Margot Kinberg.  Over to you, Margot!

Book Title: Past Tense

Setting: Pennsylvania, USA

Author: Margot Kinberg

http://margotkinberg.wordpress.com / Facebook / Twitter


Thanks so much, Tess, for hosting me. A novel’s setting is an important part of what makes it work, so I really like the idea of a feature that’s devoted to settings. And I appreciate the chance to talk about the setting I chose for Past Tense.

Where’s the Book Set?

Past Tense takes place mostly on the quiet campus of (fictional) Tilton University, located in the US state of Pennsylvania. What’s interesting about that state is that it’s actually got several regions with different weather patterns and kinds of geography. So, to be more specific, the novel’s set in the (equally fictional) small town of Tilton, about two hours from Philadelphia. It’s not far from the rich farm country of the south-central part of the state, but Tilton itself isn’t a farming community.

Why That Location?

I’ve always liked college and university campuses. For one thing, they tend to be visually appealing. Many of them have beautiful groves of trees, gardens, lawns and so on. The older campuses also tend to have interesting, and sometimes quite lovely, buildings. And there are always stories associated with those buildings. I wanted a setting that would offer a blend of history, beauty and the opportunity to bring disparate people together. Nothing does that quite like a university campus.

Many US colleges and universities are located in small ‘college towns,’ and that’s the sort of place Tilton is. I wanted that atmosphere, because it allows for a lot of mixing of university and town, and that’s important in Past Tense. In fact, a few local characters are alumni of Tilton, and that plays a role in the novel. Small-town settings allow for that blend.

What Did it Entail?

Tilton University doesn’t exist. So in the sense of preparing, it was more a matter of creating a credible place than researching to get streets and so on right. But bits of it are based on my own experiences on university campuses, including the one I attended for my undergraduate degree. It’s been really interesting to check recent images of that campus to see how it’s evolved since I was a student. That particular campus has a beautiful open area with a grove of old oak trees, benches, paths, and so on. It’s really one of the hubs of the campus. The local squirrels know this, and are quite bold, even following unsuspecting people until they sit down and open up that sandwich or snack. The squirrels reconnoiter, plot their ambush strategies, and then clamber up the benches until they’re right next to anyone who sits there long enough with anything to eat. Then they use their ‘I’m so adorable you can’t possibly ignore me’ facial expressions until they’re fed. Woe betide the person who feeds them, though. The Pied Piper of Hamelin had nothing on a person who walks through that grove of trees after having fed even one squirrel. I may have to include marauding squirrels in my next mystery…


Margot Kinberg is a mystery novelist (she writes the Joel Williams series) and Associate Professor. She has also been blogging about crime fiction since 2009. She has written three Joel Williams novels (Publish or Perish, B – Very Flat, and Past Tense) and is currently revising the fourth. She is also the editor of the charity anthology In a Word: Murder.  Margot blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

Connect with Margot on Twitter

…or Facebook.

Past Tense is available 1 November at Amazon.

27 thoughts on “Where the heck Wednesday: Margot Kinberg

  1. Squirrels can be terrifyingly tame and demanding, can’t they? Margot made me laugh. I remember the cheeky deer at Nara in Japan, who practically commit highway robbery on you.

  2. It’s good to see you out and about, Margot. This is a great topic to explore for writers and their readers. Setting is almost a character in some novels, isn’t it?

    Tess, thank you for hosting Margot here today.

    • Margot Kinberg says:

      It is, indeed, Pat! I sometimes think that writers need to pay as much attention to setting as they do character or plot. And I agree that this is a great feature for Tess to have on her blog – a focus on that setting. I felt so lucky to be included.

    • Margot Kinberg says:

      I don’t think so, either, Pat. I think that’s why I wanted to to really be sure that my setting felt authentic. And you know, you really have to watch for those squirrels….

  3. Ha! Those squirrels sound lovely but I laughed at the image of you being chased around campus by a horde of them… 😉 I agree a campus is a great setting – lets lots of people of all different kinds come together in one place quite credibly, and in a sense gives a bit of that feeling of a ‘closed’ community.

    • Margot Kinberg says:

      That’s just exactly it, FictionFan. All sorts of people from many different places come together on a college campus. That can make for plenty of challenges as it is. And since, as you say, it’s somewhat of a closed community, a campus can come across as quite insular if the author wants. And that can add to the tension in a story.

      And about the squirrels? They are small, but dangerous… 😉

  4. I love college campuses, too! I interviewed for a job on the campus of my alma mater a couple of years after I graduated and when she asked why I wanted to work there, I said the college environment was like its own little world! I still believe that. I should set a book there!

    • Margot Kinberg says:

      Oh, you put that perfectly Stephanie!! A college campus really is a world of its own, isn’t it? And there are so many possibilities, too, for plots and so on. I don’t blame you one bit for wanting to set a novel there.

    • Margot Kinberg says:

      Thanks, Cleo. I’m glad you found the post interesting. And yes, I’m very fortunate to have been invited to visit some wonderful blogs – like this one 🙂

  5. Really enjoyed this one, Margot. I think you would love Clemson University, located in the Upstate region of South Carolina. It has ties going all the way back to the Revolutionary War, and John C. Calhoun also played a vital role in Clemson’s development. The campus is beautiful, with botanical gardens, agricultural center, and several structures dating back to the early-mid 19th century. All this plus a very active “hands-on” learning opportunities open free to the public. AND, the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains are less than an hour’s drive away. I won’t even mention Clemson’s FOOTBALL TEAM–GO TIGERS! 🙂

    • Margot Kinberg says:

      So…how do you feel about the Tigers, Michael? 😉 – In all seriousness, Clemson sounds like a fabulous campus. And I like it that there are interactive learning opportunities available to the public. I always think that both campus and community benefit when there’s plenty of connection between them.

  6. Thanks so much for all the lovely replies and I’m delighted everyone enjoyed Margot’s post. This is a new venture for me but one I’m hoping to run most Wednesdays so do pop back to check out Where the Heck my next author will be next week!

  7. Margot, I liked both the setting and location of your novel. The picturesque description with little squirrels would translate nicely on to the big screen, and I hope it does. I think, creating a fictional setting requires a lot of imagination even if the writer is familiar with the set. And imagination doesn’t always write itself well, as I have often noticed. Thank you, Margot and Tess.

    • Margot Kinberg says:

      Thank you, Prashant. I appreciate your support, and I think it would be very interesting (and fun!) to see what those squirrels looked like in starring roles on the screen… You’re right, too, that just because one has been to a place, or could imagine it, doesn’t mean that readers will be able to get a sense of the author’s idea. That takes the right choice of words and style.

  8. tracybham says:

    I never thought about the difficulties of creating a fictional setting, Margot. Of course, you don’t have people complaining that you did not get it right.

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