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
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.
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Past Tense is available 1 November at Amazon.