Setting as a Character in A FATAL FICTION

Kaitlyn Dunnett here, today writing about setting. In most cozy mysteries, the amateur sleuth and his or her friends live in a small town. Creating that environment in a believable way is essential. By the time there are several books in a series, the setting is often so well developed that it’s very nearly become a character in its own right.

Some series are set in real places, others create fictional towns and even counties within a real state (if they mention the state at all). In my Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries, both Moosetookalook and Carrabassett County, Maine are fictional, as are most of the nearby towns and cities I name. In the Deadly Edits series, however, I use a combination of fictional and real places. Lenape Hollow and Feldman’s Catskill Resort Hotel are fictional, but Sullivan County is real and so are most of the other towns and villages I mention—Liberty, Monticello, and Hurleyville in particular. Lenape Hollow is loosely based on Liberty, New York, but it’s not Liberty. Similarly, Feldman’s is loosely based on Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel, but it isn’t Grossinger’s. (And in case anyone’s wondering, Sunny Feldman isn’t based on anyone real, living or dead, and neither are any of the other characters in the Deadly Edits series.)

As I’ve admitted elsewhere, I’ve given many of my own memories of high school days to Mikki, who has returned to her old home town after fifty years away, taking care to change names and details. When it came to buildings, however, I saw no reason not to model similar ones in Lenape Hollow on real places in Liberty—the elementary and high school I attended, the church I went to, the house I grew up in and my best friend’s house, a former surplus store, and even the gas station across from the elementary school.

There’s one notable exception to this wholesale transplanting of Liberty landmarks to Lenape Hollow. I’d already used Liberty’s redbrick municipal building, containing the town office, the fire and police departments, and the town library, as the model for the municipal building in Moosetookalook, Maine. Luckily for me, there is now a new police station in Liberty, and a new library. I’ve shamelessly appropriated both buildings and their locations and plunked them down in Lenape Hollow.

What locations did I make up? Well, there’s Harriet’s, the lunch and breakfast restaurant across the street from the police station. And when I needed a fictional historical society for Clause & Effect, I borrowed some of the physical layout of the Sullivan County Historical Society’s headquarters in Hurleyville and plunked it down in Lenape Hollow. In A Fatal Fiction, Feldman’s is being demolished, as Grossinger’s was in 2018, but there the similarities stop. Work at Feldman’s, you see, comes to a grinding halt with the discovery of a body.

You can read more about that in less than a week. A Fatal Fiction will be available as a hardcover and in e-book format next Tuesday. If you’d like to pre-order, click here for links to booksellers.

With the June 30, 2020 publication of A Fatal Fiction, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-two books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes, but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains websites at and A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, contains over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.


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8 Responses to Setting as a Character in A FATAL FICTION

  1. Kate Flora says:

    Love these descriptions, Kathy. What fun. Do you keep a diary for you books? I’ve always been told we should but don’t, and find myself scrolling through previous books, checking names and places. I think we walk a fine line with real vs. fictional places. I was once told you could use a real place if you said nice things about it, but I don’t know if that is true. I always enjoyed the way people think I’ve gotten real places right. In my current WIP, I am channeling summers on the lake to send Burgess and his family on vacation and just writing those scenes of kayaking and swimming and trying out paddle boards makes me want to leave my desk and go outside.


  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    Kate, I keep trying to remember to write down what personal memories I’ve already used in books, especially if I put a different twist on them, but I always manage to miss a few and then I panic, afraid I’ve contradicted a character’s experience or opinions or a description of a place from book to book. If I have, I can be sure some alert reader will catch it and let me know!


  3. bereksennebec says:

    This is one of the reasons I love writing about Maine. I’ve visited so much of the state that I can pick and choose from images in my head when writing short stories and give them a more realistic feel.


    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Love those pictures in my head–of course the ones from 50+ years ago may not be as accurate as I think they are.


  4. Anonymous says:

    The gas station across from the elementary school was my dads. Marty’s.


    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Then you’ll recognize the house on Lincoln Place, too, since it was right next door to yours. You’re coming through as “anonymous” so I can’t tell if you’re Robin or Bill, but either way it’s nice to hear from you. I was Kathy Gorton back when we were neighbors.


  5. Brenda Buchanan says:

    I’m looking forward to A Fatal Fiction, Kathy. Mikki is such a great character and the setting, informed by your memories, is spot on.


  6. kaitlynkathy says:

    Thanks, Brenda.


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