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Importance of Setting in My Books by Joan Livingston

It is a joy to welcome American thriller writer, Joan Livingston back to the blog to explain the impartance of setting in her novels. Thank you for your time today, Joan.


Thank you for hosting me today, Val. It is good to be back discussing aspects of my writing and to have this opportunity to share the importance of setting in my books with your readers.


Most of my novels are set in the fictional hilltowns of Western Massachusetts because I live in the real ones. Long ago, we left Boston to move to a town with only 1,200 people and fell in love with country living. I got further immersed when I became a correspondent reporting on out town for the local daily newspaper, and I had the opportunity to hear how people talked and watched how they behaved. I wrote stories about what they did and more. I covered government meetings, news, elections, fires, crime, accidents, feuds, and whatever people did for fun. I wrote features and profiles of interesting folks. I was inspired.

My interest was further sparked when on a friend’s recommendation, I read the works of the late Larry Brown whose books are set in the rural South. The same was true when I read the late Russell Banks’ books, especially The Sweet Hereafter. There were other others. When I became a newspaper editor and no longer had to write stories, I was ready to try my hand at fiction.


I felt the best route for me was to take what I know and have my way with it. I felt I could create an authentic setting along with the people who live there. I could easily envision what these small towns would look like.

Of the thirteen books I’ve published thus far, all but four are set in the hilltowns. Of course, there is my Isabel Long Mystery Series — I have just submitted the seventh to my publisher, darkstroke books. Isabel Long is a former longtime journalist solving cold cases in small, rural towns. Who would have thought there would be so much crime in the sticks? Of course, they are all made up.


Then there are what I call my Hilltown Books: The Sweet Spot, The Sacred Dog, and Northern Comfort. These focus on the darker parts of rural towns. All are set in the late ’70s to early ’80s — pre-internet, pre-cell phone, when many people were trying to hold onto their town’s oldest ways. I focus, with one exception, on the natives. Northern Comfort, my most recent release, is about the haves and have nots living in a small town — following the accidental death of a child. Currently, I am writing The Unforgiving Town, a sequel to The Sacred Dog.

The hilltowns continue to be an inspiration for me. And, thank you, readers, for joining me there.

The Author


Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Chasing the Case, Redneck's Revenge, Checking the Traps, Killing the Story, Working the Beat, and Following the Lead, published by Darkstroke Books, are the first six books in her Isabel Long Mystery Series, featuring a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I. solving cold cases in rural New England. The Sacred Dog, is a thriller that is not a part of the series. Northern Comfort, the next in her hill town books, was published on July 19, 2023.


She draws upon her own experience as a longtime journalist in Massachusetts and New Mexico to create Isabel Long, a sassy, savvy widow who uses the skills she acquired in the business to solve what appears to be impossible cases. She also relies on her deep knowledge of rural Western Massachusetts, where she lives, to create realistic characters and settings — from country bars (where Isabel works part-time) to a general store’s backroom where gossipy old men meet.


Joan relied on those insights while writing The Sacred Dog, Northern Comfort, and The Sweet Spot, all set in the fictional hilltowns of Western Mass.


The Links


Here’s the link to my books on Amazon.

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