Friday, July 11, 2008

Let’s Talk About Setting.

I'm delighted to welcome back Mona Risk as our guest today. Mona had a lot of success in writing contests prior to her first book being published. Her second book came out recently from Cerridwen and her third will be released soon by The Wild Rose Press.

Helen, thank you for inviting me to talk about my books, their settings and characters.

My book, TO LOVE A HERO is set in Belarus, a Russian country I visited on business trips, a place where I learned to drink vodka, toast by saying Nazhtrovia, and discover the Russian hospitality.

When I visited Greece ten years ago, I fell in love with Mikinos and set a new story I’m still working on in this, Island of Passion. It’s a sizzling romance between a Greek millionaire and an American lawyer.

Last month, we cruised the Italian Riviera. First stop was Sicily. I wanted to visit the home of my Sicilian hero in High-Rise Style.

A few years ago, I visited the Loire Valley and was impressed by the magnificence of the French Chateaux. I visualized gallant aristocrats entertaining beautiful women in lavishly decorated galleries and plush gardens. Stories played in my mind. I don’t write historical romances but kept thinking about the setting.

A year later, while spending Christmas with my sister, my niece enthusiastically related her summer training in a French chateau, as an American student in Architecture from Harvard University. She was offered the unique opportunity to work on the restoration of a chapel in France. When I asked jokingly, “Was the owner a haughty old man?” My niece answered: “He was a young, handsome count and the five girls in my team had a crush on him. He dated my friend.”

Oh, oh. Chateau. Handsome count. Training on a historical chapel. Maybe looking for a historical statue. I had an epiphany. Here was my story premise. When I pitched it to an agent at the RWA conference, she suggested I change my story to a romantic suspense. I took her suggestion to heart and upped the stakes with a missing statue and the murder of a professor to the plot.

French Peril was born. My characters would like to introduce themselves:

Cheryl Stewart: My mentor, Professor Howard became sick during a lunch with a Malaysian student and was rushed to the hospital. Food poisoning or heart attack? He asked me to go to France on his behalf and help a French count with the restoration of a chapel and the search for a valuable statue that had been missing since World War II.

What could be more exciting than spending a couple months working in the plush Loire Valley, in France? I will have to live in the count’s chateau. The same count I saw at Harvard three years ago. The handsome playboy was so busy entertaining gorgeous women he didn’t give me the time of the day back then. I bet he won’t remember me.

François de Valroux: I can’t believe Professor Howard skipped our appointment and sent his graduate student. On the other hand, Cheryl is such a lovely young woman. What can I say… I come from a long line of glorious adulterers and fabulous lovers. When the Boston Hospital calls to announce Cheryl’s mentor died, I do my best to console her with a hug and a kiss, and pledge to protect her. It’s my pleasure. Huh…I mean my duty.

For her own safety, I ask her to keep the search for my statue secret from the five other students training on the chapel reconstruction.

Edith Blaise: I consider myself François’ current girlfriend. I want him badly but I also have a weakness for his title, his fortune, his chateau and its treasures. I won’t let anyone interfere with my goal of becoming the next Countess of Valroux. Certainly not, the American student, a nerd who lives in a pair of blue jeans and finds her happiness in old stones and computers.

Adriaan Van Deem: I come from Amsterdam. I’m studying archeology and I can’t resist the appeal of old stones. Especially if they have a high monetary value. It wouldn’t hurt to befriend the American student who seems to know a lot about the missing statue.

Juan-Pablo Rodriguez: My correct title is Don Juan-Pablo. I hail from the Universidad de Madrid and I am preparing a doctorate in the history of Romanesque churches. I’m a gallant man who always compliments a beautiful woman. I also like artistic treasures.

Roberto Cantari: I was born in Sicily. Women love my dark looks and I love women. My nonna raised me. Now she prays all the time that I remain an honest man. I respect my nonno, a former and famous mafioso. I would do anything to please my grandparents.

Chuck Minho: I was born in London. I am a quiet man who doesn’t talk much, but I don’t miss anything going on around me. I don’t like the looks the American girl gives me. Dirty looks. As if she suspects me of killing someone, just because I look Chinese.

Karl Boderman: I’m studying art, painting and sculpting at the University of Berlin. I can’t believe the show these young studs put when a pretty face shows up. I don’t trust any of them. If you want my opinion, I don’t think they are who they say they are. But then…I’m not too.

Bernard: I am the old butler. My father served François’ grandfather and I was raised in the chateau. I love François as if he was my own son and I want to see him married with a good French woman. Mademoiselle Edith seems to love him. She’s always visiting and staying in the chateau, in the room next to his. But I think François is attracted to the American student. He asked me to put her in the room next to him, on the other side. I don’t like that. François sandwiched between the women’s rooms. I don’t like it at all. Especially that the rooms in this old chateau have secret communication doors.
My fondest dream is to find the statue and put it back on the altar of the reconstructed chapel. But someone hit me in the dark and asked me questions about the statue.

Cheryl: I pledge to go after Professor Howard’s killer and find the statue to honor my mentor’s memory. Things would be easier if I wasn’t so attracted to François.

François: Cheryl is careless and exposing herself to danger all the time. I’m constantly worried about her. She has turned my life upside down and I’m ready to give up the search for the statue to ensure Cheryl’s safety, but she won’t let me.

Together we need to find out:
Who poisoned Professor Howard?
Who hit Bernard?
Who broke into Cheryl’s room?
Where is the statue?
Why is François jealous when the students flirt with Cheryl?

It is easy and comfortable to place our heroes in settings we know, places where they (and their authors) can navigate without problems. What if you write historicals or paranormals? How do you study your setting? How do you create your hero and heroine’s special home?

FRENCH PERIL and TO LOVE A HERO are available at Cerridwen Press. 1419917189

Both books can also be bought and downloaded from my website or my blog

And then? Do you dream about visiting the places where you set your characters?


Helen Scott Taylor said...

Great blog, Mona. I always like to have interesting settings for my stories. Usually in the countryside rather than an urban setting--showing my own preferences. I love historic houses and of course I'm lucky enough to live close to many so research is easy. I visited a beautiful historic house near Dublin that I used as the basis for the Irish fairy queen's home in The Magic Knot. I also visited a Cornish village that I used as the starting point for the village where my hero lives.

Mona Risk said...

Helen, thank you for inviting me to blog at the Title Magic. I love traveling and setting my stories in the new places I visited.

Your Magic Knot is so well described we can "see" the Irish fairy queen's home.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Thanks for blogging with us again, Mona--you always have such interesting topics. Since I write in futuristic/fantasy lands I would LOVE to visit them in real life. :) But honestly I'm not much of a traveler. I'm very happy going places in my mind or with books or TV. That way luggage never gets lost and I always have my toothbrush with me!

Mona Risk said...

Anitra, you remind me of a fellow author from FRW, Bonnie Vanak who wrote a very successful series of historicals romances set in Egypt in the beginning of the 20th century. Her descriptions and characters are amazingly accurate. Yet she'd never been to Egypt and got all her research from the Geographic Channel and the Internet.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Mona, great to see you here again. You are so lucky. I wish I'd had the opportunity to travel as you have, and use the settings for my stories.
What a great cast of characters for French Peril.
Right now, I'm like Anitra, living in my fantasy worlds and doing research via the internet and other media. One of my best research tools is listening to Coast-to-Coastam, night time radio. They have guests in different paranormal areas, also top investigative journalists, historians and physists like Michio Kaku. They've even had people who were once part of the Mafia tell their stories.
It's like taking a college course almost every night.

Evonne Wareham said...

Mona Hello
By incredible coincidence, I just logged on to check the blog, after finishing a small scene in the WIP, set in - you've guesssed it - a French Chateaux! I loved the descriptions and the premis of your story, sounds like a great cast of characters.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hey all, just to let you know I deleted the advert comment.

Mona Risk said...

Savannah, this Coast-to-Coastam, night time radio seems really interesting. I'm going to check it since I'm playing with the mafia in my current whip.

I'm glad my descriptions are helpful. You can get my book at my website There is much information in my stories about French chateaux.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Thank you for blogging with us! I enjoy traveling as well, but mostly within the US--I've been in almost every state--just missing Maine, California, and Oregon.
Helen, I also prefer the countryside--the wilderness is a favorite, city dwellers will find it strange that I love to be where you can't see another human--I grew up without neighbors in sight.
Thanks again,

Marlene said...

Hi Mona, This week I started reading a story situated in Scotland and found it so fun to be reading about the hero taking the heroine through the area we visited last October. Being able to visualize places I'd seen makes the story quite enjoyable and a lot more fun to read.

You know I love the settings and what you've done with them in your wonderful stories in far away places. To love a hero......

Savanna Kougar said...

Mona, the web addy is ~ ~
On the mafia interviews, they're fairly rare. Truthfully, if you research the site I'm not sure how easy they are to find in the archives.
You can streamlink the show, or find a radio station to tune into. The show has been a great resource for me.
Okay, there was one interview with an author who did a biography of the Ice Man, a straight up killer and hit man for the Mafia. This guy was also implicated in Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance. But you'd probably be better off with the book itself. I don't know the exact title, though.

Mai Christy Thao said...

Hi Mona!! I'm way late on this, so I hope I'm still able to leave a comment. First off, great post! Always great to have you guest blog. Secondly, why wasn't I invited to join in with your niece's group? What an amazing trip that would have been! And thirdly, I'm so glad to hear that you're setting your books in exotic locations. This just goes to show that you don't have to limit your setting to England, Scotland, and the US for it to sell. Thanks proving that industry myth wrong!

I love the character introductions too. Haven't read French Peril yet, but now I can't wait to read it.

Also, I absolutely enjoyed reading To Love A Hero. I'm very happy for your success.