Book Beat Babes

Book Beat Babes

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Multi-Published Author, Marilyn Levinson, Gives Advice About Setting

I'm happy to welcome Marilyn Levinson to Book Beat Babes. She's got some great advice about Setting. Morgan Mandel

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and books for kids.Her latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, is out with Oak Tree Press. Untreed Read has brought out new e-editions of A Murderer Among Us--a Suspense Magazine Best Indie--and Murder in the Air, the first two books in her Twin Lakes series. Her ghost mystery, Giving Up the Ghost, and her romantic suspense, Dangerous Relations, are out with Uncial Press. All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives. 

Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children’s Choice; Getting Back to Normal, & And Don’t Bring Jeremy.

Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime.   Website:

And, now, let's see what Marilyn Levinson says about Setting.


The more I write, the more I value setting as an important element in my novels. There are hundreds, if not thousands of settings available to us writers: a submarine, Mars, an island in the Pacific, a small village in England. Your novel’s setting helps determine the pace of your novel. Setting conveys mood and theme. That said, my characters inhabit towns and settings that can’t be found on any map. Though I take this kind of literary license, I always set my novels in a general area I’m familiar with, even if I’ve only visited it once or twice. These days we’re able to go on line and view photos of a particular area or village we’re considering using as a setting. We can download information about the climate, the terrain, and the kind of business and industry that flourish there.

I consider the setting of my novels very carefully before I start to write. While many of my novels take place on Long Island, the home locations of each of my series are very different, one from the other. I consider the geography, the architecture, and the economic level of the town’s inhabitants. I generally create a town or village and place it in close proximity to real places and landmarks. This allows me freedom yet grounds my novels, something my readers like.

Old Cadfield, the setting of my latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, the first book in my Golden Age of Mystery series, is an upscale picture-perfect village, surrounded by multi-million dollar homes on acre or two-acre plots. I had an actual wealthy community in mind when I began writing the novel, but like all my settings, Old Cadfield took on a life of its own. The village’s rich lifestyle affects its residents, many of whom aren’t as wealthy as their neighbors imagine. As my sleuth, Lexie Driscoll, discovers, they often hide their peccadillos behind a wall of respectability. House-sitting in an award-winning Old Cadfield home, she often feels uncomfortable living in the lap of luxury. She’s disappointed when her best friend closes rank with the other Old Cadfield people to stop her from uncovering too many of their secrets.

In Giving Up the Ghost, Gabbie Meyerson comes to Chrissom Harbor in the dead of winter to teach English as the local high school. She rents a cottage situated on a buff above the Long Island Sound, and discovers she has a housemate—the ghost of Cameron Leeds, who used to live in the cottage. Cam’s body was discovered on the beach below the buff, supposedly of an accidental fall. But Cam knows someone murdered him, only he doesn’t know who. He nags Gabbie until she agrees to investigate. The lonely cottage, the surrounding woods, the blue collar town that doubles in size in the summer months when the summer people come all impact on the mood and feeling of my novel.

I set my YA, Getting Back to Normal on a large estate similar to an arboretum I’ve visited numerous times. Of course I changed the name and created a lake and a gazebo and made many other alterations to suit my story. Twelve-year-old Vannie Taylor’s mother has died, and her father can’t bear to continue living in their home. He moves Vannie and her younger brother to a dinky cottage on the large estate where he manages events and programs. Here Vannie meets a friendly ghost who has an agenda of his own. Planning the kids’ Halloween party in the mansion was lots of fun.

When creating your village add sites and landmarks that are unique and play a role in your novel.

As you can see, I often base my settings on places I’m familiar with and change them to suit my story.  Your setting should be working for you, creating atmosphere and mood. If you’re writing a mystery, let your victim be discovered in an interesting location. And don’t forget to include real towns and festivals. Your setting adds color to your novel and another dimension to your readers.

Marilyn's Website:
Marilyn's Amazon page: 

Please leave a comment to welcome Marilyn Levinson to Book Beat Babes.


  1. Welcome to Book Beat Babes, Marilyn. It's evident you're no slouch! A lot of work goes into your novels, and the readers appreciate that.

  2. Thanks, Morgan. Writing and all that it entails sure keeps me busy.

  3. I try to make setting an unobtrusive character in my mysteries, since I believe, like you, that characters must inhabit a world that is real and available to the reader. Thanks for your insights, Marilyn.

  4. Excellent advice, Marilyn. Setting can sometimes make all the difference in a story, and setting can make the story more fun to write. Readers and writers are both winners.
    Marja McGraw

  5. Nanci,
    Thanks for stopping by. I often think of setting as another character in my novels.

  6. Thanks, Marja. Knowing the setting of my book certainly influences my writing.

  7. Marilyn,
    I loved the fictional town of Old Cadfield in Murder a la Christie. In fact, I loved everything about the book!

  8. HI Marilyn,

    Welcome to BBB!

    I couldn't agree more about setting be such an integral part of a story. Sometimes it can almost take on a personality of its own and become almost character-like.

  9. Pat,
    Thanks so much for your high praise.

  10. Hi Marilyn. Great post. Your settings are definitely another character in your wonderful stories. I somewhat wish I'd made up a town instead of using real places in my series which takes place in the gold country. I have a feeling after DYING FOR A DUDE comes out, some of the locals may want to stick me up on the old Hangin Tree!

  11. Hi, Marilyn,

    I agree with Cindy. For my Kim Reynolds mystery series I made up a town but it's based on a real place. The setting is therefore realistic without making anyone too uncomfortable.

    1. Hi Jacqueline,
      There's nothing like mixing fact & fiction.

  12. Cindy,
    Thanks for your kind words. I'm sure they won't string you up.