Saturday, April 20, 2013

Writing Key West

We are pleased to welcome Lucy Burdette to Type M for Murder.

Lucy is the author of the Key West food critic mysteries, with Topped Chef coming on May 7. She has also written 8 mysteries as Roberta Isleib. You are invited to follow her on twitter or facebook or check out her website. She also blogs with the amazing women of Jungle Red Writers and Mystery Lovers Kitchen.

Writing Key West
by Lucy Burdette

Do you like to see real places and characters in the novels you read? Or do you think reality in fiction falls into the category of “lazy imagination?”

My eleventh mystery, Topped Chef, will be published on May 7. Since this series takes place in Key West, it's very tempting to borrow real places and people from the island and put them in the story. If you can't find interesting details in Key West, you surely must have your eyes closed and your ears stoppered.

In fact, for me writing without actually seeing the scene of the crime has gotten harder. An important part of my process is visiting the setting, either before or while developing the story. When I see what’s there, the ideas start to flood in.

A research outing might go like this: I'm wandering through the crowds at the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square on the Key West harbor, I spot a tarot card reader set up at a card table, wearing a deep blue turban with an enormous teardrop rhinestone bisecting his forehead. My mind begins to spin. What if my protagonist, aspiring food critic Hayley Snow, is addicted to having her cards read because she's insecure about making her own decisions? And what if her tarot reader sees a card scary enough that even he gets rattled? And what if Hayley uses what she thinks she sees in his reactions to dig herself into deeper trouble? And so Marvin the card reader is born as a character. Only then one of my pals says 'who'd go to a psychic named Marvin?' So I change his name to Lorenzo, but later he admits that he grew up as Marvin but who'd want their cards read by a guy with that name?

Then, as I'm walking and biking around Key West, I notice that homeless people are everywhere, including perched on the stone walls around Mallory Square watching the performers and the tourists. After all, if you had to spend your nights outdoors, you might choose the tropics too. And I think about how they blend into the scenery, but probably notice all kinds of things that visitors wouldn't see. And so Turtle, the homeless guy, becomes a character. One cool night, after the crowds have thinned down at the Old Town Harbor, he notices two men arguing. When a man is found hung in a sailboat's rigging later, he doesn't connect the dots. Or maybe he does, but he would never voluntarily go to the police with this information. But Hayley might worm it out of him. Or a bad guy might realize he knows more than he should and bad things ensue.

And then there are names and characters given to me that I can't refuse. For instance, last year I offered an auction item to benefit the Waterfront Playhouse – naming rights to a character in Topped Chef. The man who won the auction sent me a photo and bio of the character he wanted me to include – Randy Thompson, an actual drag queen who performs at the Aqua bar as Victoria. I didn't have the heart to explain that I'd offered naming rights, not character development rights. So I took the real Randy to lunch to chat about the psychology of drag queens and watched him (her) perform a few times, and expanded the character from those points. And then I decided what the heck, and threw Peter Shapiro, the man who’d bought the character, into the mix too.

So you see for me, reality and fiction are wound tightly together. But I’d love to hear your opinions: Do you like real people and places in the books you read – or write? Or do you prefer 100% fiction?


River Glynn said...

I love the Key West murder mysteries. I am a foodie, too, Lucy! Keep writing!

Hannah Dennison said...

Welcome to Type M Lucy. Yes - I agree - I have to know the place I am writing intimately. Google-earth helps but it doesn't capture the smells, sights and sounds. I spent a vacation in Key West once and it was a very colorful place! I will definitely read your book.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Thanks so much Sharon--I will keep writing as long as people will read:)

Hannah, thanks for having me! You are totally right about sounds, smells etc. And suddenly the ideas start to flow when I'm in a place...

Rick Blechta said...

Many thanks for stopping by. Interesting post.