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tko
02-16-2012, 11:51 PM
OK, location is everything for some stories, nothing for others.

But in general, and especially for mystery/thrillers, how important is location?

Would mentioning an European versus an Asian versus a U.S. location make any difference in the query?

As a reader, it makes a big difference to me. I'd much prefer an exotic location. But I suspect an agent is more concerned about plot and writing.

Cathy C
02-17-2012, 12:17 AM
an agent is more concerned about plot and writing.

This.

I suppose from season to season there are "hot" areas of the world that an individual editor might be looking for (so an agent is also looking for.) But really, even if they have three thrillers out in a year that are in the same region, if they're all terrific, it's not a big deal. Admittedly, if there really ARE three in a row, they might shift one so a different locale is between and the third same one would come out the next season. But that's about the only thing they'd likely do.

Write it well, and it'll sell. :)

Drachen Jager
02-17-2012, 12:29 AM
I think it matters only if the location is an intrinsic part of the high concept of the novel. If it IS set in Bangkok, but by changing names, locations etc. it could be transported to any other major city in the world it's just a backdrop. If the culture of the place plays an important role in the story then absolutely it should be included, you shouldn't be able to write a good query letter without explaining the location.

I like to read about foreign settings too, so long as the author seems to know what they're talking about, but to me it's much more interesting when the setting is an essential element.

Nymtoc
02-17-2012, 12:41 AM
I was at one of those agents-meet-writers shindigs a few years ago, and I remember telling an agent that I was working on two mysteries--one set in New York and the other in Mexico.

"Oh," she said, "I'd be more interested in the one in New York."

That doesn't answer your question at all. It simply tells us that some agents may have preferences about this sort of thing, while others may not.

Speaking as a reader, setting and location do matter. I might be drawn into a mystery set in Ankara or Stockholm because of the settings, while putting aside another, thinking, "Hmm, just another NYC whodunnit." But then, I'm no agent. I'm just a writer who lives in New York. :)

Jamesaritchie
02-17-2012, 12:45 AM
OK, location is everything for some stories, nothing for others.

But in general, and especially for mystery/thrillers, how important is location?

Would mentioning an European versus an Asian versus a U.S. location make any difference in the query?

As a reader, it makes a big difference to me. I'd much prefer an exotic location. But I suspect an agent is more concerned about plot and writing.

Exotic to who? Your exotic is everyday living for millions. Your everyday living is exotic to millions of others.

This is the difference between being a reader and a writer. Readers may want to read about places they've never been, but slush piles are, unfortunately, filled with manuscripts from writers who think the same way, and it shows.

If you haven't been there, you had better be able to make agents, editors, and readers think you have, and this is not easy.

Unfortunately, this problem is worse in mysteries than with any other genre. It seems like every writer out there wants to set a story in Paris, London, New York City, or you name the big, famous, exotic city.

To the writer, it's exotic. To slush readers, it's nine out of ten manuscripts.

It isn't the where that matters, it's the how well.

Little Ming
02-17-2012, 05:31 AM
I think it matters only if the location is an intrinsic part of the high concept of the novel. If it IS set in Bangkok, but by changing names, locations etc. it could be transported to any other major city in the world it's just a backdrop. If the culture of the place plays an important role in the story then absolutely it should be included, you shouldn't be able to write a good query letter without explaining the location.

I like to read about foreign settings too, so long as the author seems to know what they're talking about, but to me it's much more interesting when the setting is an essential element.

This is what I was going to say.

The same advice goes for every other detail in your query letter. When you only have so many words to hook an agent, you need to make them all count. Every detail needs to be intrinsic and critical to your character development and/or main conflict. Throwing in random details just because it makes your novel sound "exotic" will probably not help you.

Draíocht
02-17-2012, 05:48 AM
Exotic to who? Your exotic is everyday living for millions. Your everyday living is exotic to millions of others.

This is the difference between being a reader and a writer. Readers may want to read about places they've never been, but slush piles are, unfortunately, filled with manuscripts from writers who think the same way, and it shows.

If you haven't been there, you had better be able to make agents, editors, and readers think you have, and this is not easy.

Unfortunately, this problem is worse in mysteries than with any other genre. It seems like every writer out there wants to set a story in Paris, London, New York City, or you name the big, famous, exotic city.

To the writer, it's exotic. To slush readers, it's nine out of ten manuscripts.

It isn't the where that matters, it's the how well.

I agree 100%. Your exotic may not be the same as mine.

thothguard51
02-17-2012, 05:49 AM
Edward S Aarons wrote spy thrillers that took place all over the world. The way he described streets, hotels, bars, palaces and such made me feel as if I could go to those cities and find their locations.

John D MacDonald's Travis McGee series is another, and the author described settings that made me feel as if I was there, or I could go there and find the settings.

The settings were not the main draw of course, but they added a level to the story that helped build the worlds they created. IMHO, setting and location is crucial but only to a point. What do I mean?

Put your setting in a place like Washington DC and almost all the readers can visualize the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, The White House, the Capital and museums and such. Therefore, building the setting is not as detailed.

But put the setting in small town Peoria and you'll need to build the settings a little bit more because most readers won't know what Peoria is like. Sometimes, this can also slow a read down if you do too much location and scene setting. You have to balance what is needed for each scene, etc...

tko
02-17-2012, 10:18 AM
Interesting. I have family in Asia and have traveled there for about 5 weeks every year for the last 15-years (my wife was born in Hong Kong, and I've just applied for my permanent resident status there.) As an amateur photographer I have maybe 20,000 photos from every conceivable location and have done all day city hikes in many Asian cities, exploring every little nook and alley. As a hardworking tourist I know things about Hong Kong that even the locals don't know, researching it for months before I go.

So in my novel, almost every scene, every chase, every restaurant, and every hotel, is based on a real place I found interesting, backed up with memories, photos, and research. Maybe better than a local, because I view everything with open eyes.

Would that make my thriller more interesting? Probably. But would an agent really care? Should I mention this in my biography?

JSSchley
02-17-2012, 10:41 AM
I think Drachen hit the nail on the head. If the setting is intrinsic to the novel, you won't be able to write a good query without it. If it's not, then it will probably weaken the query.

I wonder if you might be overthinking this. I don't read a lot of thrillers, but when I do, either the setting is important to the nature of the story or it's not. I used to read a lot of Grisham (think what you want about me because of that), and for instance, A Time To Kill being set in in the deep South was very important in terms of the racial tensions and the fact that people would respond differently. (And note that a decade and a half after reading it, I don't specifically remember which state.) The Client 's setting didn't matter so much to the story, and I couldn't tell you without looking where it took place.

I would let the role the setting plays in your story decide whether or not it's in your query, not the fear that some agent might care one way or the other. As near as I can tell, the question to, "Is there some agent out there who cares whether or not I do this?" is always yes. Better to just worry about making the query represent the book well.

Terie
02-17-2012, 12:47 PM
Should I mention this in my biography?

No. Your biography is about your publishing credits. Period. For novels, the only time you should mention something beyond publishing credits is if you have personal experience/expertise in the subject matter, not the setting.

For example, if one is a doctor writing a medical thriller, yes, they should mention being a doctor; if one is a lawyer writing a legal thriller, yes, they should mention being a lawyer; when I queried my bike racing novel, yes, I mentioned that I used to race bikes as an amateur. I didn't say anything about being a bike racer in any other query.

Other than that? No. You don't need to mention that you've actually been to the locale in your query. That can come up during dicussions later, such as if you get a revise-and-resubmit request or if your book is contracted and you're at the editing stage.

Little Ming
02-17-2012, 10:16 PM
Interesting. I have family in Asia and have traveled there for about 5 weeks every year for the last 15-years (my wife was born in Hong Kong, and I've just applied for my permanent resident status there.) As an amateur photographer I have maybe 20,000 photos from every conceivable location and have done all day city hikes in many Asian cities, exploring every little nook and alley. As a hardworking tourist I know things about Hong Kong that even the locals don't know, researching it for months before I go.

So in my novel, almost every scene, every chase, every restaurant, and every hotel, is based on a real place I found interesting, backed up with memories, photos, and research. Maybe better than a local, because I view everything with open eyes. You know, the whole foreigner, "hardworking tourist," who comes in with "open eyes" and knows more than the locals do about their own home, is really insulting. If this is the attitude of the author, it does not give me much faith in the book.

Would that make my thriller more interesting? Probably. No, not necessarily. What makes a thriller interesting is a fast pace, interesting plot, characters I care about, and a general feeling of I-want-to-know-what-happens-next. If you have to slow down at "every scene, every chase, every restaurant, and every hotel," to show me how much "research" you did, it probably will not make your novel more interesting. But would an agent really care? Should I mention this in my biography?

Go back and read the thread. The issue isn't how well can you describe the location, it's how important is the location to your story. I don't care if your MC knows the best dai-bai-dongs, which street vendors have the best stinky tofus, the cheapest place to get a prostitute from Beijing (or buck-goo, as the locals call them), which ferry is the "luckiest" to get on to go play mahjong in Macau, which businesses are being investigated by the ICAC, which temple is the best to pray for fertility, or how to break into the TVB studios (see I know Hong Kong too! :tongue ). The point is how is any of this critical to the main story? Dropping a bunch of random local details that have nothing to do with your story or character will not help your novel.

If "every scene, every chase, every restaurant, and every hotel" is just you showing off how knowledgeable you are about this "exotic" location, but none of those details affect the main story, then it is not important. Contrary, if I was an agent, it makes me wonder if you're just trying to use your "research" to cover up the fact that you don't have a really good story or interesting characters. Don't forget that in a query you only have a limited number of words to hook an agent's interest. Every word you spend trying to build up your setting, is a word less you can use to develop your characters and main conflict. Is your location so important and intrinsic to the story that it must take words away from your characters and main plot?

OohLaLaura
02-24-2012, 08:12 PM
""I like to read about foreign settings too, so long as the author seems to know what they're talking about.""

I agree.
It's so distracting to read a novel set somewhere you're familiar with, and have the facts be off.

Even more important than that to me is that the writer has a good feel for the ambience of the region. Dialect can be convincing or distracting, too, depending on how well it's done.

quicklime
02-24-2012, 08:29 PM
as said, your biography is pubbing credits, unless it is something incredibly unique.

since tens of thousands of tourists go to Thailand each year, unless you rode an elephant there and your MC is an elephant-wrangler or something else, no. nothing that unique from traveling there that you're THE GUY who can write THIS BOOK