Guest Post – Debut Author Marcelle Dubé

I’m taking a break from my hiatus (does that make any sense at all?) to assemble this guest post. Meet Marcelle Dubé, a debut author who writes from a truly exotic place–the Yukon. Here in the Southern United States, we like to compare the Yukon to impossibly faraway places, like Siberia or Timbuktu. But Marcelle actually lives there! We wonder if we seem so far away to her. Here she is, writing about how important setting is to in the fiction she reads–and writes.

A rose is still a rose, but there’s only one Yukon

by Marcelle Dubé

Hi everyone and thanks, Tia, for inviting me to your blog!

For those of you who don’t know me – which would be most of you, I suspect – my name is Marcelle Dubé and I write mystery/suspense and fantasy. Carina Press just published my first novella, On Her Trail, a romantic suspense with ghosts.

I set On Her Trail in the Yukon, where I live. I wonder if that’s the norm, if most writers, especially at the beginning of their careers, choose to write about where they live. After all, it’s the place they know and love best. And, let’s face it, there’s a certain comfort level in knowing the place you’re writing about!

I always notice setting in stories. Or rather, I notice its absence. I like to feel grounded in the story, to be able to “see” where all the action takes place. That doesn’t mean I need gobs of description – a few well-chosen words will bring me right into the room, the city, or the country. And setting, when done well, becomes an integral part of the story – “place” becomes “character.”

Take Dave Robicheaux, James Lee Burke’s detective. Dave lives in New Iberia, Louisiana and his love for his home is as much a part of the story as are the murders he investigates. Burke’s books wouldn’t be as wonderful without the humidity and heat that roll off each page. Louise Penny’s Three Pines, in rural Quebec, is so well imagined that I want to move there, or at least visit the book store and enjoy a café au lait with Inspector Gamache in the café next door. Ken Bruen’s mean and gritty Galway helps make Jack Taylor the man he is in The Guards (the only one of Bruen’s novels I’ve read to date, but it won’t be the last!).

Setting matters to me and I believe it matters to most readers, even if only subconsciously. It’s the foundation of the story; it grounds the reader and lets her concentrate on the story.

OnHerTrailSo it’s no surprise that I find myself using the Yukon – or at least, the North – as setting for a few of my stories. It’s a pretty fabulous place. In case you’re as geographically-challenged as I am, the Yukon is in northern Canada, north of British Columbia and right next door to Alaska.

Still can’t place it?

Yeah. I know. Most people have a nebulous idea at best about northern Canada.

To be honest, I worried that setting On Her Trail in the Yukon might limit its chances at publication. Nobody seems to know where it is and much as I love the place, it doesn’t feel exotic to me. Home is never exotic, right?

But for me, the Yukon setting was as important as Fay or Lauren, the mother and daughter in my story. These two women belonged on the cliffs above the Yukon River.

What I’ve learned, however, is that readers are curious. They love to find out about a new place and the people who live there. And to them, the Yukon is exotic!

What about you? Does setting matter in the fiction you read? In the stories you write? Do you always set your stories in familiar places or do you do a lot of research? How important is setting in your choice of which book to buy?

I’d love to hear about the books you would recommend for their strong settings (and good stories, of course!). I’ll be around all day, if anyone wants to chat. Looking forward to what you have to say.

38 Thoughts to “Guest Post – Debut Author Marcelle Dubé”

  1. Tia Nevitt

    I love stories that take me to another time and place, so yes, setting is important to me. Some titles that pop to my mind: Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel, I, Claudius by Robert Graves, Shogun by James Clavell, 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke, Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, The Talisman by Walter Scott, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Hmm. Not many fantasies among them. I think it becomes extra special to me when the story is magical without the magic.

  2. Couldn’t agree more about Clan of the Cave Bear, especially, Tia. I haven’t read Redemption in Indigo yet, but it’s on my list! Thanks for having me as a guest and congratulations on your recent publication of Sevenfold Spell!

  3. I love unusual settings in novels! The more exotic and wild, the better! I think it adds to the suspense of a novel.

    1. I agree completely, Liz. I also love learning about new places, or even learning something new about places I already know. My most recent novel is set partly in the Yukon and partly in Morroco, a place I’ve never seen. I had so much fun researching it! Now, of course, I have to go…

  4. I love settings and the Yukon is a hot one for me. I will be picking your book up for Xmas, as soon as DH picks my Xmas present/ereader (picture me rolling my eyes). Now I’ll get socks for being ungrateful :). I digress. I adore settings. Diana Gabaldon’s books invoke great settings, Loreth Anne White’s SRS books, Susannah Kearsley’s novels, JK Rowling, and then other fantasy novels… well my favorite right now is Elizabeth Vaughan’s WARPRIZE books.
    It doesn’t mean I won’t read a book without great settings, but they are a little flat in comparison, or rely on other aspects of storytelling to carry the story.

    1. Well, I hope you have a Merry Christmas, Toni! I’m glad you’re intrigued by the Yukon. I’ve read Diana Gabaldon and JK Rowling but I’ll add the other names to my list of books to read. Thanks!

      1. Line

        Marcelle just ask your retired brother-in-law to find you some good deals! He will make you go around the world to get more ideas.

        1. Good plan, Line. Nice of you to drop by!

  5. Chicory

    Wow! The Yukon? That IS exotic. I had to laugh when you said home is never exotic, because that’s how I feel. I live in Western Maryland, and it’s gotta be the least exotic place on the planet. Setting was really the writing skill I picked up last, and I still have to fight `empty-white-room-syndrome.

    As to writers who do a terrific job on setting, Lloyd Alexander always impressed me because he liked to play with exotic settings -not something you see much of in High Fantasy. `The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen,’ set in ancient China always stood out to me because the setting was so different from what I usually read. Gillain Bradshaw and Anne Perry both write historical fiction, and both have an amazing sense of setting. Stephen Lawhead, with his mix of historic and fantasy. Sherwood Smith and Terry Pratchett are both fantasy writers who really let their settings have an influence on their stories.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Empty white room syndrome–I love it!

    2. Hi Chicory — thanks for the names! Ancient China? Count me in. I like Anne Perry’s stories, too. I’m partial to historical settings in my fantasy and mysteries, so I’ll be looking up your suggestions. I think I’d better expand my book budget…

  6. Line

    Marcelle I read your book when it was first published thanks to your sister Josée. You made me discovered a territory that I did not know. I could feel the harsh landscape and at the same time the beauty of this part of my country that I don’t know anything about (it is a damn shame when we stop and think about it) I agree with the other bloggers that more details about a less known place makes for the story even more interesting. A lot of the authors take for granted that the reader will know about the place and there is no need to describe the environment. We forget now that at the speed that we can download the books we can be anywhere on this planet. Keep giving us details about the village or the city and I am sure that will add to the plot of the story

    1. Well, Line, come on up, because we have lots of room up here! I’m glad you got a sense of the Yukon from On Her Trail because I did want to share my love of my home with my readers.

      And Chicory? Maryland is quite exotic to me!

      1. Chicory

        We do have a painted bridge on the Carrol Creek canal in Frederick. Sometimes I go walk along the canal and pretend I’m in Europe. 🙂

        1. Works for me!

  7. Leanne

    Hi Marcelle,

    Josée gave me a short story of yours to read (being the proud sister that she is) and it’s easy to see just how much setting means to you in your work. My senses were readily engaged through the story, which added to the suspense factor (I had goosebumps at one point!)

    In my own writing, when at all possible, I try to use my natural/familiar setting because I AM a novice writer and it’s a little easier. At the same time, though, I’ve found that it’s often easy to overlook and neglect wonderful, quirky little things about our home turf that we take for granted and that readers might really find enjoyable.

    Dialogue is my strong point and my setting quite often suffers because of it (thank sweet baby jebus for beta readers!). I’m going to keep this article in mind next time I’m writing to remind myself that setting is just as important as the words being spoken by the characters.

    1. Hi Leanne! Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words. It really does feel safer to use “home” as a setting, but you’re right, it’s harder to see “home” through someone else’s eyes and show up all the neat quirks. Still, it’s a good place to start, because it helps you avoid Chicory’s “empty white room syndrome”. (I’m going to steal that, Chicory!)

      1. Chicory

        I coined a phrase! I’m famous! Yay!

        1. Chicory

          Actually, I’d better be careful taking credit. I’ve read a lot of writing books and I remember one, at least, talked about writing people who seem to be acting in a blank white room, so I can’t be positive the phrase is original. You may be stealing something that’s already hot. 🙂

          1. All right. I won’t mention your name when I use it. 🙂

  8. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tia Nevitt and Tia Nevitt, Marcelle Dubé. Marcelle Dubé said: I am a guest on Debuts and Reviews today, discussing setting in fiction. Drop by! […]

  9. Home is never exotic? I’m sure that’s true. {Smile}

    My best friend assures me that there’s nothing exotic about snow when you spend four months or so shovelling the stuff. Yet it seems a lot more exotic than palm trees to me, since there are four trees out the living room windows, and at least half a dozen visible about the back of the house. {Smile, Wink}

    Myself, I find writing any real setting so daunting, I almost always set my stories in alternate worlds. With any real-world setting, you can get details wrong, and when you do, some of your readers will notice. However, no one is going to complain that red tile roofs are really more common than white metal ones if you made up the town yourself. {GRIN, wink}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Anne lives in Hawaii so I’m sure we all think she lives in an exotic place. Have you ever been out of Hawaii, Anne? Do you think Florida is exotic? Canada? I sure think Hawaii is!

      1. Let me think… I’ve been all over the state, plus to California and Oregon, and Washington a few times. I’ve been to Washington at least once, maybe more. I’ve been to Arizona, Georgia, and Tennesse once each. And that’s the extent of my travels so far. {Smile}

        Canada would certainly be exotic, since the closest I’ve been is the southern part of Washington. Florida would probably be exotic, too, since I’ve never been there. However, I’d be more interested in the Carribean influences than the palm trees. {GRIN}

        I’m suyre you think Hawai’i is exotic. However, I’ve lived here all my life. By definition, “exotic” is Somewhere Else. {BIG GRIN, wink}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    2. Chicory

      Palm trees? You have PALM TREES? How is that possibly not exotic? 🙂

      I’m with you on the alternate worlds, but I admit every world I create bears a strange resemblance to Western Maryland. The people may live in castles, but when they look out their windows, the mountains bear a strong resemblance to the Appalachians.

      1. Chicory, I’m used to the palm trees. I’d better be. I’ve been looking out the window at palm trees when I’m home for 41 years out of 41 so far. {SMILE, wink}

        I notice my mountains aren’t nearly as thin and spindly as the Appalachians. They’re much broader and more massive, kind of like our volcanoes {Smile, wink}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    3. Your best friend is right, Anne. Truly. Nothing exotic about snow. Not like sand and ocean and volcanoes like say, in Hawaii. I’m nervous, too, about getting details wrong. I often invent streets in the right neighborhood so I get the location right but it doesn’t matter if I get small details wrong.

      1. Ah, but I either have to brave anoxia going high on the mountain to see snow up close, or wait for someone with a pickup truck to do that when they fetch a truck-load of snow down the mountain so some young relative or friends’ kids can see snow up close without too-thin air. That does make snow more special. {GRIN}

        I do more than a street, because I like fantasy. However, inventing a street, a city, or even a little more lets you out of some of the dangers of making mistakes. Especially if you know the general area. {Smile}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

        1. Chicory

          That would make snow very special. 🙂

          Around here we sometimes get ice storms which make the roads dangerous and can tear down electric lines, but after an ice storm the trees are amazing. The bare branches are encased with ice that shines and sparkles with rainbow prisms wherever the sun hits them.

          1. Yes, the bother of getting close to snow does make it pretty special. {SMILE}

            Dad’s mentioned that trees covered with ice are quite pretty. He saw them when he was going to college on the mainland US. I’ve only seen them in pictures. For some reason, photographers don’t capture the prism effect you mention. That does sound lovely. {SMILE}

            Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  10. Tia Nevitt

    I just got an advance ecopy off upcoming debut author Stephanie Dray’s LILY OF THE NILE, set in ancient Egypt! Talk about three things that get it right for me: 1) ancient times, 2) non-European setting and 3) fantasy! I’m going to have a hard time keeping from reading this one waaaay ahead of time. It comes out in January.

    1. Chicory

      Is that an e-book, or traditional publishing house?

    2. You have so much more willpower than I have…

  11. Chicory

    How much of exotic setting is character related? Some of us are from pretty exotic places, (Like Marcelle, from the Yucon, Anne in Hawaii, and Tia in Florida) but no one sees home as exotic. That’s got to affect character and the way they look at the world, right? The fact that we find different things exotic?

    I’m reminded of Gillian Bradshaw’s book, `The Light in Alexandria’. The heroine is Greek, and she thinks the (Visigoth) hero’s breeches are barbaric and exotic, and she’s totally weirded out by butter. When I read Taticus’s `Germania’ I kept laughing at the things Taticus found worth mentioning as strange -like dugout cellars, and buildings that weren’t pressed smack against each other.

    I guess what I’m saying is setting and character are related since setting helps shape a person’s world view. Am I right? Wrong? A bit geeky for reading Taticus as entertainment?

    1. I think you’re right, Chicory. A character is definitely formed by where he/she lives/grew up. We all were, right? It affects the things we notice or take for granted. For instance, the relative humidity in the Yukon is quite low, so when I go “South”, say to Vancouver, I don’t need to put cream or lip balm on. I also don’t worry about nosebleeds.

    2. I think you’ve got it, Chicory. “Exotic” the way we’re using the word means unusual and foreign. What a character finds unusual and foreign says a lot about them. So does what they find normal and unremarkable. If you’ve seen those particular mountains thousands of times before, you aren’t likely to describe them in-depth unless you need to pad your word count for a school assignment, or are seriously bored. {SMILE}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  12. Deborah Blake

    I love books with settings so vivid you feel like you are there. And I like exotic locales..the Yukon qualifies from where I sit! Which is upstate NY–the anti-exotic 🙂

    1. And Upstate NY seems like a mythical place to me!

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