The Setting is in the Details

In novels, the setting can breathe life into fiction and make the book world real. My setting is Southern California, a sprawling, mostly metropolitan, densely populated area, known for many things, including ever present, intimidating traffic. I once overheard two men aboard Boston’s rapid transit system, bemoaning that they were visiting So Cal soon and how would they ever contend with the assertive driving? My heroine encounters freeways, frantic driving, a low speed car chase and horn-honking, the latter of which plays a small but significant role in daily driving. Here’s an example from my real-life:

I recently walked in a well-marked, clearly designated crosswalk on Wilshire Boulevard. Even if you were blind, you’d feel its very presence. Before making a right turn, a Ford Mustang patiently waited, at a red light, for pedestrians to complete their trek to the other side. Smog was light. Shopping was plentiful. Life was good.

Suddenly, a silver Lexus stopped behind the Mustang and leaned on its horn for about the length of time it takes an average person to peel an apple. In Los Angeles, people don’t just tap or beep, they lean and blow like contestants vying in an Olympian horn honking competition.

I once read that a car horn should be used the same way as you would use your voice. Just what was the Lexus telling the Mustang driver?

“What the hell are you waiting for? Turn those peds into pancakes already!”

The lengthy ear-splitting honk made me want to plant my feet firmly to the confines of the crosswalk and take up the stride of a three-legged tortoise. Somehow, I managed to cross without incident.

Minutes later, at an entirely different intersection with different cars, I heard it again: this shrill blare took so long that I considered the possibility that the automobile sound mechanism went haywire. The horn must have either broken or been part of some sort of alarm. But in fact, a car was stopped at a red light. Behind it sat a queue containing four vehicles. Motorist number four was doing the honking. The lead car had failed to press the accelerator petal during the .05 seconds allotted to move once the light turned green.

Where I live, in the northern tip of So Cal, people do not use their horns. Yesterday, I sat behind two cars, waiting to make a right, onto a highway. When the light turned green, the motorist upfront dozed comfortably and unaware. I could almost make out the pillow behind his head. Quail quietly crossed the street, squirrels took their sweet time posing on hind legs in the middle of the highway. No one honked. Not even me, the former Angeleno. Eventually, the motorist awoke from his dream-state and moved.

The napping driver had stepped away from reality for a moment or two or three and returned the moment he realized his mistake. It was not for us to punish him. Using the horn is a deliberate choice. In this instance, we simply chose not to.

Honk-happy L.A. motorists lack the necessary survival virtues of patience and awareness. They regard their cars as suits of armor. While wearing the suit (or in this case, sitting in the car,) they maintained an air of false bravado. Remove them from the vehicle, and it’s a different story. A reminder for this author to exercise patience and awareness in life…and in writing.

Overcoming Writing (and Life) Challenges

The first book is written and published, now what? Writing book two should be a cakewalk. Main characters are fully formed, the setting is known, and all the author has to do is concoct a new round of adventures. You did it before, you can do it again, right? Excuse me while I go zip myself deep within an undersized tent somewhere in a dense, smoke-filled forest with no power source, little light, and an oxygen tank that’s nearly empty. That’s how I sometimes feel while writing book two. So what’s an author to do?

I’ve sought a boost from other authors who usually offer up the same comment, “The second book is the hardest.” Maybe so, but how’s that going to turn around the situation? Or at least help it along. I hunt down anecdotes from far and wide to fuel my will power. Stories to live by. Here’s one example:

A wise teacher sat with a group of students, one of whom was worried about getting through a troublesome situation. The teacher told this tale: A man was trying to make his way home, walking in darkness with a hurricane lamp in his hand. The lamp only threw a few feet of light around him. He was lucky if he could see ten feet ahead. Supposing the man were to say, ‘My lantern is tiny and weak. I can’t see the whole path to my house. I’m never going to get there.’ What would happen to him? He could forget about reaching his goal. But what if he instead thought, ‘Just a few more steps. Just a few more. This light will certainly guide me home.’ Taking one step and then another, the likelihood of making it would be strong.

Of course the man in the story could be confronted by a robber (in this writer’s case, a time robber, perhaps in the guise of Internet surfing and shopping), a wild animal (a kitchen sink that needs unclogging) or another interruption, distraction or anything demanding attention. But the beauty of these interferences are that all may be overcome. The writer can:
– outrun the robber (stay away from the Internet);
– slay the wild animal (by chaining oneself to one’s chair), ignore the creature or scare it off;

There is nothing so gratifying as completing a task, especially the monumental one of finishing a novel. All the more reason to nurture fierce determination above all else.

The Two Minute Interview: Author Starr Gardinier

I’m very pleased to welcome fellow legal professional, Starr Gardinier, to tell us about her latest novel: The Other Side: Trent’s Story

Who are you, Starr?

I’m a workaholic, who is a paralegal during the day, and wife and author my night and weekend.

I can so relate. It takes a lot of discipline to carve out time to write. Please share your book blurb with us.

Melinda James is finally out of Skyview Haven—an asylum where she was confined for years—and is living her life, free at last. However, things are not going as planned; harassed by unexplained paranormal experiences, she doesn’t feel safe in her own home. And when she turns to her best friend Trent for help and support, she is surprised to find her feelings for him have grown far beyond a simple friendship.

Trent Miller isn’t prepared to fight evil, but he will do whatever it takes to save Melinda from an evil entity that is seeking revenge for past events. Armed with knowledge gleaned from television shows, a team of paranormal investigators, and the prayers of family and friends, he is ready to face anything.

The question is, does he tell her about his feelings for her before or after he fights a battle with evil for Melinda’s very soul?

That’s heavy, Starr. You have me on the edge of my seat! When is the moment that matters most in your book?

When Trent decides that he has no option but to fight evil, to take matters into his own hands and descend into what seems like hell.

Trent sounds like a hero of tremendous courage. Where is the setting?

This book is centered in Beaumont, California. It’s a small town north of Palm Springs.

Beaumont seems like the perfect locale for a battle between good and evil. How did you come to write this book?

I love the paranormal. I watch the shows on television and am a believer. However, please note that the Other Side series is over-exaggerated. Even I don’t believe that could happen.

Which character is your favorite (as if I don’t know)?

Trent Miller. He is willing to fight for love and for what he believes in, even if it costs him his life.

Why should I (or any reader) read your lovely creation?

The Other Side: Trent’s Story and the series, bring the reader into a world that we all would love to know more about. The Other Side is a fictionalized parallel universe. This book entertains and allows you to forget your own life while another couple battle to live.

Sounds like a terrific read! Thanks for joining me, Starr!

View the Book Trailer

Tagline: Those wretched souls will seek retaliation on the murderous.

“Melinda, what are you looking at?”
She doesn’t answer, so I repeat my question.
She finally looks at me and says in a voice not hers, “You will pay for your father’s sins.”
I’m so shocked I almost fall over. Her voice…its voice…whatever…sounds like a man’s and it definitely sounds mean.
“You will die,” the voice says.
My mouth is hanging open and I’m unable to do anything but stare at Melinda…or whoever or whatever has taken over her body. I glance around the room to see if another spirit is present. My heart is beating rapidly and my insides are shaking. My hands are trembling and my fingers are cold and I’m having difficulty breathing. I want to run from this room, but know that’s the last thing I can do. It takes me a few minutes to realize that something must be possessing Melinda. I try to call out again to her, but can’t find my voice. I have to do something. I finally find the floor beneath my feet and quickly dart the few steps to her bedside.
“Melinda,” I’m shaking her. “Leave her alone! Whoever you are, leave her alone!”
“Die,” it whispers and Melinda’s hands reach up to my throat.

The Wild Rose Press

A paralegal by day, Starr Gardinier is an author by night. Apart from being an award winning author for her short story “Cut,” Starr has appeared in a blaze and made her mark on the literary world with her Ivanovich series and now her Other Side series.
Having studied and obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Literature/Creative Writing, she has found her unique style and is known for her works’ distinctive voice, making every character stand out.
She’s the founder and owner of Editing by Starr. She’s also the former executive editor for Suspense Magazine. She has been interviewed in the newspaper and on the radio with relation to her fiction work. She has been a co-host on Suspense Radio.
Starr is a member of International Thriller Writers (ITW) and of Sisters in Crime, Los Angeles Chapter and nationally. She has won three Best Speaker awards as well as Best Evaluator at the Voice Ambassadors chapter of Toastmasters. She has always been active in events. As co-chair and main coordinator for the West Coast Author Premiere, she arranged weekend-long events to help authors from all over network, learn and share their work with the public. Starr has also been instrumental in compiling authors and planning a local author event at Barnes and Noble in Ventura, California along with the store’s event manager.
Learn more about her editing service, read more about her at, and/or visit her blog.