Monday, January 20, 2014

Mixing in Local Flavor is a Recipe for Success

by Kelly Miller 

I’m a big fan of novels set in real locations, both as an author and as a reader. It’s exciting to read a story set in a city you’re familiar with. Being able to visualize a particular street corner or restaurant you’ve dined in deepens the reading experience.

My novels are set in Tampa, Florida and the smaller surrounding cities. In each of my Detective Kate Springer books, I picked out a small pocket of the area and highlighted that location. As my protagonist, Detective Springer, says in Dead Like Me, “Tampa’s a patchwork quilt kind of town.” So many cultures make up this great city that there’s always plenty of fodder for the imagination.

When I speak with local book clubs, the one comment I hear over and over is how much they love recognizing the locations showcased in my books. As an author, this is a great way to build a strong local readership and create a loyal fan base.

I incorporated some flavor into my newest Springer novel, Deadly Fantasies, by adding in some ridiculous laws still on the Florida books. Here’s the dialog between Detective Kate Springer and her partner’s five-year-old daughter, Lanie Jessup. I write mysteries with an edge so including this exchange was my way to lighten up the dark mood of the story.

      Patrick’s youngest daughter had obviously worn daddy down enough to talk him into handing over the phone. 
      “Raina, how are you?”
       “Jacob pushed me down at school today.”
       “That’s horrible. Do you want me to put him in jail for you?” 
       Raina squealed then broke into a fit of giggles. 
       “Can I talk to your daddy now?” 
       “Auntie Kate, did you know in Florida it’s illegal for me to sing in public in my swimsuit?”
       “Well next time you’re at the pool, try humming.”
       “It’s also illegal to fart in a public place after 6 pm.” 
        I laughed. The phone filled with the noise of Patrick wrestling the phone away from his five-year-old. 
       “Sorry,” Patrick said. The sound of a door closed in the background. “Jessup family bedtime stories,” he said. 
        “Sleepovers at your house must be fun.” 

Much of Deadly Fantasies is set in Ybor City, Florida. This small town is tucked into the heart of Tampa three miles northeast of downtown. Ybor City is known for its Cuban influences of hand-rolled cigars and café con leche. As walkers stroll down 7th Avenue, if they look below their feet, they’ll see hundreds of hexagons containing heartfelt sentiments and humorous messages. This is known as Ybor’s “Walk of Fame” and for eighty bucks people can buy a nine-inch hexagon engraved with a message to a loved one. This is a great real life attraction that I couldn’t help but weave into my book.

Author Kelly Miller lives in Tampa, Florida where her novel is set. She’s married, has three children, and a black Labrador named Gracie. Kelly is a proud member of the Florida Writers Association. Deadly Fantasies is the second book in the Detective Kate Springer series. The first book, Dead Like Me, won second place in the best mystery category of the 2011 FWA Royal Palm Literary Awards competition. It was also named a semi-finalist in the mystery category of The Kindle Book Review’s 2013 Best Indie Books Awards competition. Copies of Kelly's books can be purchases at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Connect with Kelly socially on her website, weekly blog, Facebook Fan Page, or on Twitter @MillerMystery.

GIVEAWAY: Enter to win a signed paperback copy of Deadly Fantasies at Goodreads. The promotion is open to residents living in the US, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. It ends January 31, 2014.


  1. Thanks for posting with us! You remind me that I want to visit Florida.

    I agree that local flavor can enhance a novel. And although you can find street names and businesses online, you pretty much have to travel to get the real sense of a place...if it's important to the story. And with many mystery sub-genes it is.

    Fortunately, for fast-paced thrillers with high stakes, readers are less invested in local culture. Authentic details are essential in every genre though.

  2. Widen your horizons!!! One can now tour the world via mysteries. My shelves are full with tales of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Germany and France. Also Africa, Thailand, India, Cambodia, Japan and more. Local flavour does indeed add to a good story, but that is not limited to the United States by any means. I lived for two years in Bangkok; the novels of John Burnett set in Bangkok do a wonderful job of using local flavour. Travel a bit in time - Philip Kerr ties you to pre-war Berlin, then the war, Russia, Argentina, Cuba and back. Other writers take us to ancient Egypt, Henry VIII's England, and just about any other time and place. Those writers are able to create not just a place far away, but a time long past!

  3. I tend to combine both. My stories are based out of a fictional town called Aspen Falls. It (fictionally) is between Aspen and Snowmass, where real local entities are often described. And occaisionally the action moves to the Denver area. Readers love reading about local landmarks but I really try to just touch on them. While someone who lives here and is familiar with the area will love it, millions of others would just find that much detail boring and unnecessary.

    It's a line, like so much in fiction.

  4. Glad all of you enjoyed the article. Sorry I wasn't able to comment earlier, but I was soaking up some of the local flavor in Orlando. Main Street in the Magic Kingdom to be exact.

    I agree, Peg. Too many details when painting a scenery of words will weigh a story down. Authors need to strike a good balance so there's just enough information that the reader gets a feel for the location. It makes me think of the rough draft of my first novel. In it, I talk about lovebugs. They're like lightening bugs, only they don't glow in the dark. They're a real nuisance when they pop up twice a year down here in Florida. All my beta readers agreed that I went on and on about the damn things.

  5. Nice post, Kelly--I write regional suspense fiction and have had readers mention that they very much enjoy being able to "see themselves" in the story. On the flip side, when the author changes things around (moves or creates landmarks/streets) it seems to irritate readers. Have you found this to be true?


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