Thursday, December 5, 2013


Some locations breed intrigue. The steamy and seamy sides of New Orleans have been featured in many novels. Think about: Dinner at Antoine’s by Frances Parkinson Keyes, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, The Pelican Brief by John Grisham, and Jambalaya Justice by Holli Castillo. None of these novels would have resonated with readers if they were set elsewhere.

Similarly it’s hard to generate a more creepy setting for horror novels and mysteries than the slums of Victorian London as a dense fog blankets the foul cobblestone streets.

Other locations breed nostalgia for a happier or perhaps simpler time. Western fiction can be set in a number of states (Kansas, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, or New Mexico), but generally the setting is the same – a spare, dry land that exudes loneliness. The protagonist generally looks like the land. He’s spare, often almost gaunt, dry with little to say, and independent because he has to be to survive on the land.

Occasionally a location resonates with a writer and suggests a story. That’s what happened to me several years ago when I climbed the narrow stone steps to the roof of Iglesia de San Francisco in La Paz, Bolivia and looked down on the Witches’ Market. I thought of so many “what if” questions as I compared the chaotic, colorful scene below with the cemetery-like roof.

The availability of coca everywhere, the press accounts of deplorable conditions in the silver mines of Potosí, and the lurid stories of life in San Pedro Prison as detailed in the best seller Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America’s Strangest Jail presented me with more scary questions about Bolivia. I added to it public health data on the poor indigenous people of Bolivia and a little bit about the politics in modern Bolivia. Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, is the first indigenous person to be elected to lead a nation in South or North America in modern times. Then I spun a story.  The net result is Ignore the Pain, my new medical thriller.

In Ignore the Pain, epidemiologist Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to participate in a survey of children’s health in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz, and she fears her new colleagues are controlled by the coca industry of Bolivia.

I think this story is scary because it is so realistic, but maybe it is because Bolivia is such an interesting character.

Please note: I enjoyed my visit to Bolivia and would recommend it to adventurous travelers.

J. L. Greger, as a biologist and professor emerita of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, enjoys putting tidbits of science into her novels. To learn more, check out her website or blog 

Ignore the Pain is availabe on Amazon

The previous novels in this medical thriller/mystery series: Coming Flu 

and Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight are also available at Amazon.  


Holli Castillo said...

Great info, Janet. Thanks for joining us today.

Janet Greger said...

I'm so glad to visit your blog. I bet readers could add lots of great locations that are characters in books. Maybe several will make comments.
JL Greger