Saturday, November 8, 2014

Setting the Stage for Suspense by Janet Greger

Today, please welcome the guest blog of fellow writer Janet Greger, "Setting the Stage for Suspense."
Are the settings in your novels as insipid as the description of Prince Charming in most fairy tales? Do you describe a couple of physical characteristic, but don’t mention anything about the personality of the locale?

Curiosity draws readers to certain locations. I bet many readers purchased a copy of Clavell’s Shogun before they traveled to Japan and reread sections of The Da Vinci Code before they visited Paris or Scotland. I dislike winter, but Smilla’s Sense of Snow made me want to visit Greenland.

I’m hoping readers, who want to “see” more of Cuba than vintage American cars, will read my new medical thriller Malignancy. I juxtaposition the past and present of Cuba. For example, in Malignancy you’ll learn about cutting edge research being done in Cuban medical centers as Sara Almquist, an epidemiologist and my protagonist, sets up scientific exchanges among Cuban and U.S. scientists. It’s not far fetched; one group of Cuban researchers has patented a vaccine against one type of lung cancer. You and Sara will slip into La Floridita Bar, made famous by Hemingway, in Old Havana to meet a mysterious Cuban. Is he just a physician or is he a spymaster? As you and Sara discover historic quirks in Colon cemetery, you might bump into Sara’s past.

Some locations breed intrigue. The steamy and seamy sides of New Orleans have been featured in many novels. Think about: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, Jambalaya Justice by Holli Castillo, and The Pelican Brief by John Grisham. These novels would not have resonated with readers if they were set elsewhere.

I think Bolivia is one of those mysterious, volatile places. The country is for the physically fit - much of the country has an altitude of over ten thousand feet. Bolivia has arguably some of the most colorfully dressed indigenous people in the world. You’ll see them with Sara Almquist in Ignore the Pain, as she climbs the narrow stone steps to the roof of Iglesia de San Francisco in La Paz and looks down on the Witches’ Market. If that doesn’t sound exciting, please note henchmen of a drug lord are chasing Sara. You’ll also get a different view of coca, the source of cocaine, as you watch Sara question miners at the infamous silver mines of Potosí. She’s there on a public health mission, and Bolivia is a textbook-lesson on public health problems.

Other locations breed nostalgia for a happier or perhaps simpler time. Western fiction can be set in a number of states in the US (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.

What’s the personality of the locales in your novels? Have you used them to set the stage for suspense?

Blurb for Malignancy. Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. The Albuquerque police suspect Jim Mazzone, a drug czar who Sara has tangled with several times, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia again. Maybe, she should question their motives. 

Malignancy is available at Amazon:,

Malignancy is the sequel to Ignore the Pain.

Ignore the Pain 
Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission to assess children’s health in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past in New Mexico is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and trying to trap her at the silver mines of Potosí. Unfortunately, she can’t trust her new colleagues, especially the seedy Xave Zack, because any one of them might be under the control of the coca industry in Bolivia.

Ignore the Pain (paperback & Kindle) is available at Amazon:

 JL Greger is no longer a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, instead she’s putting tidbits of science into her medical mysteries/ thrillers. She and Bug, her Japanese Chin dog, live in the southwest of the Untied States.

Her novels include: Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Ignore the Pain, and Malignancy. You can learn more about her and her writing at her website: and blog JL Greger’s Bugs:


Janet Greger said...

Holli, thanks for inviting me to your blog.

Holli Castillo said...

Thanks so much for joining me. You and your books are always an interesting read.

Thonie Hevron said...

Well stated, Janet! The setting should be as much a character as the villain or hero.

Janet Greger said...

Thonie, thanks. t takes thought to bring out the "personality" of a location.

Lorna Collins - said...

I agree, Janet. We write about Hawaii and Colorado, and I always want our readers to get the 'feel' of those places.

Janet Greger said...

Lorna, I think many of us try to make our locations characters in our books.
Besides it gives us a chance to travel a bit to "collect" data.