Alex Hughes Guest Post & Giveaway: Setting as a Character


Vacant by Alex HughesNote from VBC/Chelsea: We’re so pleased to have Alex Hughes on the blog today. Her latest Mindspace novel just released, and we dig her urban fantasy world. She’s here today to talk about crafting that world and making it a real character within each novel. We’re also giving away a copy of one of her books (your choice, because we’re nice). With that, I’m turning it over to Alex.

Being raised in the South, I studied a lot of Southern literature in school. To Kill a Mockingbird, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” even We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And those are just the stories I can name off the top of my head many years later. I’ve also had the privilege and joy of reading newer Southern pieces on my own and attending Southern literary festivals with the great joy of hearing authors read their works. Not to mention generations of stories passed down to me from Alabama, Texas, and Arkansas relatives. There’s nothing like an old story in the hands of a great storyteller from the South. It’s great stuff.

I love many things about Southern stories, including the secrets and the subtext behind nearly every conversation. The top layer of politeness and “bless her heart” hiding the real truth beneath, a truth which isn’t always pretty. But one of the things I love the best is the sense of setting as character, a sense that the place you live says something about you, and you about the place you live.

I am profoundly influenced by the sense of place that I found in Southern literature, and I try to bring that sense of place as character to my work. Sometimes I’m more successful than others, I think, but it’s something I think about. What is my character’s relationship to the place? What does he or she love and hate about it? What are some of the hidden depths of the relationship and how does that relationship change over time?

In Clean, the first book of my series, the action takes place in August, and the overwhelming heat in Atlanta becomes its own character. It affects the crime scenes. It “flattens you like the arms of a heavyweight boxer.” And it isolates Adam, my main character, from everyone else because he won’t wear short sleeves and show his scars. Even in the dirty, out-of-the-way alley behind a Thai restaurant, the heat has a presence that overshadows nearly everything else.

SavannahTrainTracksClueIn contrast, the winters in Atlanta are milder. While the temperature still makes its presence known in Marked at the Freedom Park Tech Wars memorial fountain, we spend more time looking at the fountain and less complaining about the cold. The cold becomes a reason to hurry the conversation between Adam and Stone, an invisible hurrying force more than an oppressive boxer.

In contrast, Adam’s apartment is a gray place, faded and worn like a broken-in old pair of jeans with holes. Comfortable, but shabby. Not something you really want to be seen in.

I love playing with the character of different settings. A great setting will make itself known in the scene like a silent but insistent conversation partner. It will affect everything that is said. And, like any good setting in any Southern story, it will help shape the character of the people inside.


Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter to win your choice of any one Mindspace Investigations novel (the first one is Clean, the latest one is Vacant). The contest is open internationally.

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3 Responses to “Alex Hughes Guest Post & Giveaway: Setting as a Character”

  1. dr susan says:

    I love this series! I did not time my rereading correctly and am just finishing Marked so that I can start Vacant. I would love to win a copy of Marked 🙂

  2. Nice thoughts! I had always thought of setting in terms of the physical presence of a place, but of course, weather and climate can hardly be excluded. And often it is more insistent in the conversation. Great ideas for me to keep in mind. I’m writing a story set in New York City, and I really need to think about how I present the setting, and what role the setting plays.

  3. Alex Hughes says:

    thanks for having me on the blog!

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