Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Author Linda Schroeder: Using Real Details In Imaginary Settings

I’m delighted to welcome author Linda Schroeder here today as she makes a stop on her Pump Up Your Book Blog Tour for her release, ARTISTS & THIEVES, winner of the 2011 San Diego Book Award in the action/suspense category.

Here’s a brief description of ARTISTS & THIEVES: Where there is art, there are thieves.

Mai Ling is both. Artist by day, thief by night, she recovers stolen art for Interpol. It’s a business, not a passion, until her beloved grandfather reveals a family secret that is also a destiny. He is duty-bound to return to China an especially precious bowl which belonged to his ancestor. Mai must steal it for him.

But Mai Ling is not the only one after the bowl. Four others plan to extract the bowl from a private California art collection. The rival thieves grasp and then lose the bowl until finally Mai is faced with the ultimate dilemma:  save the bowl or save herself. Her duty to her grandfather gives her only one choice.

Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Monterey Peninsula and peopled with quirky characters, this stylish art caper entertains on every page.

Linda joins us today to talk about using real details in an imaged setting.

Writers fill their fictional world with details from their real world. That’s why we believe their stories. 

Artists-ThievesIn ARTISTS & THIEVES, I consciously placed the character Angelo in Monterey’s Cannery Row because it is a well known place. But the restaurant I invented for him is straight out of my head. I called the restaurant Sardines because Cannery Row used to be a cannery row, think John Steinbeck, not a tourist destination. And the main fish packed in those old canneries were sardines. A reader doesn’t need to know that but it helps with the pun: “Sardines was packed. Angelo nudged his way into the bar area of the performance space, reassured a little by the odd mixture of elegance and crap which its owner, Max, had assembled. The metal and brick walls were bleak, the lighting….”

I don’t always consciously use details from a real place in a scene. The other day I had lunch at a restaurant which is built around an old trout fishing lake. It has fish water spouts on the eaves, fountains spraying cones of water in the middle, and ducks. There is a long path which winds down from the parking lot. The path is cool even on the hottest day because bamboo lines both sides of it, thick bamboo, almost three inches in diameter.

As I walked down the path the other day I thought, Wait a minute. I know this place. Well, of course, I know it, I’ve been here dozens of times. No, that wasn’t what I felt. I knew the path from somewhere else. Then I realized that I had used this path as a setting in ARTISTS & THIEVES. It popped into my head as I was writing a key scene towards the end of the novel. The memory of this real place unconsciously provided the perfect setting of a chapter.

The chapter is titled The Bamboo Grove. The main character, Mai, is in the hospital with her grandfather who has been shot. I’ll just pull a few sentences here as “Mai walked outside to the coffee stand. Came back in with coffee. Walked outside for a muffin. Came back in. Sat. Picked up a magazine. Couldn’t read. Couldn’t sit. Paced. Sat. Outside, wisps of fog flowed in currents of evening air. Mai wandered away from the hospital down a path to a grove of bamboo which screened the cement parking structure. The thick bamboo stalks offered a sturdy comfort. . . .The gently curving path wandered through the bamboo. She walked slowly, feeling hopeful. . . . Along with the rustle of the bamboo leaves, the bowl’s song played in her head. . . . ”

Since I study Chinese brush painting, I know that bamboo is a symbol in Chinese thought for resilience. It survives the snow of winter, bends without breaking, and remains green in the heat of summer. That image was perfect for this crucial moment in the story when Mai needs to pull herself together and find the person who shot her grandfather. Even if you as a reader do not share the knowledge of the symbol, bamboo works throughout the chapter.

Sometimes I deliberately choose certain places for my characters to be, sometimes the details of a place pop unexpectedly into my head as I write. Both ways help create a good story. 

Linda, thanks for joining us today. I like the way you incorporate the real with your writing to make it more plausible. 

Linda divides her time between the bright sun of California and the high mountains of Colorado. She has a Master’s degree in English and one in Communicative Disorders/Audiology. In addition to her novel, Artists & Thieves, she has published a college text.

Her early interest in English expanded to include language disorders and she began a second career as an audiologist and aural rehabilitation therapist working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults.

Currently, she studies and practices Chinese brush painting, celebrating the vitality and energy of nature. She follows art and art theft blogs and writes her own blog about art and sometimes includes reviews of novels. She is working on two more novels, a second Mai Ling novel about the Diamond Sutra, and a Sammy Chan art mystery about the forgery of a Goya painting.

For more on Linda and her writing, visit her website at

Below is the book trailer for ARTISTS & THIEVES for your viewing pleasure.


Thanks so much for stopping by today. Do you enjoy finding real settings in books you read?


  1. Sounds like a great method for bringing a setting to life and helping the readers have a sense of place! :)

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Linda.

    Linda - Thanks for sharing the way you include details. They really are so important to making a reader feel a part of the action.

  3. Linda, thanks again for joining us and sharing how you use real elements in your writing. Wishing you much success.

    Elizabeth and Margot, thanks so much for stopping by.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.