Vacation-inspired settings

Whenever I travel I can’t help but think, “Man, this place would be an amazing setting for a mystery.”

Back in 2011, my husband and I took a trip to Key West, Florida. The haunting City Cemetery, the oppressive humidity, the island’s dark history, it’s buoyant nightlife, and the constant throng of tourists all inspired Dead and Breakfast, the first book in my Cayo Hueso Mystery series. When we were there, I kept jotting down notes. Trying to describe the sounds and smells that emanated from the island. Roosters roam free. Scooters buzz at all hours of the night. Banyan trees encroach on sidewalks. I didn’t finish writing Dead and Breakfast until 2015 but those notes were so instrumental in trying to nail down a sense of place. And I think I achieved the effect.

Recently, my family took a vacation to Niagara Falls. The American side of Niagara Falls is an interesting place — incredibly diverse and incredibly depressed. Lots of boarded up houses and shuttered business. You cross to the Canadian side and you’re inundated with tourists from all over the world. I saw women in headscarves, women in saris, men in sikh turbans, and men in yarmulkes. I heard German and Spanish and French Canadian. Just walking around Downtown, we saw chain restaurants such as Applebees, but we also found hole-in-the-wall, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Kabob places and Indian restaurants and I’m starving just typing this. Niagara Falls on both sides seems like an interesting mix of the bright, cheerfulness of vacationers and the struggling working class of those who support the tourism industry. It also seems like an amazing spot to set a mystery. If only I could’ve been there longer.

What places have you traveled to that you feel would be the perfect setting for a mystery? Where would you like to set a mystery? Please sound off in the comments.


Author: Kimberly G. Giarratano

I'm a YA author. And mom of 3. I'm also tired. Very, very tired.

9 thoughts on “Vacation-inspired settings”

  1. Oh, Kimberly, I know exactly what you mean. I can’t visit a place without finding dead bodies. In the imaginative sense. The Maine woods, the Florida Everglades, both team with possibilities. Where I live know is largely rural. There are abandoned farm houses on most of the grazing lands, there are also spectacular live oaks with branches that dip almost to the ground and could certainly hide a propped up body…You get the picture!


  2. Same thing happens to me when I travel! My travel journal is full of notes like yours. Right now, the place that’s tempting me the most is English canals, as a result of my recent canal boat trip.


  3. Excellent. We went to Iceland a couple of years ago and I fell in love with it. But I told myself I can’t go back until I’ve thought of a story I can set there that can’t be set anywhere else. Still working on that ….


  4. Great post! I’m jealous! My travels have been limited to family reunions of late. That hasn’t stopped me from imagining some murders. lol.


  5. I spent several days in the vicinity of Adams, Mass. a couple of years ago doing genealogy research with my cousin and cousin-in-law. It’s an adorable little New England town now but 120 years ago, not so much and it was populated largely by my family. There’s an historical series in it, stewing in my head. The first draft will probably hit keyboard next year.


  6. I can’t look at pictures of the Laurel Highlands without thinking, “That would be a great place to find a body.” There were pictures of Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house, during a high-water period last spring (two springs ago?). I looked at the platform and started thinking, “What if someone went to see some gorgeous architecture and a dead body washed up on the platform?” I haven’t written that one — yet. I take regular trips down there to find more body locations.

    And I’ve written a mystery in Niagara Falls. Yes, a dead body in the gorge. 🙂


  7. This is such a fun post, Kimberly! Yes, travel has definitely inspired me in similar ways, and sometimes it works the other way around–I’ll pick somewhere I’d love to visit and make it the setting for a story with hopes of someday traveling there 🙂


  8. Love this, Kimberly. It’s amazing how places can stick to you long after you’ve left them.

    We went to Italy last summer to attend a wedding. The first place we stayed in Tuscany was a castle (and surrounding buildings) built by Machiavelli. The second place was a villa on a working vineyard, also in Tuscany. Some time in Florence, then Rome, then Venice… every place ripe with ideas and adventure.

    I really, really tried to place the manuscript I’m currently writing there, but I’d made a promise to someone that I would make sure to show human trafficking happening here, and not “over there.”

    Another place that haunted me long after I left was Russia. Complex and often cruel, the beauty balanced the scars. Maybe some day…


  9. Yes! I do a terrible job of taking notes like I should, but I gain so much inspiration when I travel, whether near or far. Snippets of conversations on the train, the sights and smells of a resort in Grand Cayman, the mix of people on hot, crowded dive boat on the Great Barrier Reef, the loneliness of winding corridors of a cruise ship–they all donate so much lovely inspiration! And now my husband’s has gotten into the act. “Hey, honey, wouldn’t that (fill in the blank) be great in a story?” I love it.


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