People see a hill and think, “What a lovely place to build a home.” I see a hill and think, “What a great place to bury a body.” People see a quiet stretch of shoreline and think, “What a great place for a romantic walk.” I see a quiet stretch of shoreline and think, “What a great place to execute a snitch.” That’s the problem I have with traveling these days. I love visiting new places. I want to see the world. If I didn’t have an explorer’s heart, I never would have discovered my Julie in Costa Rica. Now when I travel, I don’t see locations, I see crime scenes.
I’m always on the hunt for a great locale. I say to friends, “You live in a great neighborhood. Where would the best place be to stash a body without anyone seeing me?” My friends are cool with it. They roll their eyes and entertain my fantasies. I’ve stopped asking strangers these questions. For some reason, it scares people. Who knew?
I’m not a keen researcher as things go. I like to lie in my stories, but I do like to go location hunting. Accidents Waiting to Happen is set in Sacramento. I’d only been there a couple of months when I got to writing it, so I needed some killing grounds. I rode around the city and its suburbs on my bicycle in search of locations. I didn’t have a car at the time, so I didn’t have much choice there, but having the bike meant I could stop anywhere I wanted to check out.
I live in the Bay Area now. San Francisco isn’t so much of a cyclist’s city, so I do a lot of scouting on foot. For one of the stories in Working Stiffs, I wanted to kill someone on the Embarcadero. So I started at one end and walked to the other poking about. Sadly, I didn’t find anywhere useful but did find a site at Fort Mason. I can’t recommend Fort Mason enough to kill someone (Fictionally speaking that is. I don’t want anyone getting ideas and pointing fingers when it goes pear-shaped. Alright?)
The thing is that I don’t want to talk about the same old locations that everyone else uses in their books. This is especially a problem with the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area. There are plenty of us scribblers around fighting for a fresh perspective on the town, so I really need to get my hands dirty. Just like with methods of killing, writers want to keep it fresh and new for themselves and their readers. Well, I know I do.
So I’m always on the hunt for a good location with plenty of originality. It’s another reason I like to write about places outside of my usual stomping grounds. Little known places provide a wealth of killer locales. I have a tendency to go on road trips with Julie and the dog just so that we might check out somewhere I came across in a travel magazine or on TV. I just have to have my hands on a killer location.
Don’t be surprised if one day, you sit down next to small yet affable stranger who’ll lean in close and whisper, “Do you know any good places where I can dump a body?” Don’t panic. It’s probably me. Then again, it probably isn’t.
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