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Frances Aylor on Settings as Inspiration

Author Frances Aylor is one of my virtual friends through Sisters in Crime. Today, she’s looking at how various settings inspired her latest story.

Traveling to new places inspires my mystery writing. I take hundreds of pictures, upload them to Shutterfly when I get home, and then peruse them at leisure as I mentally recreate the colors, smells, and feel of the places I’ve visited. These settings generate new ideas for plots, murder weapons, and interesting places to hide a body. 

Places that inspire

Headshot of author Frances Aylor
Frances Aylor

On a visit to the wooded resort of Chautauqua in New York, I quizzed a policeman about how long it would take a body to surface if I tossed it into the lake (I quickly identified myself as a mystery writer before he arrested me as a person of interest). What would the body look like after days in the water? I used this information in my novel Money Grab, when a body was tossed off a boat in the Caribbean and later washed up on shore.

A visit to Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, inspired my short story Malbec Gold. I brought home a video of my scary boat ride in the turbulent river under the falls, where I was barely able to breathe as water cascaded around us. As I watched the video, I realized that the woman frantically screaming in the background was me. That led to a story about Sofia, in town for a wine competition. She went on that same boat ride, only she fell in (or was she pushed?) and had to be rescued. 

A trip to Egypt inspired my short story The Second Wife. My character took a camel ride through the desert and then explored a pyramid, crouching down to climb through the low tunnel inside. Like me, she was disappointed that tomb robbers had cleaned out anything of interest thousands of years before. But I was able to exit the pyramid and continue my adventures. She, on the other hand, was kidnapped and held for a $5 million bitcoin ransom. 

A paragliding adventure in the Swiss Alps provided the opening scene of my second novel Choosing Guilt, to be published later this year. Strapped to a tandem pilot, I had jumped off the edge of a four-thousand-foot mountain, praying that my canopy would inflate before I crashed down into the valley below. As we drifted through that beautiful turquoise sky, I asked the pilot if anyone ever panicked during the ride, wanting to land right away. He said it sometimes happens when people are pressured into paragliding by the group they are traveling with. In my novel, an adventurous sixty-something woman convinces her son-in-law, who is afraid of heights, to join their paragliding excursion. Once in the air, he panics and almost kills both himself and his pilot as he tries desperately to land.

Settings as inspiration for anthology

Cover of Virginia is for Mysteries, including a story by Frances Aylor

Virginia is for Mysteries iii, an anthology of stories set in Virginia, brings the setting back to my home turf. Last summer my family visited Kings Dominion, an amusement park located in Doswell. As I watched costumed characters entertaining the crowd, I imagined how hot they must be in the heat and humidity of a Virginia summer. Soon I had plotted out the details for Deidre, Dog Detective, about a teenage girl who auditions for a role as a fairy-tale princess but instead is cast as the fictional dog detective from a popular children’s movie, dressed from head to toe as a curly-haired labradoodle, with children pulling at her paws and stepping on her toes. It’s a story of teenage angst, jealousy, and murder.

Virginia is for Mysteries iii is written by fifteen Virginia authors who use the setting to inspire their plots. Stories of blackmail, revenge and deadly conspiracies take place across the state, from Charlottesville to Culpeper, from Virginia Beach to Richmond, and from Hampton Roads to Doswell. The anthology transports the reader across the diverse backdrop of the Old Dominion, to a unique and deadly landscape filled with murder and mayhem. 

Find out more about Frances Aylor and her latest anthology, Virginia is for Mysteries iii, at her website,

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