I always loved the “journey” a good book took me on – if the author’s words grabbed me just right, I was able to believe that I was anywhere in the world the story took me even if it involved time or intergalactic travel. I felt like I was able to see a foreign city that I had never visited or lived in a time long before I was even born. My library card was always my passport.
Just like the common quip we so often toss out when we hear of someone else’s vacation plans – “pack me in your bags” – opening a good book gives me many of the advantages without being cramped in a suitcase!
I am by nature a “homebody” and feel quite comfortable in my own setting. I’ve had some delightful travel adventures, more than some and less than others. With the advantages of modern technology and the internet, I have also virtually visited many other interesting locales. Some of these other locations seem to become so familiar to me that I have been able to use them quite successfully in my own writings.
It was amusing when a reader of my second novel, Forgotten, commented how well she remembered some of the sights I described in Las Vegas, When I told her I had never been there myself she was quite surprised. I’ve had similar experiences with my novel Hostage Heart and my settings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Little Rock, Arkansas. Between listening to my husband’s tales about parts of Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and virtual visits to both cities mentioned, I felt quite comfortable setting my stories there. It was an actual online real estate listing that gave me the information needed for the Little Rock home that the hero bought.
Of course there are the places where I have been, all flesh and blood of me. Even then I find that re-visiting the spot via the net is helpful. LOL, I grew up in New York City and I remember the first time I went to visit the famous tourist attraction Empire State Building, I was already a teen-ager. Just like the beautiful parkland near where I presently live, most people seem to take “their own backyard” for granted, I had many friends who had NEVER been to visit the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty or many of the fantastic museums throughout the city. So a virtual visit helps to refresh the memories and sometimes even introduce new sights.
Traveling though books should be more than just describing a setting or listing the buildings that the place may be known for. Each town is an experience with colloquialisms, food, climate, manners and more. My research includes more than a few local pictures and tourist listings. I also research local restaurants especially where I can see a menu, I check local real estate listings so that I could understand what the homes are built like, I check the weather and the schools. It’s especially interesting to get a look at online newspapers for the area when they are available.
By the time I am done with all of my research, I feel like I’m ready to move in!
From Hostage Heart:
Ryan ate Veal Grillades over rice with a side of hush puppies. He watched the people around him and was fascinated by the variety of cultures that made up Louisiana’s Creole population. All day he had heard a variety of French words, smelled fragrant Cajun cooking, saw lots of Carribean-influenced architecture and enjoyed Zydeco, Blues and Cajun music coming from every tavern. Combined with traditional southern hospitality, he figured it must have been an interesting place to grow up. He had done his share of traveling, especially since he joined the agency, but he was a New York boy through and through.
He wondered where he and Deanna would settle and raise their family. He decided he definitely wanted more children although he was sure she’d like to wait a bit for the next one. Of course that was all assuming she would say yes. He was nervous. The ring box was in his pants pocket, he wanted to keep it close to him until he could slip it on her finger. Then he would just keep her close. He didn’t want to wait long to get married, he had lost too much time already. Maybe they should just go to the local Justice of the Peace. If Deanna had dreamt of a big wedding, they could always do that after the baby was born.
He checked his watch again. It was still several hours before she would be at work. Ryan realized he was going to drive himself crazy until he got to see her, until he got to propose. He had cafe-au-lait, coffee with cream, and another beignet for dessert. After the meal, which he realized he ate more out of nervousness than desire, he decided to take a walk in the area. As he walked down the street he passed a tavern with soft blues being played. The name on the tavern was ‘Laisez les Bons Temps Rouler’, Let the Good Times Roll. He was tempted to stop in but he didn’t want to propose with bourbon on his breath. He felt tongue-tied as it was.
Ryan walked. He walked past the university and he headed towards the Mississippi River beyond it. An old–fashioned paddle boat was slowly making its way up the river. Nerves were driving him and the later the hour got, the more nervous he became. Finally he headed back to the hotel. It was dark and his feet were hurting him. The lobby was getting emptier and it was still too early for Deanna to be on duty. He went up to his room, took off his shoes, turned on the television and set his alarm for one-o’clock just in case he dozed off. This way he wouldn’t pounce on her as soon as she came in, he’d give her a chance to settle first.