I'm not at my home computer, so there will be no beautiful pictures of Caribbean sunrises, palm trees, or even me!(lol) But I love the tropics. I have first-hand experience with that part of the world. Through memory and from what I call the “wall of palms” (my best photos of the Caribbean) I can set readers down in a bustling tropical capital, or a tiny beachside town that is truly the Caribbean of our dreams.
But the comfort zone of personal experience can go only so far. When an editor assigned me a story set in Norway, I had to put aside my allergic reaction to cold and snow and immerse readers into a one-week visit to Oslo.
Of course, the mighty Google sent forth a never-ending stream of information. I visited Norway’s official site, and clicked on the links until I was able to build a story around a woman’s spur-of-the-moment trip. I sent her on the “Norway in a Nutshell” Tour (www.norwayinanutshell.com). She discovered Afrikan History Week (www.afrikanhistoryweek.com), the African and black expatriate community, and took in a spoken word concert as guest of the West African owner of an Oslo night club.
My next assignment sent the heroine to Scotland, and using the same method of country research, I took her to The Isle of Skye, Dunvegan Castle (www.dunvegancastle.com) and its mythical Fairy Flag. I couldn’t help but slip my love of bagpipes and military bands into the story and have the hero escort her to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (http://www.edinburgh-tattoo.co.uk/index.html), performed against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle. For lovers of the bagpipe, there are few things more moving than the finale featuring the Lone Piper at the top of the Castle – seeing it on video helped me to write a memorable last night in Scotland for the couple.
In my research, I use country and city sites as well as random searches for specific needs (i.e., “Africans in Norway”). Travel sites such as Trip Advisor are invaluable for photos and first-hand, candid traveler reviews. My DVR is loaded with Travel and History Channel shows and documentaries. The late Steve Irwin’s travels with his daughter through Australia helped me set a scene in the sacred aboriginal Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park. I researched the best Australian surfing spots to write a realistic story about the heroine’s love affair with a spectacular aboriginal surfer.
It’s obvious that I love research as much as writing. And with my resources I check, re-check and check again. There’s always somebody out there who knows just as much or more; I work hard to avoid the dreaded email that rips my “facts” to shreds.
For readers, what are some of your favorite story settings? For authors who write around the country and the world, what research tools would you recommend?
From Dusk to Dawn