One of our foxes asked, “If you had an unlimited amount of funds and time to visit any place in the world to do research for a book where would you go? Do you have a project in mind?”
This question made me think. Many of my stories take place outside the United States. I have three books (soon to be four) set in England, one in France, one in Greece, and one in Japan. I’ve visited all of these countries, and I’m sure that I drew upon my memories of those places when creating my settings.
In the case of my historical tales, I knew what many historical buildings looked like, but I had to be sure certain landmarks existed during my chosen time period. I also had to find out what homes were like, what people wore, and what they ate. I watched movies and relied heavily on information gleaned online. If I had a question but was unable to find an answer online I would ask someone. I belong to
several writers groups both online and in person, so generally there would be someone who would have researched the topic already. In the few cases when that failed, I contacted a colleague at the university where I teach. I’ve had really good luck finding history professors who cheerfully answered my questions. And then after the manuscript was done, I tried to find one of those experts to read the manuscript for historical accuracy.
Still, knowing what a place looks like now doesn’t give one an accurate picture of what it looked like in the past. In some cases there are paintings, and those are very helpful. I’ve also consulted maps and read descriptions written by people who lived during those times. This was more difficult in the case of my Japanese historical. And though I’ve got family connections to the country, I’m not fluent in the language, so I can’t ask my aunt, who’s a history buff and well versed on the samurai era. Fortunately, I found a diary written by an Englishwoman who visited Japan during the time my novel is set! She verified that many of the traditions and ideas I’d seen during my visits were the same during the nineteenth century, so I felt better about including them in the book.
In the case of my contemporary novella set in Greece, I would have to say that BEING THERE definitely added to my ability to be accurate about my setting, as well as traditions and beliefs. Aegean Intrigue was written just after my visit to the island of Paros, where my daughter spent a semester abroad. I talked a friend into going with me to visit. Being there helped me capture the flavor of the island and include details I wouldn’t have found by reading.
So in answer to the question, I guess I would be more likely to go somewhere if I were writing a contemporary story set in a place where I hadn’t been. I’ve always said that a life goal was to visit every continent. I’ve crossed Antarctica off the list (after spending all these winters in Michigan I’m not eager to go someplace even colder), but I still want to visit South America, Africa, and Australia. At one time I considered writing a series based on the main characters in Aegean Intrigue. He’s a PI, and she’s an anthropologist. If I give it some thought, I could have them dive into adventures all over the world!
Now, all I have to do is decide whether to pursue this thought or complete the projects I’ve already started…