I'll start with one I wrote for my most recent tour for The Wild Irish Sea (though all three of my books figure in it) about my exotic settings.
Everyone who knows me, or who has looked at my website or one of my blogs, knows I’m a travel fanatic. I’m always on the go to some new place foreign, domestic, or sailing off on yet another cruise (sixteen so far with number seventeen booked for November). I’ve always had the yen to see new and exotic locations, but my dream finally started to come true in the mid 1990s when my DH overcame his twenty year fear of flying.
Once he cleared that not-inconsiderable hurtle, we became a pair of traveling fools! At last count, we have visited 47 states and 32 foreign countries. I believe that travel broadens a person’s outlook in a way that few things can. I’ve discovered fun and fascinating things in almost every place I’ve ever visited, and almost everywhere I’ve been I have met lovely, friendly people.Before I became the traveling fool, I loved to read books with exotic settings and enough lush details that I felt I was right there with the characters. Mary Stewart was one of my favorite authors who was a master at this. Whether you were on a Greek Island or a cottage in the English countryside, you were right there experiencing the sights, smells, and feel of the flora, fauna, views, and everything else surrounding the characters. Diana Gabaldon is another author whose settings are so real I feel like I’ve been in the Scottish highlands, or onboard a wooden sailing ship, or in a log cabin. When I decided to seriously commit myself to writing with the intent to publish, I wanted my novels to have settings that put the reader firmly in the place with my characters. Fortunately, by then I’d been to a lot of wonderful places and soaked up plenty of experiences that I could draw upon for authenticity in my writing. But one thing I never know is what will come in handy, or turn up in my prose.
For example, the childhood home of my hero in The Wild Sight was actually the house where my DH’s grandmother was born and raised. It still remains in the family and I remember the first time I saw it, I kept thinking about raising ten children in two rooms and a loft with no running water or electricity! Here’s a peek at the house as I described it in an opening chapter of The Wild Sight:
“…Rylie looked around the room, which was dominated by an enormous stone fireplace that had once served for both cooking and warmth. She peeked through the open doorway into the adjoining room, where the same fireplace had a second hearth. …
“Cold seeped from the flat gray stones of the floor through the rubber soles of her sneakers, a testament to the uncomfortable reality Donovan had mentioned earlier….
“…He motioned to a steep set of stairs build into the wall behind the front door. ‘My sister and I slept in the loft, same as my mother and her sister had done… The roof was thatch when my mum and Aunt Fee were little, but my grandfather replaced it with tin.’”
I’ve always thought Venice was one of the most unique, atmospheric, and romantic cities in the world. It was a no-brainer for me to set one of my books in such an exotic but at the same time recognizable location.
I’ve only visited Venice once, but it was a very memorable three days. I always keep travel journals where ever I go along with photographs. So even though it had been several years since I’d been in Venice, when I sat down to write, after a few hours of pouring over my photos and journal entries, I was instantly transported back. Here’s a scene from the book that eventually became The Treasures of Venice based on a late night walk my DH and I took through the streets of La Serenissima:
“It was eerily dark out on the street… Mist hung in wet wispy spirals over the water, and deeper shadows pooled in the darkness beside buildings. The chilly dampness distorted sounds so that the creaking of wood and slapping of water seemed to come from living entities….
“Sam followed as Keirnan snaked his way down a tight path right next to the water. The four and five story buildings on either side of the minor canal blotted out all light….
“Another diminutive bridge, this one with iron railings, arched up next to them where another canal intersected the one they followed. Instead of crossing, Keirnan crawled down next to the footings, then motioned her to join him.… A pale light filtered down from a second story window to reveal a profusion of orange peels and cigarette butts floating in the nearly motionless canal…. Sam scooted slightly to one side and noticed the building had a yawning mouth of black water where the first floor would have been.”
Sometimes places that aren’t actually in the location I’m writing about fit into the story so beautifully that I take ‘artistic license and put them in anyway. This was the case with my current release The Wild Irish Sea. When the hero and heroine discover a sea cave being used by a colony of seals, I remembered a couple of visits I’d paid to Sea Lion Caves on the Oregon coast and was inspired to include my impressions (especially of the smell!) even if the actual cave was far away from the Irish coast: “Nearly overcome by the stench, Amber followed Kevin inside the cave without further protest. After climbing down and around a pointy sentinel of rock, they were out of the rain. She heaved a sigh of relief and almost choked on the over-powering odor.
“They scrambled over a few more jutting rocks onto a stone ledge. A large pool of water spread below, and on the sandy shore opposite their perch lolled dozens of seals…. More than half seemed to be babies and the cave echoed with their cries.
“Trying not to breathe too deeply, she leaned an elbow against an upright boulder and surveyed the interior. The shelf where they stood appeared to be the only flat spot on their side of the rocky cavern, and it looked too high for the sea lions in the pool to climb up.”
So whether it’s a tiny cottage in the Irish countryside, a Venetian canal, or a mysterious sea cave full of seals, I hope I’ve given you some insight into the way I use my travels to create exotic settings for my books.