ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

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Monday, 6 May 2013

Does travel make our stories better? Paris, Italy, Hugh Jackman...er...Outback Queensland anyone?

Ah...ever since a family friend kept me supplied with cartons of Mills & Boon novels when I was about 13, I've been hooked--on exotic places. At 13 I wasn't so much thinking about boys, but the M&B stories certainly made me hard to please on that front, (not too many Italian Counts or French Dukes in Oz), but I was more hooked on the novels' settings.

SETTINGS! Yes! These handy little books took me to islands in Greece with sparkling white houses and brightly-painted blue doors dazzling in the sun--took me to lakes in Italy, chateaux in France bursting with vineyards, castles in England, haciendas in Spain. All of these were very exotic to a teenager who'd grown up in country Queensland. My state was only 100+ years old--we'd never build chateaux, our vineyards were well in the future, our 'haciendas' were plain old cattle properties with falling-down homesteads where women cried over lack of water to grow flowers.

So...I couldn't wait to finish my education and hit the road to places unknown...and that's a journey that never ends for me. But coupled with my love of soaking up new cultures, new lands, I find so much inspiration in exotic places that it turns up in my stories, it often is my story. I've just sent off a micro fiction hoping it will be one of 14 chosen to be printed on a cushion at the Queensland Writers Festival. It was influenced by Paris. My LETTERS story still under construction for the current RomanticFridayWriters challenge is set during the war on the Western Front near Ypres, Belgium. (Yep, been to the Flanders Fields, what a privilege!)

No! No! No! I can see you shaking your head--you don't have to travel to find exotic settings--your homegrown setting is exotic to everyone but you, and no one can write about your local area like you can, and I love reading your stories set in the places you inhabit. Look at Kittie Howard and her Louisiana stories. Roland Yeomans and his New Orleans' stories, Joy Campbell and her Jamican stories, just for starters! Love them! Now Harlequin Escape is actually asking for stories set in Outback Queensland! So my state has finally become exotic enough for readers! Nothing like dust, horses, snakes, with a few handsome, rugged stockmen and station owners thrown in, is there? (Think Hugh Jackman in Australia, the movie --okay, had to get him in somewhere. Much better than a foppish French Duke IMO).


Now, what's that picture of Paris bits and pieces doing here?

Those who travel a lot have their favourite places, and as most of you know, mine is Paris. If I see 'Paris' in a book title, or it's mentioned in the blurb, I must have it. Murder in Paris, Lunch in Paris, Rats in Paris Sewers...whatever...Browsing one of the excellent indie bookshops in West End on the weekend (Avid Reader), I see a little gift from Edward Rutherford.


Italy comes a close second to Paris--why do I devour each of Donna Leon's Commisario Brunetti books? Because Venice is the main character. Once you've been to Venice and have lost yourself in the backstreets, the canals and the bridges, reading about these in a great story is the next best thing. I've just picked up her latest, Jewels of Paradise. Looks like Brunetti doesn't feature for once. Okay, how come I can read so much? Well, I don't sleep much, sleep is over rated.

But be prepared to cop flak if you add objects to your settings that aren't actually there. Tourists to Corona, Italy, (the setting for Under the Tuscan Sun), complain vehemently when they can't find the fountain which featured in the touching La Dolce Vita scene in the movie. I've been to Corona, and nup, it's not there! But the villa, Bramasole, is.

So...where is this going? In future posts, I'm going to hopefully snaffle some authors and get them to tell us all how travel has enriched their stories or how they've played their local setting for all it's worth. Hope you'll pop by to hear what they have to say.

Meanwhile, you can also make money by selling your travel stories to magazines. Sometimes they pay money, sometimes they pay with a subscription to the mag, sometimes they gift you with travel-related gadgets or luggage. All good.


What do you think?

  • Do you often/sometimes choose books just because of the setting? 
  • Do you write books as a result of your travels? Or do you think of a preferred setting then travel for research?
  • Do you prefer settings that no amount of travel provides -- sci-fi land, fantasyland, steampunk??





34 comments:

  1. Hi, Denise,

    Love this post. Travel destinations have played and WILL ALWAYS play a huge part in my stories. I, like you, have traveled extensively. And as you know I love ATMOSPHERE and DETAILS.

    My current, well sort of, novella takes place as you know in 1940's Chicago. Thankfully many of the places I feature in this story still exist so I can get the real atmosphere of the place. SO important ESPECIALLY in NOiR writing.

    Great suggestions about sending in travelogues to magazines. I have never thought of that before. Gifts are good, money's better, but hey, publication IS publication. Right? One must start somewhere.

    So nice to visit your blog. It'a been AGES... Glad I stopped by tonight...

    GOOD Morning to you! LOL.

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    1. Great to be living in Chicago and writing about it Michael. I want to read more of your noir. I have to get my Chicago fix watching The Good Wife, lol!
      Thanks for visiting friend!

      Denise

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  2. Good Morning this very late evening for me! LOL.

    Yes, detail is important. As I write urban fantasy, the more of a realistic anchor I can make the setting, the easier readers will accept the supernatural. Of course since New Orleans has the reputation of the most haunted city in America, it makes readers believing the eerie things in my novels easier!

    I did a lot of research for Victor Standish's adventures in 1834 New Orleans. Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett did visit New Orleans then. Andrew Jackson announced his campaign for the presidency in New Orleans. The fabled Annie Christmas really did exist in 1834 French Quarter: when she wasn't a madam, she was hauling frieght up and down the Mississippi! The dueling grounds I had Victor fight Andrew Jackson atop horses with drawn sabers actually existed. THE RIVAL was almost as much fun researching as writing! :-)

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    1. It is obvious you know your New Orleans Roland. What better setting for your stories.:-)

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  3. I would love to travel to all the exotic places just for the inspiration. I enjoy the journey either way, as long as the story is compelling. I've traveled most all of the US but overseas, no, wish I could. Thank goodness the internet makes those trips a bit easier for writing research, but describing a place via pictures will never be the same as having been there and experienced it.

    And bringing up Hugh Jackman, works for me!

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  4. After visiting Paris, it's my fave place, too, Denise. I like doing the research, no matter what I'm writing. I'm working on a future novel set in Paris.

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  5. Hi Denise .. I know you've travelled extensively and have great thoughts and memories ... we could almost write a short story, novella .. on what would it be like if I'd visited ... because so much is around to tap into ...

    I love Michael and Roland's comments here .. and one day I'll visit Australia to see family places and places I've heard about and would love to visit ...

    Travel opens the doors to our minds, to history, to new cultures etc etc ... the Outback ... I can in part see it ...

    Here's to more writing - and your Paris Letters sound intriguing .. it is a hugely evocative city ... cheers Hilary

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  6. Hi Denise, You'll love this then http://gardenlilie.com/2013/05/05/french-blue-2/

    Paris rocks! Take care
    Catherine

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  7. Oh, yes, definitely a romantic setting will pull me in to a story. Exactly why I wanted to watch the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Can't always get to those places, so a good book or movie will sometimes have to do for an exotic adventure. And I'd love to go to Australia! :)

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    1. And Australia would love to see you L.G.! Love that movie!

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  8. A friend of mine told me last week, 'If you can't take a good picture in your own backyard, then you're not a real photographer.'

    I was encouraged because I'm not well-traveled and hope to make my corner of the world interesting to others.

    Nice post topic, babe.

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  9. Too bad I haven't really traveled into outer space!
    But even if the places we visit don't wind up in a story, they do expand our knowledge of the world, and that can be priceless.

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  10. Fab post, Denise! Didn't know Rutherford had a book on Paris. Have. Got. To. Have. It. We're going to Paris this summer. Thanks for the mention! I never, ever thought when I was growing up, Louisiana would one day center stories. Actually, Queensland centered many thoughts. I had a pen pal from there when I was in the eighth grade. In some respects, her letters of life there kinda scratched my travel bug--I'd stare at the world map I had on the wall and wonder how life was in fill-in-the-blank country. Anyway, I'm very happy that Queensland is now front and center.

    Good luck with your move! Where you're moving sounds really, really interesting! Looks like we're pretty much going through the same routine, though. (Small world, eh?) For now, the hardest part is over. Muscles I didn't know I had are sore!

    About Amazon's path--so far, you seem to be the only one who knows what I'm talking about. (You really are a genius at this computer stuff!) From the research I've done, I've learned that a regional writer like me has to have a narrow path in order to get into Southern e-libraries. I really appreciate you offering to put me in touch with someone. Thanks! There's time. I'm not e-pubbing until Sept.

    Don't work too hard! (I know, famous last words. Stuff's gotta get done!)

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    1. Hi Kittie, I've noticed you are quite interested in Australia. Yep, we are seemingly going through a lot of the same things. Maybe one day you will get to Oz and we can meet up.

      I've put Charmaine Clancy onto you re Amazon. Hope she can help.

      Denise

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  11. Me again. Just opened my e-mail. If you need more guest posts, I could do one. But since I'm late making the rounds, I understand if your dance card is filled.

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  12. If anyone could infect me with the travel bug, it would be you Denise!

    I do like writing about places I've been because I can picture the characters moving around the setting.

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  13. I think we profoundly see the world differently when we travel. It's possible to make our own location "exotic." It's also possible to do research in order to make a place come alive, even if you've never been there, to a point. I read a YA book where the girl went to Paris. The author had never been there, but she'd also made it so her protagonist was fearful to venture out of her school for most of the book. She only had to make a few scenes come alive with place.

    Better to travel.

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  14. Our travel experiences do definitely influence us and I believe they can enrich our writing. I don't choose books based on setting, but I do write what I know. I would love to be able to do more traveling, but maybe one day I'll have the time and money for it. For now, my stories usually take place in the American Mid-west.

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  15. i definitely think it's easier to write a scene for a place you already have been too...great post girlie!

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  16. I used to travel A LOT. I loved it. I worked to earn enough to go somewhere, hehehe. I think my favourite places are Ireland, England, and yes, France!!! Oh and Florence was gorgeous too. Gosh, I'm getting itchy feet again!

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  17. Great topic Denise!
    I don't try to be exotic, but somehow, I haven't had any ideas for stories set in Canada! Instead, I keep returning to the Mediterranean. Obviously it's easy to write about Turkey since I've lived there too (even though it's silly because I've been in Canada all my life and in Turkey for only one year, and every summer for many years) but it's like the sea itself is a siren - I can't not write a book that doesn't feature it in one way or another.
    I don't know about exotic, but I love the UK - I'm so happy that I finally have one book set there. Now every vacation counts as research :-)

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  18. I love to travel and there were times when I used these to help create scenes in my writing. Most times though, I do research as I can't go to all these places and there are just so many beautiful places to write about.

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  19. Travel writing is not for me. I love going new places, and have traveled through many of the major European cities and countries. My women's fiction trilogy is set in my home town, but I did add a segment in Puerto Rico and had to rely solely on research. Luckily, my couple went as tourists, so I didn't need to learn much about the local customs or foods.

    I do prefer sci-fi and fantasy settings; but I also love Urban Fantasy that adds the supranaturals to real world settings. I don't need those to be exotic however, as I'm more reading for the excitement of the plot and characters and not for the romance. Romance does have to be in the novel though :)

    No matter what the story line however, I think adding a proper setting is important. Atmosphere and culture make any book interesting for me.

    Good luck with the submission. I hope you get picked.

    ......dhole

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  20. Hi Denise,

    Hmm...I almost never leave home but because of reading I've recently travelled to the Australian outback, the Californian border, New England, Nepal, Indonesia....and back in time to seventeenth century England and France. And it was so much fun.

    If you can't travel, reading's the next best thing.

    Maria (on duty at RBH today, it's Nas' day off)

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    1. Hi Maria...true, travel can take us anywhere in the world or out of this world. Thanks for visiting.

      Denise

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  21. Interesting post, Denise.
    Our childhood experiences do indeed influence our reading habits later in life.

    I am not so interested in exotic places, although I have read Donna Leon's novels set in Venice (love Italy). I find myself enjoying books about places where I have lived or visited.

    A new acquaintance that I met at university has recommended the Swedish mystery writer, Johan Theorin. His stories are set on the Baltic island of Oland. I've read three of his books and they are wonderful! I am going to write more about him for the June edition of IWSG, but if you want to, you can read my short post about his first novel now. His books are translated into English, but I have not yet read the translations.

    Best wishes,
    Anna

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    1. Thank you Anna. I will definately check him out. D

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  23. If I was to write a novel based in a certain town, I would love to immerse myself in the place. Sadly, however, as I am writing a fantasy set in a magical world that would be impossible. Sad. I'd love to journey into my magical world too! More often than not, it's a lot nicer than this one!

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  24. Hi, Denise,

    Like you, I was introduced to Mills & Boon books early. :) I too enjoyed the stories set in faraway places and yes, I can tell you love Paris. :)

    These days, I adore books set in China and Japan. Didn't think Jamaica was that special until I joined a writing network and people seemed to find the stories interesting. They trained me to add Jamaica as a character, because when they couldn't 'feel' the island, they'd ask 'where is Jamaica in this chaptere?'

    So yes, for me, setting is important and does play a role when I buy books.

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    1. Hi Joy, thanks for getting here! I love the Jamaica 'feel' in your novels! D

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  25. Yeah, I pick books based on setting a lot...especially if the location is very unusual, then I pick up the book:)

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  26. Hi Denise!

    I love to read books and stories set in exotic places. It's like escaping to a new place for me. I'm not THAT keen on scifi and made up places!

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  27. Great blog , I really love your writing style that you are using for your posts and stuff,

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