Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley, California Office
Weather: Sunny once again and 77º
We’ve talked about literary destinations and I could go on and on. Like talking about the road trip I recently took with Lonnie Hull Dupont from Detroit to Kentucky and back, retracing the journey of Gertie, the unforgettable protagonist in Harriette Arnow’s Dollmaker. Or I could talk about our upcoming Books & Such Retreat on Steinbeck’s Cannery Row in Monterey. Or even wax on about my recent stay in Arcadian Evangeline country, but I worry that to continue would almost be as obnoxious as a long evening of travel slides.
These last few days we talked about traveling to the places we came to love because of books. We looked at those places as book enthusiasts instead of as authors– and that’s a good thing. It’s good to put ourselves in our readers’ shoes and remember what it’s like to fall in love with a story and a place. But now let’s put on our author hats and talk research.
If at all possible with my own writing, I try to travel to the places where my stories will be set. When I wrote Almost Home, a story about Mary Chilton of the Mayflower, I went back to Plimoth Colony and spent several days in the recreated time and place. It was invaluable. Until I stepped into the house Mary Chilton would have called home, I’d forgotten how smoky smelling and dark those first Pilgrim lodgings were. And until I climbed onto the deck of the replica Mayflower ship, I hadn’t sensed how tiny it was– how crowded it must have been.
So much can be learned from experiencing the setting firsthand. If we want to capture the smells and the feel of a place we need to experience it. In a nutshell, here are some of the perks of doing on site setting research:
- It makes it easier to capture the essence of a place– how the air feels, the smells, the sounds, the people . . .
- And from a purely financial point of view, some of the costs of travel for research purposes are tax deductible. Good excuse, right?
- You can take pictures or blog or twitter from your research trip, including your reader in the excitement and helping build momentum for the book. Photos can be used later in your newsletters. Robin Jones Gunn is a master at this. Check out her website.
- When you connect physically with the setting your avid readers will also connect to that place. Look at our enthusiasm about Prince Edward Island, Concord, Plimoth Colony. Someday our readers may plan the same enthusiastic pilgrimages to the places in our books.
The setting of your book is an important element– too often underrated. Don’t forget that, just like we did with the literary pilgrimages we talked about this week, your readers may connect viscerally with your book’s setting. After finishing the recent Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society I decided I have to put the Isle of Guernsey on my list. That’s the power of a setting that comes alive.
So now it’s your turn again: Have you ever traveled to research your setting? How did it effect your understanding of the place? What future settings intrigue you?