Monday, August 5, 2013

Write WHERE you know

Several years ago, I read a book that was set in Mississippi. I was raised there, and it's where most of my family still lives. The book felt like it had been written by someone who had, at best, visited. I put the book down after the first chapter. The author had not only captured the setting wrong; it felt as if this peculiar-and-diverse state had been described disrespectfully.  I'll never read that author again.

It's one of the reasons I chose to set Whisper Falls in North Carolina. I'd lived there twenty-five years. I know this place.  The little nuances and Raleigh-isms just flow. Writing my first published novel was hard enough without being tripped up over getting the location correct.

My summer vacation has really brought this home. I'm spending a week in Rotterdam, Netherlands while my daughter attends a conference. I'm not planning to do anything except revise two sequels and enjoy "living" here.

I don't have any plans to set a book in Rotterdam, but I am noticing little details that are completely different from the life I have in the US. Things like:

  • supermarkets are not open on Sundays (which I wish I had known on Saturday)
  • most stores of any kind do not open until around noon on Monday
  • nothing is air-conditioned--including some big, expensive hotels
  • bicycles are almost as numerous as cars; cyclists are more aggressive toward pedestrians
  • there are more ethnically-diverse couples
  • parents hold hands with their children into their tweens
  • people like to eat outside at sidewalk cafes
  • everybody speaks decent (or better) English
 So maybe I'll never use any of this specific data in a book. But no longer will I take A/C, the opening hours of stores, modes of transportation, etc for granted when I write.

In fact, it's just easier to stick with North Carolina. For now.

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