Location == part two

22 Dec

Last week’s post about location was a bit brief and possibly mis-leading. My apologies.

Of course, not every book requires the writer to personally inspect the place where the action happens. I’ve written books set in places I’d never been – a Regency novel was my first ever, and at that time, a visit to England was only a cherished dream. It’s since been a dream-come-true on three occasions! My fourth novel — Ardenwycke Unveiled — was set in upstate New York along the Hudson River, and I’ve never been there, either, but it didn’t hatch as being so entirely site-specific.

I did go to Mackinac Island to gather info for Secret Shores, although I’d been there several times previously. The two days I spent there was of enormous help, however, in getting the geography settled in my mind. But then, when I began Windsong (the prequel, written later) I ran into problems because the Algonquin village where she lived was on the Canadian mainland, and I’d not ever been there.

Actually, finding the right place for that village was almost a spooky occurrence, as it also solved a major plot point that I’d not yet been able to resolve. In Secret Shores, I’d named all the children of Etienne and Windsong by what I thought was appropriate considering their heritage. They had a French first name and Algonquin middle name. Thus their first-born son Jock was really Jacques Little Otter Nicolet. In the middle of Windsong, I was having a late-night conversation with a friend, discussing the progress of the book, and frankly, at that point I was stumped. I dug out my road atlas and began to look at the page featuring Ontario and upper Michigan.

Suddenly, a name popped off the page at me! Ottertail Lake was shown to be a sort of horseshoe shape, which seemed the perfect place for the Indian village to be located, and after all Jock had been conceived while his parents were there.  But, having the place in mind, I still felt I needed more information about the actual geography, and another trip up there was just not in my budget. So I called the Canadian Tourism telephone line and discovered there was a small museum in Bruce Mines, a little town not far from Ottertail Lake.

I was so fortunate to be able to talk to a nearly 90-year-old man who’d grown up in the area, been a teacher, and was now volunteering at the museum. He filled in a lot of detail for me, then referred me to a local man ( a former student!) who actually lived at Ottertail Lake! This kind gentleman gave me an hour of his time on the phone one night, describing the locale so clearly, I could easily envision it all in my mind. And then he said the magic words! “There used to be a waterfall there at one end of the lake. It wasn’t a huge fall, but enough that you wouldn’t want to go over it, if you could help it. Of course, it’s not there now, the Army dammed it up about a hundred years ago.” Since this was in the summer of 1992, that didn’t affect my story which was set in 1837.

However, my story desperately needed  something that would be hazardous to a runaway toddler, and the waterfall was it! I am forever grateful to this man for giving me all this background information–he made my story so real.

One of my best friends – ever – lives in England—the multi-published Sandra Heath. In my mind, she is a genius for her many-faceted books. They are so well done, the reader is convinced that this story could never take place anywhere other than the time and place she specifies. Her imagination absolutely defies description. Her descriptions are awesome, right down to the nth degree!  Of course, I continually tease her that she has an unfair advantage – she lives in the middle of history. On my last visit there in 2007, we went to a Saxon church that dated to the early 1200s. You don’t find that sort of thing in the US.  Or, at least I’m not aware of any!

When she read my Location piece last week, she wrote to me:

“My comment really is that although you found exactly what you wanted in the very place you wanted it, writers can’t always go visiting. It costs. I’ve written about various parts of the world without ever having been there, and at first my research was all done through library books. Library shelves were emptied of travel books! Now, of course, there’s the Internet. My method is to choose my exact spot in whatever country it is, and then delve around until I find an in-period property in the general vicinity. After that I choose (or invent) the site it’s going to occupy and then off I go. Oh, and then I gather info about the climate, weather, flora and fauna, recent or far-back history, etc. All this is done from home (apart from visiting the libraries, of course). I have also done as you’ve done, and visited the area of the country I want to write about, e.g. Dunster in Somerset.

So, perhaps a few lines to say that all this research needn’t cost anything? Or at least not much?”

Indeed, my friend. Consider it done. Her most recent book is set in Ancient Egypt, and to be honest, I don’t think even she could have managed a visit there for first-hand information. But it’s dazzling, anyway. It’s an erotic romance, so be prepared for that element, should you be interested in reading it. It’s only an e-book at the moment, but look for Pharaoh’s Beloved for Kindle. It should be in print sometime next year from Ellora’s Cave.

Information about my books is at the About Me page in this blog. Or you can write and ask me for more specific details. They’re all currently available, by the way.

I wish you all –all sorts of joy in this holiday season! And tons of interesting and fabulous words! All of which will fall exactly where you want them!




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