On Location —

24 Oct

No, I’ve not been away from home, but I have been a busy writer/editor/formatter, etc. Explanations will follow during the next couple of months, I promise.

A note from a friend reminded me of the fun of visiting the location about which you’re setting your next novel. It’s not just fun, but vitally important for accuracy. For instance, visiting any place in Colonial America, a modern-day tourist is constantly bewildered by how small the rooms are, or how low the ceilings. It makes you realize that we’re growing larger as a people. Better food, better nutrition, better living conditions, better medical care, have all helped us grow larger than our parents, who were larger than theirs, etc., etc.

When you read that a historical person was ‘very tall, close to 6 feet’ you chuckle to yourself, because in our time, that’s not very tall, at all! In fact, in a time when 7 footers are more prominent than ever before, those 6-footers are almost miniscule! So if a historical person was really ‘bigger-than-life’ (think Henry VIII or his grandfather Edward IV) it’s no wonder they were magnetic and commanded respect. They really did literally ‘tower’ over their subjects!

My first published book (Secret Shores) appeared in May, 1993 and the prequel (Windsong) the following February. Both books are set primarily on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Having grown up in Michigan, I’d visited the island several times, but not for many years before I began to write the first of these books. So I took myself up there for 3 days. (I’d have been thrilled to stay for 3 months, but my budget would have been most unhappy.)

Anyway, I found it an incredible experience in so many ways. The prequel was set in 1837, while the other one was 1961. Almost all of the buildings in the main portion of the island port were in existence before the first of these! Some of them had been remodeled, it’s true, or added on to, but they were basically as they’d been since about 1800. The Fort, however, predated both stories, having been dismantled from the burnt-out fort on the mainland (read: Pontiac’s revenge) and brought across the frozen lake in 1781 by Captain Patrick Sinclair of the British Army. Once all the salvageable pieces were there, he set about constructing a new fort to protect the burgeoning fur trading business. Previously, the island had been home to many American Indians and the French, who came down the St. Lawrence River from Quebec and Montreal. The French also brought along their favorite flower – lilacs – and there are (or were) still some of those original trees still standing, with the help of props supporting their weary limbs.

I learned so much history about this time and place, that for the next few months, I sounded like a history book! In fact, the first travel article I ever wrote was about this ‘Enchanted Island’ as it was called until the early 1900s! You can read it here. http://www.frugalfun.com/mackinack.html  (As the article is now 17 years old, you should add that number to any of the dates mentioned therein.)

I felt the same way when I went to England. My particular favorite person from the 1400s is Katherine of Valois, who became the wife of Henry V, and it was an unaccountable thrill to visit places where she had been. Even if the inept person I encountered at Westminster Abbey (where she’s buried) had never heard of her!

So, if your story is set in a historical place, try to visit and see for yourself what it might have looked like during the time of your tale. It may have been vastly different then, but still, the ground itself will not have changed all that much, and you’ll find that extra touch of verisimilitude will imbue your work with an unprecedented degree of authenticity. Try it! I highly recommend it.

Please do feel free to ask questions, or offera  comment, if you have them. The e-mail for all inquiries is: bookmechanic@gmail.com  Thanks!

Happy Writing!

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