Deb Elise Loves It, But Doesn’t Do It Enough

Elise as DumbledoreWhat?  I’m talking about Traveling!

In 2006, I worked with Fodor’s on a travel guide for marathoners, The Traveling Marathoner.  It didn’t step on my status as a 2011 Deb, because 75% of it was already written — reviews of sites, restaurants, and hotels already in the Fodor’s database.  My job was to visit each marathon city (the book featured 12 of them — one great U.S. marathon per month), and figure out which places were relevant to marathoners: hotels close to the start line, carb-load friendly restaurants, sites you could handle on post-race sore legs, etc.

The research spanned a very bizarre year filled with travel — bizarre because I did the traveling first while in varying degrees of pregnancy, and then with a very small baby.  I went to some places I knew very well, like Manhattan and Boston, and others I didn’t know at all, like Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.

I absolutely loved it.  The research aspect made it particularly fantastic, since I was forced to devour as much of each city as I could.  I found places I never would have discovered otherwise.  I’m far more likely to listen to Duran Duran than Chopin, but I was enraptured by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.  I tend to hang at bookstores over libraries, but I wanted to spend all day in the ridiculously huge and welcoming Salt Lake City library.  I’m 100% big city over small town, but Choteau Montana won me over not only with its slew of unique Mom-and-Pop stores, but also with the best story ever about the Town Drunk who drives a riding mower since his license was revoked.

Since then, I really haven’t traveled much at all.  Check that — I’ve traveled a little, but always to the same places.  If I’m hopping on a plane, it’s a safe bet I’m heading to Philadelphia (hometown), Orlando (Disney World), or Kahului (the airport in Maui — no further explanation needed).

As a writer, I want to get out there and travel, because there’s no better way to bring your setting to life than by knowing it well.  There’s a reason I set Populazzi outside of Philadelphia — I lived there for 21 years.  I’m now playing with two projects: one set in Connecticut, where I went to college; one in Los Angeles, where I’ve been for 18 (18?!?!) years.  And while it’s not necessary to know a place like the back of your hand to write about it, it helps a lot, giving you the tiny details that make a location unique.

To that end, I’m getting ready to buy some new notebooks, because next summer I’m heading to Europe for the first time since a quick trip to England, Scotland, and Paris in college (I know Paris isn’t the country, but that’s the only place I went in France.  I ran out of money there too, but that’s another story).  We’re in the early stages of planning the trip, so if you have advice on where to go, please send it my way!

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts — do you set your stories in places you know well, or do you tend to create them from scratch?

I’ll be packing while I read your responses — we’re leaving this week on a trip… to DisneyWorld, of course!  (We’ll also be taking a side trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter… which is why my pic today is of me as Albus Dumbledore.  My husband is actually standing next to me dressed as Lucius Malfoy, but I’ve promised him I won’t embarrass him.  At least, not in blog form.)

~ Deb Elise

22 Replies to “Deb Elise Loves It, But Doesn’t Do It Enough”

      1. I admit it, I had a raging crush on Lucius before he turned into a coward. The hair, the sneer, the ice blue eyes….

  1. Oh, have fun visiting Harry! And at DisneyWorld, of course. And planning your European vacation — how exciting!

    I did set a good part of my first book on an island off the coast of Sweden because I’m familiar with it personally, but I don’t think it’s essential to have visited a place to write about it, especially with modern technology at our fingertips. YouTube is a marvelous way to “see” almost anyplace you can imagine through the eyes of others, for instance. Research is a lot easier than it used to be.

    1. True. That’s what I did when I was helping Hilary Duff with Elixir. There’s a whole section in Japan, and while she knows the place well, I do not. I spent a LOT of time checking out websites and watching YouTube videos. I know it’s not the same, but it did make me feel like I’d just had a full-fledged visit, and could help her describe it with a degree of knowledge.

  2. I want a gig writing a travel guide! How fun! Though, as I’m not a marathoner, mine would have to be the Guide for Traveling TV Lovers, which doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it. Unfortunately.

    I went to Harry Potter world earlier this year and LOVED it. The Forbidden Forest ride is AMAZING! I bought a wand, and some butterbeer–delish. Just know that those dueling roller coasters might make you nauseous. Be warned.

    Have fun!

    1. I can’t wait!!!! Were the lines to get in the stores crazy? I’ve heard you can wait forever, but I don’t even care — it’s Diagon Alley!!!!

  3. I’m all for making places up – less of those pesky details!

    I don’t travel enough for fun, either – J.C. and I just made a vow that next year we’d like to do some not-for-work travel. Now we just have to agree on a place!

    Have fun!

  4. Oh, have fun on your holiday!
    I tend to make my settings sort of an Anytown, so most times I never even mention a city name. But my YA mermaid love story (as yet unsold, but available!) is set in Carmel, California and I’ve never been there. But with the help of Google Maps and Earth, I was able to use specific locations and even pinpoint an actual house where my character lived, what restaurants he might walk to and even what bus he would take to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where some of the book is set. We are lucky to have such cool resources these days.

    1. Very cool! And Joanne, YA mermaid love stories are HUGE! Lost Voices — enough said. Any editors out there, snap this woman’s story up!

  5. I agree with Rachel B – I went to the HP World, too, and it was amazing! Wait until you see the incredible detail – everywhere! And the Forbidden Forest ride was the best!

    (My husband and I went about a month after the park first opened, and it was mid-week, so the lines weren’t bad at all. I don’t know what it’s like now though…)

    Have a wonderful time!

  6. I loooove travel, and have been lucky enough to get to do a lot of it over the last decade. Happy to help with Europe tips, too! I spent a month meandering Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy and Slovenia, and a different month hitting Spain, Morocco (not Europe, I know) and Gibraltar. Then I had a couple weeks in Greece, but I’m guessing that’s not where you’re headed. Feel free to hit me up with Europe stuff as you plan your trip!


  7. Having spent the month of July reading Harry Potter, I’m anxious to visit his Orlando world sometime in the future. As for your Travel Guide, Elise, it reminds me of Laura Dave’s MC in FIRST HUSBAND. She was a magazine travel writer with her column, “Checking

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