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Mom-and-Pop stores, but also with the best story ever about the Town Drunk who drives a riding mower since his license was revoked.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.)