Monday, March 1, 2010

Being There

(When it's impossible). You know, I've passed some discussions about writing locations a person hasn't been, and in fact I've been doing that for part of my trilogy, as I've never been to Romania, and it's a place I wouldn't have the means to take myself, even given a tax deduction for the trip. But most of my readership probably hasn't been to Romania either, and I have a friend who lived there during the era I'm writing about, so I have a very nice fact-check system.

This Cozy Mystery gig I am auditioning for however, is on location in the United States... and I've never been there... I'm sure these locations are chosen for a certain local flavor and charm, and very possibly because of a high prevalence of genre readership. The REASON isn't really my problem. My PROBLEM is writing the location as if I'd lived there my whole life. So I've been RESEARCHING.

Wikipedia, my new best friend.

I know better than to take Wiki as gospel, because any old person can say something. But lets look at the motivation to put something false about a town in there... maybe you want to discourage people from moving there? Erm... likely to be balanced and corrected by someone who has some home pride. Chances are, the entries are written by people who live there, and hold more truth than not, and it is REALLY only a starting place ANYWAY. Besides, it's likely to be more accurate than the Chamber of Commerce, who is going to present only the very best light.

Second Degree Friendships

On Facebook I sent out a note to all my friends who live in Virginia (I have four of them). None of them has lived in Roanoke, but one has a fiance who went to college in Lynchburg, so I asked him for some details, and double checked a couple of the things I hoped to do. He told me somethings that never would have occurred to me (like the rapidly dropping SES as one went outside the urban boundaries—people who live in the country for the most part are VERY poor, which is opposite of how things are around here. In Michigan people live out it the country because they have a bizillion dollars and want room for their horses.... Oh, not that there aren't that kind of rich people down there—there just are still rural poor—something less common up north.

Google Earth

When I have all my locations totally set, I plan to take a virtual tour—have a look-see from my chair in my basement. It will help me get the scenery right... hopefully it will even keep me from going the wrong way on a one-way street!

It's not perfect. I know it would be a lot better to go there, and if I get the gig, I just may—I have a conference in Baltimore in May, and while I'm so close, hopping south a ways wouldn't be so hard, though I guess it's QUITE a ways... still, a lot closer than from here.

I would LOVE to hear any suggestions from all of you, if you've written about a location you've never been to!


Jan Morrison said...

yes - my second novel - True - my main character up and moved from Nova Scotia to southern Alberta - place called Stand Off on a huge Indian reservation. I was born in Alberta but really haven't been to that part much if at all so....yikes. the story stalled because of it and my gal won't leave and I don't blame her but I gotta get out there. I tried everything you're trying but it isn't enough.

siderealview said...

OK I've asked Nazarea Andrews (look up on FB) recently published by KeyPubs (q.v. also) debut novel Faith's Friendship - to 'friend' you - gave her a little backgrd & link to this blog - she's a real deep Saw-uth lady & also a writer & also nice... what can I say? the internet is great, but you just gotta BE there..... lol this write-about-what-you-know thing can NOT apply to cozy mysteries - unless you have a few bones in your basement beside the comp....x good luck Marian

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

It's a little tough. I did call a friend of a friend with some specific far is the residential area from Beale Street? Is point A to point B in easy walking distance? Where is the Mississippi River in relation to _____. Is there a park within a block of Beale? Does it have trees in it? Weird questions like that. I needed specific answers and had a hard time finding them online...but the friend was able to fill me in.

I flipped out a little when I finally made the trip to Memphis (taking pictures of EVERYTHING like a demented tourist) and saw that no one could drive on Beale--it was always cordoned off. And there IS no on-street's all decks. Ack! So I had to change about a dozen references through the book.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

Ah, Jan, I would think rural Alberta would be a lot less documented! In my NaNo novel I have my characters hide out in Northern Idaho, because HECK, who would know? I mean yeah, neighbors are in neighbor's business in the towns, but I used a little lake cabin area where people are only ever seasonal... I'd be hard pressed to find any info if I hadn't spent the summers there as a kid!

Marian, I will look for your friend--is she actually ROANOKE though? I have several Virginia friends, so it is just the very town specific I'm having trouble with.

Elizabeth--my MAIN two locations thus far have been HOUSES, so I'm okay there--it is just picking the neighborhoods for those houses to sit in where the house styles would match what I'm describing, and such, so far... but I WILL get to that level of detail soon... How funny to have chosen a street that has no driving and have to change everything!

TreeX said...

Location colour is one of the few things I'd read fiction for ;)
Fiction and maps. Lots and lots of maps. ;)

Megan said...

If your mystery gig sends you to Seattle, let me know. :)

Andy Leigh said...

Growing up I read a lot of YA fiction (tons o fantasy). They all had maps. Should I be including maps in my story? Lots and lots of maps? :)

As far as researching goes - When I was writing a screenplay about Alice and Dorothy (Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy of Oz), me being a historian came in handy. I couldn't really call anyone up and ask about 1864-1900 or visit a Victorian insane asylum, so I had to make up for that in being positive all other details were historically accurate. From when electric shock therapy first started being used (surprisingly early) to when doctor's first started wearing white lab coats (early on, only the good ones).


TreeX said...

Yay, a fellow historian =D
Of course, I'm only 'in training', but we'll get there ;)

Watery Tart said...

Joris, you're silly.

Megan, I will definitely call if I need Seattle stuff fact checked BUT, it's a place I've been, so the 'feel' of the place I know (not to mention having a long list of Seattlites I love, so I get the 'people' too. I grew up in northern Idaho, and the majority of my classmates went to Boise, Spokane, Portland or Seattle (I was a Portlander). I would LOVE to have one of these gigs in the Pacific Northwest!

Andy--that reminds me a LITTLE of my Romania gig--primarily because I really want to get it RIGHT, but it is a limited audience who could call me on it if it isn't quite there (though probably fewer time travelers than people who've been to Romania...

Joris, have a biscuit.

Andy Leigh said...

As long as you have Wiki - fantastic starting place. :)

Kassy with a K said...

My only suggestion is Google Maps. No, seriously. If you can find some street names you can Google Map them and ACTUALLY see pictures of them. You just have to zoom in far enough until you see real stuff. It's kinda cool. For example, if you google maps my house you can see that they took the picture at least a couple of years ago (based on the car out front) and that it's fall (based on the pumpkin on the porch). CRAZYYY.

Anywhos.. that's all I've got. :)

B. Miller said...

Great idea to use your FB friends for information on your setting. Like Kassy, I would suggest GoogleMaps as well, because with the real world applications it can give you a feel for how the houses in your book's town look.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I've been lucky. My two books have settings in Korea, Vietnam, Oregon, Seattle, Yakima, the Cascade Mountains, Washington DC, and Ft. Lewis, Washington. Been to all of them. Yes, it does help to have been there.

Best Wishes, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog said...

Great tips on researching locations!

Jim Bernheimer said...

I live in Virginia, just not Roanoke. Part of my paranormal thriller was set there. One big thing I discovered was the city has it's police force and the county has another (one of my characters was a sheriff's deputy).

Watery Tart said...

Kas and B. -You can get right in front of my house too, though the car in front of our house isn't one I recognize... pretty crazy... I will definitely do the REAL tour before I consider it done!

Galen-nice to have traveled so much! And i always thought I'd stick to what I know, too... until now, but I can't pass up this chance!

Thank you--Randy, right? The one I made fun of yesterday? Nice to see you here!

Jim--GOOD point! My first murder is at a country estate! I better make sure it's within the city limits or change my detective's affiliation (that was how it was in Idaho, too---I think a lot of states that have rural populations), but thank you for the reminder!