There’s that old adage: write what you know. Of course, the truth of it is, write what interests you, because nowadays, more than ever, you can know or learn just about anything. Easy access to internet and the power of Google make it quick enough to pull up a map, translate a word, or get an up close and live picture of a faraway city.
Some writers don’t like to break their flow by doing a bit of research mid-paragraph, but that’s never bothered me. I can do a quick Google search for a model of a gun or car or a popular song in the Seventies without a hitch. My first book and (now) sequel I’m writing for Putnam are both set in the same area - a portion of West Texas that I am certainly familiar with, but haven't spent a whole lot of time in. Yet, it's a place that originally captured my imagination, and proved perfectly suited for the idea that became the novel I called BAD LAND, but that will be published next year as THE FAR EMPTY. I think both titles reveal just how evocative the region was, and remains for me, and how it clearly influenced the books as a whole. As I was writing THE FAR EMPTY, I did a lot of “desk” research on the flora and fauna and the general geography, but didn't have many opportunities to get there first hand. Still, I'd like to think I did a fine job of giving the reader a “feel” for the place.
However, since I've been writing the sequel, I've come to a greater understanding of just how much the setting itself is a significant character. So after completing the first draft, I took a few days recently to go down there to do nothing but…look. I went to the stores, drove all the back roads, took pictures and notes, and tried to match up my fictionalized “map” with the reality. It was a great, great experience, and I was fortunate to have the ability to do it.
Not everyone can have a true “research trip” for each book, and there's no reason for the any story to be lesser because of it. But this was definitely a milestone in my growth as a professional author, and I look forward to getting the chance to do it again on other novels.
Although my daughters have asked that my next book be set on a beach...
As always, keep writing. JTS