There was a discussion recently on kboards.com about whether writers “live” near where their books are set. Since I write mostly fantasy and science fiction, that would definitely be “no.” Yet a lot of writers do seem to write about places near where they call home. Stephen King is a perfect example of this, with so many of his books set in Maine. Others seem to go the opposite way, and I fall into this bunch. I like to write about places I’ve only visited, or even places that I’ve never been (but would love to see.)
An example of this is Heart of the Witch. I based the continent of Argessa on Australia; there is coastal rainforest, a mountain range, and then a large desert in the heart of the continent. The closest I have come to rainforests comes from travel to tropical parts of Mexico, Hawaii, and walking through swampland and forests in Florida. The only mountains I’ve been on include northern Arizona, California, Nevada, and also the Alps in Switzerland.
I can count the number of times I’ve been in the snow on my fingers, and yet I set much of Journey to Landaran in an alpine setting in the dead of winter, with snow everywhere. Yes, I had to confer with beta readers who were more used to wintry weather to check my facts. But I can tell that that coming from a hot desert, I know what it’s like to get cold, because I get cold easily!
For me, I’m fascinated by that which is new and different to me. I’ve always had a love of forests–my grandmother had a cabin at Silver Lake in northern California, and I absolutely loved the place even though there was no electricity. Or toilets. (We did have a sink, which drew water directly from the lake.) I was also an exchange student in Germany, and lived for a summer in a tiny village in the middle of the Black Forest. I think that’s why these kinds of settings are so much richer and more interesting to me. I can write about deserts, sure. I’ve lived in one my entire life. But I do love variety. And what better excuse to travel than for research? I’ve visited San Francisco enough times that I feel pretty confident writing about it. When I dreamt up a story about Mayan ruins, I researched them, and I was finally able to visit a Mayan ruin a few years back.
We are formed by that which is familiar to us, but also that which is foreign and strange. “Write what you know” might be a popular axiom, but I’d add “Don’t be afraid to wander abroad into the unknown.”
Oh, and today’s featured image? That’s a picture I took from a helicopter tour of Maui.