Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Travelling Tuesday : : What's Writing Got to Do With It?

. . .in which Anne McAllister extols one of the joys of writing -- that it lets you travel all over the world and sometimes even tax-deduct it.

I've always loved to travel.

Not the sort of traveling we did when I was a kid, which entailed getting up far before the crack of dawn and driving madly across the desert (everywhere you go from Los Angeles is desert at some point before you get there) before it got so hot we couldn't stand it (no air-conditioned cars in those days), and my auto mechanic dad saying, "Hush," if we talked over the click-clack-rattle from the engine that he was trying to listen to so he could prevent disaster before it occurred.

No, not that sort of travel. Though in hindsight I do appreciate even that more than I did as a child.

But the other sort -- the laying out books and maps and travel brochures, the reading about exotic destinations and then actually going there, meeting new people, seeing different places, discovering how folks in other parts of the world really live.

And writing books about it.

Especially that.

Writing is such a great job for the congenitally nosy. You can go so many places and, instead of simply politely observing, you get to ask all kinds of questions. You have license to find out how the natives of any given place think, feel, see the world.

Stories have arcs, but they are told with details. And the details one gets from traveling -- from seeing and experiencing and living in places first hand -- cannot be beat.

That was why I went to Ireland last year. My Irish earl needed a castle. And while there were lots to pick from on the internet, I needed to have details to call my own. I needed to experience what my heroine would experience when she stepped inside. The details I used weren't the grandiose ones -- the "castley" ones.

They were the croquet mallets and wellies in piles inside the front door. They were the fishing creel and line of poles down the hallway to the kitchen. They were the amazing mirrors that caught and flashed the crystal infinite times over as they did with the Brio train tracks the children were weaving through the furniture legs on the parlor floor.

I've had a lot of mileage out of two trips to Harbour Island in the Bahamas. It's a fabulous place to go and forget that there's a world outside. There are pink sand beaches and key lime pies to die for. And once there was a sculpture (maybe there still is) made up of the flotsam and jetsam that came in with the tide. I got a whole premise for a book out of seeing that sculpture.

If I'd never gone there, I wouldn't have had a clue.

Right now I'm planning a trip to the south of France. I have a book set at least partly in Cannes. I need to find out about what it's like when the film festival is going on there -- and what it's like the rest of the year. I need out of the way places, a tiny restaurant, perhaps an inn off the beaten-track, the sights, the sounds, the smells.

The truth is, I won't know what I need until I see it, taste it, feel it when I'm there. That's the real joy of traveling and putting it in books -- the unexpected serendipity of discovering something my characters needed all the time.

From the places I go and the people I meet, I discover the hangers on which to suspend my story. When I know where my characters live, I have a world to put them in. They are no longer floating around in space. They have lives, relationships, worlds of their own -- detailed worlds that, I hope, feel as real and substantial to my readers as they do to my characters and to me.

Right now I'm getting prepared for my next book. I'm looking at maps, reading magazine articles, asking everyone I know if they've been to Cannes or Nice or anywhere along the French Riviera. If you've been there, speak up.

Suggestions are always welcome. Any not-to-be-missed places on the French Riviera that you would be willing to share?

Ah, but it's not all travel and fun and games in the writing world. Anne McAllister is currently dipping back into her Southern California beach years for the setting of her present book -- and discussing getting one's teeth knocked out on her blog.
The moral is: there is nothing that is not fair game for the Muse -- and that includes getting indigestion in Vienna, sailing in a leaky boat off the coast of Maine, taking Portuguese because the anthro class she needed was full, closing a bar with a bull rider, and the embarrassment getting a crush on an entirely unsuitable man even as he tried very hard not to notice.

Her next release is a reprint of her New York! New York! book,
Nathan's Child, coming out in UK in October in a three-fer called His Child, with books by Sharon Kendrick and Catherine Spencer. Antonides' Forbidden Wife (a spin-off of The Antonides Marriage Deal and The Santorini Bride) will come out from HM&B in November and Harlequin Presents in January '09. She would show you covers, but so far she hasn't seen any either.


  1. One day I'm going to claim my trip to Hayman Island as research... that and the trip to the UK hiking the Lakes District, that'd be lovely, I wonder if the tax man would believe me that it's a tax write off?

  2. Anne, I hope your research brings you to Australia again. Surely you can manage that. When you visit the south of France I hope you share the gems with us. Personally I'm hoping to do a little research travel myself soon, including to Dubai. Now, won't that be interesting?

    Looking forward to your next book!


  3. Anne! What a gorgeous post. One thing I wish we could do more of is travel. Next year I am heading to DC for nationals and then Orlando and Tampa. Taking four to Europe is so expensive, and I can't possibly go again alone...I'd feel wayyyy too guilty.

    BUT there is a book I've wanted to write for YEARS and before I do, I'm heading for France. Both the dh and I want to go so I imagine we'll make it a family trip.

  4. Thanks for a lovely post, Anne. Travel is wonderful for those able to do it, but your post also highlights the very joy of books - being transported to a whole new world and a lot of wonderful new places that we might never be able to visit for ourselves in real life.

    Pouring over maps, reading everything you can find and gazing at as many photos as possible, are the joys for the writer in researching somewhere new. And also very time-consuming as you get side-tracked by so many exciting new discoveries and fascinating things that you detour wildly from the core research you are meant to be doing!

    Enjoy your travels ... both the ones you make in person and the ones made in the imagination.

    Mags xx

  5. Natalie, oh, I would think your hiking in the Lakes District would be absolutely tax-deductable if you write a book based on it. So do that!

    Annie, I have my fingers cross that there is an Oz trip in my future. I would love to come back. There are lots of places to go and people to see there. I even have a hero-in-waiting who went walkabout in Australia a couple of books ago. Maybe he could have a girl he left behind when he came home????

    Donna, I understand about the guilt. We took four to Europe eighteen years ago and it was expensive enough then. I don't even want to think about how much it would cost now. Enjoy your trip to Nationals and Tampa and Orlando, though. Those aren't bad alternatives for the time being.

    Mags, books and maps and, especially the internet (God bless Google Earth) are fantastic for research and for feeling as if one has 'been there' now in ways that weren't possible even a decade years ago. I relish the travel now because I can -- remembering that there were days when I couldn't and doubtless will be again.