Know Your Place

I stand in line at Starbucks with my husband. He orders his routine grande decaf with room for cream and I order my usual iced soy latte. I see the same faces behind the counter, the same people hunched over their lap tops, the same tempting pastries in the glass case, the same drinks on the overhead menu, and wonder—when do we leave what we know?

This is what I love about writing. We can leave our routine in an instant. We can leave the city and the state we live in. We can explore new continents, new worlds, meet new people and have new adventures while sipping on a latte at Starbucks.

When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t want my story to take place in south Florida where I have lived for many years. It would have been easier, because I know the beaches, I know the sand, I know the traffic, I know the restaurants and I know many of the colorful people who live there. This time I wanted to leave what I know behind and venture out of my comfort zone, so I chose Patra, Greece for the setting of my story.

I gathered as much information as I could about this strange and wonderful city. I researched the weather, the people, the landmarks, the terrain, the flora, the fauna, the local taverns, the culture and the customs. I studied travel brochures and gazed at photographs of Patra deep into the night. It was exhilarating to learn about a place I had never been to before.

Several people who had read my novel were surprised when I told them I had never been to Greece.   They were certain I had been there. This affirmed that I had done my job. “How did you do it?” they asked. My answer was simple. If you know your place, you can go anywhere in the world with your writing.

I wrote about Greece without ever leaving home, but then again, Shakespeare wrote about Julius Caesar without ever going to Rome. Born and raised in England, Shakespeare researched and read about the settings, the fields and the time periods he wrote about. Shakespeare taught us a lot about place. He didn’t burden his readers with rambling descriptions of any one place. He gave the reader just enough description to create the feeling for the place he was writing about and then he moved on. Shakespeare was a writer who focused on his characters and the interaction between them to tell his stories. He didn’t depend on fancy places, high speed car chases, gruesome scenes or bloody explosions to carry his work. Shakespeare knew the places he wrote about and allowed his characters to romp freely in them.

So, whether your story happens in the halls of the Roman Senate in 44 B.C. or in a coffee shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2015, do your research. Know your place well enough to convince your readers that they are there and then get on with your story.

For book and review see