Write where you want to be

Log cabin with mountains in distance
Close enough to my dream. ┬ęCharles Knowles, The Knowles Gallery, via flickr.com

For a couple of years when I was growing up, most of my family’s “new” possessions started out in the house next door. Our neighbors were wealthier than we were – especially when Dad was out of work and mom was a student teacher – and they regularly gave us the things they outgrew or grew bored of.

I don’t remember there being any stigma attached – all us kids were good friends and it didn’t seem to matter to any of us whether the toys were kept at their house or ours. The only time I remember being uncomfortable was when I tried to fit into the girl next door’s hand-me-downs.

Ever seen a squat, busty 12 year old try to squeeze herself into a dress that had fit a lithe surfer girl? That was me at sixth-grade graduation.

But I digress.

My mom also received hand-me-downs from the mom next door, but hers came in the form of furniture and magazines. Our neighbor had excellent taste, and she redecorated fairly regularly so we always had beautiful things, just a couple of years the wrong side of brand new.

I loved it most when mom got magazines because they were always about home decor. Mom encouraged me to cut out pictures I liked and put them in a scrapbook alongside descriptions of what my house would one day look like.

I have no idea where those books are now, but I vividly remember writing about the items I chose and imagining spending my adulthood in a home I’d created myself.

Before long, I began picturing myself as a writer in that home, and it’s an image that’s stuck with me all these years.

I’m sure most writers think about what their ideal writing space would be. Some are lucky enough to have their own room, or a basement to convert, or a little annex in the back yard where they can create the best atmosphere for their imagination to thrive.

Continue reading “Write where you want to be”

Three countries I’d like to set a book in

Bird statues next to Charles Bridge in Prague

Our mutual love for travel and books were the two things that brought me and my husband together. We both had literature degrees (I’m an American with a degree in British lit; he’s a Brit with a degree in American lit) and our love of language and adventure led us both to teach English in Prague, where we met.

So it’s no wonder that one of my favorite things to do when starting to write a new novel is deciding on where to set it.

Sometimes the setting is immediately part of the story. The plot of the manuscript I’m revising, All Things Easy, sprang into my head one night as I was thinking about uncomfortable things I witnessed as a child in the small town my uncle lived in in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in California.

But more often I come up with a plot that could happen almost anywhere and I have to figure out the best place for the action to happen. This usually involves a trip to the library and a dozen Lonely Planets – or, as I think of them, travel porn.

Here are three countries I’d love to set a book in:


This is a bit of a cheat, because I actually am writing a novel set partly in Bosnia. My husband and I are going there later this spring so I can gather some research. The war was one of the first I remember seeing on TV. It happened just as I was becoming more aware of world affairs, and I remember being distraught by some of the images I saw and stories I heard. This new manuscript I’m writing required a place that’s still recovering from war, particularly a war where civilian women were directly targeted.

It won’t be the cheeriest of books.

South Africa

I’ve wanted to go to South Africa for a long time. One of the novels I plan to write needs to be set in a country with close historical ties to Britain, that’s susceptible to natural disasters, that is rugby mad, and has areas of outstanding beauty. Australia’s too far away. Time to save up some money…


Himeji castle
Himeji castle

My husband and I visited Japan in November, and one of my favorite experiences was taking a tour around a castle and learning about life in feudal Japan. I took roughly 500 photos and had ideas for two novels. I’d love to do more research into feudal Japan, but these are books I’ll probably never write unless I spend a few years living in Japan. I’m not familiar enough with the culture and I’m wary of creating protagonists whose culture I don’t understand well. There are so many cultural nuances that influence behavior, and I’d hate to get it wrong.

Instead, I’ll give you this photo of part of the castle. This is actually one of the storehouses, since the main castle building is under renovation.

What three countries would you like to set a story in? Have you written novels set in a country you don’t live in? Were you able to visit them for research?