Friday, November 25, 2011

You're Never Too Old For A Field Trip

I'm getting up from my laptop this weekend and taking a field trip to Cape May, NJ.  It is the setting for the next three books I'm writing.  My husband and I visited there a few years ago on our anniversary and loved it.  Whenever I travel, something in my brain clicks. I think soaking up the different atmosphere just kicks my brain into overdrive. But all I come up with are possibilities. A general gee this is a great setting feel. Then I have to put my nose to the grindstone and figure out what the heck will happen there. It is a constant battle of rubbing the brain cells together while thinking what if?
The problem is that I shouldn't have to make this trip.  I wrote my first book, Carolina Heat, after a two day visit to Charleston.  The bulk of the book was written years after our visit.  And yet one of the things reviewers praised most was my sense of setting.  Why?  Because the feel of the city got under my skin.  The humidity as thick as a wet blanket, making it hard to breathe.  The slower pace of speaking, the amazing architecture, and the manners that only come from generations of practice all added up to something particular to that locale.  Evoking a setting in my next three books was just as easy.

But right now, I'm 20,000 words in and so far, this plot could take place near any beach.  As I mentioned, we loved Cape May, and I did get a germ of a story idea while there.  But aside from its colorful, gingerbread mansions and the beach, I can't put my finger on what makes Cape May stand out from every other Mid-Atlantic beach town.  And if I don't feel it, I can't transmit it to my readers.  To me, the setting is a supporting character - vitally important to a rich, vibrant book.

So I'm off on a field trip.  I'm going to visit the lighthouse, a WWII bunker, a winery, a pedestrian mall, a gorgeous hotel where John Philip Sousa used to perform, and a few restaurants.  Oh, and, if I plan it right, stroll Sunset Beach at sunset.  I will soak in the local flavor, come hell or high water.  I'm spending the night in one of those gingerbready-looking mansions, and I won't leave until I know I can transport you there in a few sentences.

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