Thursday, June 4, 2009

SETTINGS: SIMPLY SCENIC OR SPECIALLY SIGNIFICANT? (No.2 post - Contemporary) For No. 1 Post - Historical - see below at The Pirate And The Puritan

Ah, the days are long past when a writer could simply include a scenery description because it is pleasant or pretty. Now it must relate to the story, or the characters, or preferably to both. In 2009 the reader just doesn't have the time to read anything not relevant to the story.

Personally I'm an old-fashioned reader/writer and enjoy such descriptions - if they aren't boring. BUT to be published in the modern era every word we use must carry the book forward. So, what have I done in my contemporary Blueprint For Love?

No research, for one. Research which would be vitally necessary in a historical is not necessary, so that's a relief! Although the area described in Blueprint, Northern Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, is fictional, the only reason is to give myself a certain freedom with street names, beachside suburbs, and the importance of those localities to the plot. For instance, the Palm Garden which features so largely is not a real place - and I did have to research palm specimens! But it is vital and central to the story, as the pivot point over which the heroine and hero clash. And boy, do they clash! He wants to uproot the lot, she wants it left alone.

The point is, I am familiar with the Sunshine Coast area of Queensland and can write about it easily, without worrying that the background might be incorrect in any way. I'm in my sixties now and since I was a small child, after WWII, my family took their annual camping holiday in the area. I loved, still love, the beaches, loved the sea and surf, the rivers and hinterland. Though it's much more upmarket nowadays, and the coastline has taken a recent storm battering, it's still basically the same place I knew when I was growing up. I am quite confident writing about it because I know my facts are right. Certainly the telling of the story comes easier when one is familiar with the 'backdrop', so to speak. I can describe where the hero/heroine are at any one time because I've been in a similar place myself.

Write what you know, is the advice to authors. For the authors of contemporaries, it's certainly a plus to do just that. Oh, and Blueprint is rated as Sophisticated at Classic Romance Revival, which means consenting love scenes between h and h that fall naturally within the plot line and aren't erotica.

Guests - don't forget I have two blogs posted for the CRR carnival. Please comment also on the next one, "How I write my backgrounds - " re my historical The Pirate And The Puritan. Sorry to confuse the issue! Should have put it all together!
How do I write the background - for a country I've never visited, for a time over three hundred years before I was born? This book was set in the eastern United States in colonial times, 1704-5, and I'm an Australian. I also have far too much respect for historical and geographical accuracy to write a story without researching it properly. My own country has suffered in fiction novels which weren't correctly researched, and I didn't want to do the same thing to anyone else. The story is all important. Yet as a reader I've left more than one book unfinished because of glaring errors. For instance, the British writer who wrote about Australia's convict days, and it was a good book, without having ever heard of eucalyptus (gum) trees! And another mentioned "snow-melt" in the rivers, which since we have no high mountains, only occurs in the Snowy Mountain region.

I realise most mistakes are honest and (whisper) I made one or two of my own, but by and large I believe I managed to convey the setting correctly. The book is set in colonial Carolina, New England and Virginia. One reviewer told me "you made this native New Englander feel right at home". Thank goodness! South Carolina has a similar climate to my home state of Queensland, but Virginia and New England are quite different. They receive snow and storms in winter, for one thing. Here our storms blow up in summer and I've only seen snow once in my entire life. Also the rivers behave differently, the landscape and trees are quite different, even the soil.

So I consulted a lot of encyclopaedias, spent a lot of time in local libraries - this was in the days before I had a computer or access to the Internet - and made a LOT of notes. I also wrote to South Carolina and a dear man in the State Archives Dept. in Columbia sent me reams of photocopied information. I also read all the fiction I could find set in American colonial times. At least I started off with a basic knowledge - I have a retentive memory and have been reading all my life - and now found the particular details I needed to give the background validity. There's more than just the setting to consider, of course. A friend of mine here said, "the buildings, the food, the clothing - it must have taken you forever to research all of it!"

I believe the greatest compliment I have received is that people have told me they loved the STORY, and have barely noticed the background, though they find it interesting. Hooray, I did it (almost) right.

Ahem, now for the thing I did wrong. I'm SO tempted not to mention it, because the only person who's noticed is an English-born colleague in our local Writers Group. I mentioned lemons, twice, in a 350 page book. And of course in those days, lemons were practically unprocurable. Limes from the West Indies, possibly, but not lemons. I live in a warmish climate and they're a commonplace feature of life. Whereas my fellow writers group member told me they had to be imported to Great Britain from Spain right up until the 1950s. So, folks, it's practically impossible to get every research detail correct, and I understand those other authors who, like me, quite innocently make glaring mistakes.

Ah, yes, the story's the thing!

The Pirate And The Puritan, by the way, is available in e-book form at the publisher's site:
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