Guest blogger: Kelley Armstrong
When my agent sold my first novel, Bitten, she told the publishers that I wouldn’t tour for it, because I was six months pregnant and would have a baby on release. That child—our second—was quickly followed by a third. That meant, in my early days as a published author, I was lucky if I could find enough time in the day to write. Travel was out of the question for a few years!
Once I did begin travelling, I discovered an incredible source of inspiration. After my first RT con in St. Louis, I set a story there. A couple of years later, my husband and I went to Anchorage for BoucherCon, and I skipped most of the convention to drive around making notes, because as soon as I saw the Alaskan wilderness, I’d thought ‘I need to set one of my werewolf books here.’
Travel inspires stories, and sometimes the reverse. I may have set my Darkness Rising trilogy on Vancouver Island purely because I love the locale and it gave me an excuse to visit more often. This past summer, my husband and I spent a week in the Yukon for research. No conventions or signings on that trip, though I may have surprised the local bookstore by popping in to sign stock. Apparently, they don’t get a lot of authors ‘popping in’ up there. 🙂
A few years ago, I was invited to Melbourne for the Romance Writers of Australia conference. My publisher then sent me to Sydney for signings. I spent my off-hours wandering the cities, making notes and just getting a general feel for them—that’s what I always think is most important about writing a setting: conveying the ‘feel’ of a city, how it’s different from others.
While I have been known to set books in places I’ve never visited—hello, Miami!—it’s easy to tell whether I’ve been to a locale. The more I’ve been there, the more detail I provide, like Toronto, where I often walk through my scenes (I once retread a path so often that a homeless guy took pity and asked if I needed help.) If I have never visited, I gloss over the setting with tidbits easily picked up from online research (and, uh, maybe a few seasons of CSI: Miami).
When I went to Australia, I decided to write the back story for my young Australian werewolf, who was coincidentally introduced in my Alaska book (Frostbitten). Having visited a place isn’t enough, though. A story is about so much more than setting. When I finished that novella (Chivalrous), I asked an Australian reader to take a look, because no amount of research can substitute for the authenticity of having lived in a place. Over the years, I’ve learned to ask for this sort of help. Just this week, I got back notes on two different YA novels—one where I asked a friend to check my French for a book set in Quebec and one where I asked my UK editor to pay particular attention to a British teen character’s language choices.
Sometimes, ‘getting it right’ with a setting also means having to fight my publisher. Chivalrous was reprinted this past October in Otherworld Nights, and the American proofreader wanted me to change all the Australian words, so they didn’t ‘confuse’ American readers. This would have included changing ‘flats’ to ‘apartments’ and Australian Football to soccer (yes, I know it’s not even the same thing!) As a Canadian, I’m accustomed to this—among other things, I’ve been asked to change a reference to dollar coins to dollar bills. I refuse, of course. To ‘Americanise’ stories set outside the US is both an insult to people from other countries and to the intelligence of Americans. The point of writing those stories is to recognise and embrace our wide world, giving us a wider canvas on which to tell our tales.
So now I’m heading back to Australia, this time to Canberra. I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to meet local readers and writers. That’s the main point of any trip, and the most exciting one. But if you see me wandering about with a pen and notepad, it might mean that I’ve gotten a bonus from the trip: a new setting for a new story.
It’s been more than ten years since Kelley Armstrong began the Otherworld series and drew legions of fans to a realm roamed by witches, werewolves, necromancers, vampires, and half-demons. Many of the novels have become bestselling favorites, but not all of the Otherworld adventures have been easy to find. At last, Otherworld Nights shares short stories that have previously been available only online or in obscure collections. Fans have long been clamoring for this anthology and they won’t be disappointed—they’ll find plenty of surprises are in store.
Why not come and meet Kelley at ARRC2015 in Canberra this March? You can find all the details here.