By Shelley Adina, Amazon Bestselling Author, RITA Award® Winner - 2005
When I graduated from high school, lo these many years ago, unlike many of my peers, I didn’t go to university (I did that years later, finishing up with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction). I graduated on Thursday and on the following Tuesday started work for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a secretary. I had one goal in mind: to save up enough money to move out on my own, and then to go to Europe.
I turned 21 in Paris.
When I began my writing career a couple of decades later, I soon realized that along with characterization, a compelling plot, and a meaningful theme, a book needed to have a rich setting that the reader could sink into and experience along with the characters. It was then that my months of traveling with a backpack and then a rolling carry on really paid off. Granted, there are writers who can build entire worlds—and by this, I mean planets—without having been there, but I wasn’t that kind of writer. I was the kind who needed her feet on the ground in a certain location in order to do it justice. Google Earth is a good place to start, and people’s vacation photos on the Internet help, too, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing a place for yourself, is there?
As Shelley Adina, I write a long-running steampunk series with locations that range from Victorian London to the far north to the Wild West. When I went to London, I walked the streets my characters walked. I went to Bedlam (now the Imperial War Museum) and plotted out how one might break a mad scientist out of there. I found my heroine’s family townhouse in Belgravia. And I took lots of photographs that I could use on book covers and on my website to help place my readers in the environment, too.
As Adina Senft, I write women’s fiction set in Amish communities. Not only do I walk the roads and see what’s growing in Amish gardens at a given time of year, I learned to drive a buggy, ate dinner in an Amish home, and did the dishes afterward while learning dish-washing songs from the children in the family. It’s hard to get that kind of experience on Google Earth!
There’s nothing quite like writing a real place into your stories to make the telling richer, and nothing quite like writing in a place that makes the writing richer! This is why I’m thrilled to be traveling next to the south of France in the spring of 2017, to a writing retreat in a chateau, of all places!
Imagine setting a historical romance in such a location—or even mooring an airship in the park and having my characters discover skullduggery going on among the titled and wealthy. I can breathe the scent of roses and lilies, marvel at the quality and clarity of the light that brings so many artists to this area, and listen to and observe the flowers, birds, and animals that my characters might see. I can brush up on my French and meet new people that just might be the genesis of new characters—and hear stories of the past that might become myth or legend in my own books’ history.
Saint Augustine is reputed to have said:
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Our readers may not be able to travel, but through our books they can read many pages and live many lives … and isn’t that the coolest part of writing after all?
About Shelley Adina:
Shelley Adina is the author of 24 novels published by Harlequin, Warner, and Hachette, and a dozen more published by Moonshell Books, Inc., her own independent press. She writes steampunk and contemporary romance as Shelley Adina, and as Adina Senft, writes Amish women’s fiction. She holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, where she teaches as adjunct faculty. She won RWA’s RITA Award® in 2005, was a finalist in 2006, and was a Christy Award finalist in 2009. When she’s not writing, Shelley is usually quilting, sewing historical costumes, or hanging out in the garden with her flock of rescued chickens.