When I first started writing people always asked why I didn’t write about Cayman. The truth? I write about where the stories and characters take me.
I was pleasantly surprised when one of my stories (yes, it did decide) happened in Grand Cayman. Before I knew it, I had a four book series on my hands. Exciting right? Well, yes and no.
I’d never written a series before and not all the stories had the same characters. What now? While attending the 2013 RWA Conference I was pleasantly surprised to learn a series could be about a place and didn’t need reoccurring characters. Perfect! Problem solved.
The term ‘write what you know’ took on new meaning. Writing a series set in Cayman was going to be a piece of cake. I grew up there, knew the island, people, and places. No research necessary, right? Wrong! It’s surprising how different things really are from how we remember them. Here was my interesting experience.
YOUR MEMORIES WILL BE TAINTED
No matter how well you think you know a place, chances are it’s not exactly how you remember it. In book one of the series a murder takes place at a hotel. I though I had a clear vision in my mind how the hotel looked. My mother worked there and I went there several times as a child and even went to a party of two. While researching it for visual authenticity (it was torn down years ago) it was nothing like I remembered as a child. The great thing about fiction? You can change stuff. I liked the version in my head better so I kept that one and changed the name of the hotel.
TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES
You won’t think you need to, you pass it every day or on a regular basis, but you’d be surprised how different things are when you take a good look around or start trying to write a vivid description of what you see, smell, and here. Photos won’t give you everything, but they sure help. I found combining the images from the photos and the emotions the places evoked was a successful mixture.
CAYMAN IS AWESOME
Even on an island as small as Cayman (26 miles long 8 miles wide) we have fantastic features I’d never seen or hadn’t been to in years. Experiencing what the island has to offer in scenery, culture, and people made my scenes come alive in a way they wouldn’t have if I hadn’t enjoyed them first hand. Attending cultural events and documenting the details: sights, sounds, people, tastes, and smells is a great way to capture the essence of a place or event that can be added to your writing in general or the story.
I’ve merely scratched the surface of Cayman and it’s people with book two and I’m excited to learn more about the beautiful island and I grew up on along with the people and places.
What about you? Do you prefer to write where you live or explore the world and the unknown for your story settings?
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I’m so glad you’re going to write a series set in the Cayman Islands. It’s going to be wonderful! I’m also developing a series based on a place and I find this concept so rewarding because I can change out characters when needed and still feel “at home” in series because it’s grounded in a particular place. How wonderful that you’ll be falling in love with your hometown all over again. My very best wishes to you!
Thanks for hopping along the Hump Day Blog Hop, Elke!
Me too, Julie! I hope I do it justice.
Cool! All the best with your series, it sounds delightful!
My pleasure, Julie. I always have fun. 🙂
I love the idea of a place-based series! Location tends not to be a major feature in my own work, possibly because I haven’t lived anywhere terribly exciting, but weather definitely is. I live in California now, but I’ll never forget those New England winters!
Hi Lori! Living in a warm climate is always nice. You’d be surprised what will turn up when you start snooping around places you think aren’t terribly exciting. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by.
You brought up some interesting points, Elke! I have always written about my home town, Las Vegas. Only recently did I step out of my comfort zone to include another location for part of a novel, but it’s definitely easiest to write about the place you live! Even so, there is still much for me to discover about Vegas, because I don’t do the tourist scene. Visitors who frequent Vegas know way more about the hotels, casinos, and attractions than I do! I’m a home body. 🙂
Yay you for going out of your comfort zone!
I agree! It’s easier to research since you just have to get in your car. 🙂 Playing tourist definitely lets you see where you live from a different angle. I learned a lot that way.
Thanks for stopping by.
I knew from the title I would enjoy this post: my own writing, so far, is in a fictional village but hopefully with an authentic sense of Englishness. But yes, things I remember may not be quite like that, and the world has certainly moved on since I left Britain 9 years ago.
Revisiting certain places with fresh eyes has been really helpful to me, especially one memorable research day with my Dad. We visited my ‘inspiration’ village and he pointed out lots of architectural details which speak to the lifestyle of the period. I tried to pay close attention to typical sounds and smells, too – they are harder to get from photos and Google maps!
Fictional settings are easier, however I love what you said about paying close attention to typical sounds and smells and that you can’t get those from photos or Google maps. That’s why I love visiting places I’m write about. Not always easy, but adds another level to the setting descriptions.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Elke. My novel, Someday Always Comes, opens in 1980s Chicago, IL, and more than 95% of the story happens there. I wanted people to be able to imagine Chicago in all its grit of that time period. I was surprised to find I did the city justice and that my readers were able to experience Chicago through my writing and it affected them enough to comment on it in reviews or emails to me. I think your Caymen series will be fantastic. The only advice I could give any writer who’s story is placed where they grew up, lived in at some point, or even visited, is…do not hold back or sugar coat the good or the bad of any place setting. Tell it as honestly has you see it. Readers know more than we think, and they’ll appreciate the truth.
My pleasure, Wanda!
I love Chicago! Visited once, but remembered it clearly. My first story was set in Chicago, however I focused more on the architecture of old buildings (my heroine’s profession) and jazz clubs. How great that your readers experienced what you wrote!
You hit the nail on the head, Wanda. I struggled with this in the first book. I love where I live and wanted a balance, and because I live in a small community. 🙂
I have my first book signing on Saturday and I’m eager to hear the feedback.
Elke, looks like place is going to be one of your characters. I loved what you said about taking lots of photos. 🙂
Thanks, Carol! I’m reading books about setting. I really want people to feel a connection to Cayman: the culture, places, and people. The emotional side is easy to write, but I don’t want to fall short on the other stuff.
Congratulations on your latest book and I enjoyed your book signing talk last night.
I look forward to reading the book.
Thanks so much! Hope you enjoy the book.
BTW love the page for your new book. I’d love to have the skills to setup something like that. My hats off to you!