Tuesday, February 5, 2013

In a Faraway Place

‘Write what you know’ – It’s the rule of thumb writers are supposed to live by.  And I do – to some extent.  In everything I’ve written, there is an element of truth that has been the launching point to let my imagination fly.  In BAGGAGE CLAIM, the main character was initially patterned after my sister.  And of course, I have the uncanny knack of losing my luggage when travelling.  In ‘YESTERDAY,’ many of Hannah’s quirks are my own, such as her irrational fear of having other people drive.  And of course, in my newest book, THE RANDOM ACTS OF CUPID, the story idea itself is based on one of my own embarrassing experiences from high school.  Don’t worry, I confess the whole thing in the Author’s Note at the end. J

But the fact of the matter is, I’m rather boring.  And I don’t necessarily ‘know’ as much as I’d like.  If I only stuck with the familiar, it would be a very short, very dull volume. 

Enter my imagination. 

With it I can write about places and things I have no experience with.  The challenging (and fun) part is to take the wild adventures of my imagination and make them real enough so readers can take the journey with me.

So I try for a nice blend by basing my imagination in reality.  The background of my writing technique probably stems, at least in part, from my love of well-written historical fiction.  I love when the fiction of a story is interwoven seamlessly with actual history, and I’ve learned so much through many ‘fiction’ books.  Remember the move, ‘Titanic?’  I can’t say I was crazy about some parts of the movie, but I really liked the way the fictional characters interacted with real-life events and people.  Bottom line:  sometimes reality is so much better than anything an imagination can dream up. J

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fantasy story, complete with an imagined world, but thus far, I have chosen to write realistic fiction. (Disclaimer:  this in no way means I will always stick to reality. J)  The writing method I have used for my current books is to choose one of my many story plot ideas and fill in the details with obsessive research and a hefty dose of make-believe.

One of the most fun elements to toy with is the setting of a book.  All of the books I’ve written are set in actual places.  Why?  Because I like to travel, and though I haven’t actually travelled a lot (yet), someday I’d like to go visit the places I’ve written about.  Sure, that may sound a little backwards, but it works.  So to give some examples of how I like to mix truth and fiction, I thought we would take the Amanda Tru setting tour.  For the next few blog posts, I will be explaining the truth and fiction behind the settings of my books. 

The first destination on my wannabe travel itinerary is the one from my most recent book, THE RANDOM ACTS OF CUPID. 

For this story, I had some very specific requirements for the setting.  First of all,I wanted a romantic city.  Seattle was automatically a front-runner if only because of the movie ‘Sleepless in Seattle.’  Fortunately, Seattle is also the home of the University of Washington, which has a large on-campus library, perfect for the main character, Elise.  Better yet, U of W also has a law program which offers a doctorate degree, which met the necessary requirements for Ryan.  

Then I began research how to weave the story’s events with the real Seattle.  I got maps of the Suzzallo Library (the main library at U of W) and positioned events so I could describe them as if they were actually occurring there.  For instance, the library does have a beautiful grand staircase, and just like in the book, the Anthropology books Elise has to reshelve are actually located on the 3rd floor, where you will also find the group study rooms. 

This is a picture of the actual Suzallo Library located on U of W’s Red Square.  This is where I envisioned the argument between Ryan and Elise.  Those were the front steps she ran down in the rain.
Some people may think I overdo the accuracy of the details, but I think it’s fun!  Here are a few other fun facts:
  • Elise and Ryan go see the show ‘Warhorse.’  In reality, Warhorse is actually at the Paramount Theater in Seattle at the exact day and time where Elise and Ryan attend (February 13, 2013).  The theater is beautiful, and I even found seating charts to figure out the approximate locations of where the characters were sitting
  • Kerry Park is the setting for a few scenes in the book.  Kerry Park is real, and though it is a small park, it does boast the big, iconic view of the Seattle skyline. (I should add a big thank you to the street view feature of Google Maps.) J
  • Of course, the Space Needle is real, along with the Observation Deck and restaurant.  And, yes, the timing of events is accurate.  The library closes at the time mentioned in the book, which would not allow Elise to get off in time to be at the Space Needle before it closed to the public.

Unlike many of the other settings I’ve written about, I have actually been to Seattle.  I have seen the Space Needle, though I never went up in it.  I’ve also never been to Kerry Park, the Paramount Theater, or the University of Washington.  I did, however, walk right past the Space Needle to a little shopping mall where they were holding dancing lessons.  It was very informal, and anyone could participate.  It has been over ten years since I went there, but I tried to remember and describe it for the book best I could.

Many of the details I find in my research never make it to the pages of my books.  But they help the characters and places come alive, if only in my own mind.  Except for this series of blog posts, no one but me will ever know the full reality behind my fiction. 

I like to imagine real places surrounding my characters.  But one day, when I finally make my world tour, I’ll be able to stand with these real places surrounding me, and imagine watching those same characters.

And, when I finally get to see the sights of Seattle, I’ll imagine dancing.

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