Authors do write themselves into some stupid corners sometimes.
When I wrote my short paranormal story Cover Him with Darkness (which appeared in Red Velvet and Absinthe, edited by Mitzi Szereto), I needed a setting that was somewhere near Greece and/or the Mediterranean (for plot reasons), mountainous, and as cut off from modern life as possible. Mostly by dint of looking over an atlas, I settled on a corner of Montenegro, which is part of the former Yugoslavia.
It’s a tiny country – only about the size of Connecticut. It was involved in the horrific Balkan Wars of the 1990s, but was peripheral to the notorious atrocities. That’s as much as I could have told you off the top of my head. But what did my general ignorance matter, when it was only a short story I was writing?
Then Cleis Press asked me to turn the short story into the jumping-off point of a novel – or the first of several novels – and I went to myself, “EEEEEEK. What the heck do I know about Montenegro? I’ve never been there! If I’m setting most of a novel there, I’ll need to know a lot more about the country and the people!”
Now the internet is a wonderful thing – all praise to Wikipedia, I would struggle to write without it – but it’s not the same as seeing for yourself.
I panicked and rang my parents.
Me: “Hey Mum! Good news! I’m taking you guys on holiday!”
Mum: “Wow! Where to?”
Mum: “Where on earth’s that?”
Me: “Oh … that doesn’t matter. You’ll love it.”
Luckily for me, they did! We joined a group tour run by Exodus and we had a great and thoroughly eye-opening trip. Montenegro is stunningly beautiful, has terrain ranging from hot Mediterranean coast to Alpine mountains, boasts the tallest population in Europe (yes, even taller than the Dutch!), and has an Orthodox Christian heritage of tiny village churches, brightly-painted icons and mysterious medieval heresies that was perfect for my story about fallen angels and religious conspiracy.
You can see some of my trip photos here on my blog, if you like. And oh yes, it did help with writing the novel – nothing warms my heart as much as a review like this (from Amazon):
“This work is fictional yet authentic to the region. These remote villages are real and exist in these parts of Europe. I know these beautiful lands, tiny villages set in mountains where people live on their farm lands, people whose lives are completely different from the average town folk of the modern world. I never thought anyone would write about these places in my paranormal romance reads.”
Did that teach me to be more careful in where I set my books? It should have done. But then I decided that a big chunk of the second volume in the trilogy really ought to be set in Ethiopia…