I live in the desert. Well, not actually right in the desert. I live in a Phoenix neighborhood with street lights and sidewalks and a bus stop. I often go hiking on this trail just a few miles from my house in a city park. (Looks a million miles away from a city, doesn't it? But it's not.) I understand and respect the desert because I've lived in it now for some 25 years. As a writer, I feel comfortable setting a scene, or an entire story, in the desert because I know first hand that saguaro cactus flowers are white and snakes like to slither and hide beneath sagebrush in the cool of the evening and it's essential to drink a lot of water if you intend to hike in the warmer months. I can write about the desert, set an entire novel in the desert if I choose, and not feel as if I need to google information every ten minutes in order to be accurate.
Anyway, as a little girl, I read and re read the Little House books by Laura Inglass Wilder. She took me on an adventure far from my Midwestern suburban home, with its identical streets with duplicate houses, and put me on a wagon on the prairie with ma and pa and her sisters. Not that I would actually have wanted to live where you had to wash your clothes in a tub and cook every meal over an open fire, but it sure was fun pretending I was right there with Laura as she did. I want to take people into new worlds, too, but I find I need to have actually been to certain places to feel as if I can write about them.
I grew up in Chicago, but never spent any time in these fancy high rise apartments by the Chicago river. No I was more interested in dating guys with long hair and no jobs. Dumb! So, because I liked men who rode Harleys instead of men with briefcases, I have to really use my imagination on what the inside of one of these Chicago apartments might feel and look like. Does the apartment have marble floors, a hot tub and expensive art work? What does Chicago look like from the 50th floor? I bet amazing! Speaking of the number 50, the author who wrote Fifty Shades of Gray had her main character Christan living in some fancy digs. I imagine she had never actually been in a "red room of pain" which plays a big role in the novel. Surely she had to make that up, or maybe not, and if she didn't that's more information than I need to know about the author of a book. Okay that's enough about sex and back to setting.
If I set my story in this little red cabin, I would want my readers to know what it is like to be inside this cabin during a long Rocky Mountain winter. It's actually quite cozy. Well, I wasn't there for an entire winter, but I was there for a week or too, and I can let my imagination do the rest. Right now it's 113 here in Phoenix ,and I think I should start writing about this little cabin right now and how it felt to see snowflakes the size of half dollars falling and covering the world in white. That should cool me down.
I find I'm unable to write about places where I haven't actually been or lived. Not all writers are like that as there are some who can write about just about anything with authority and realism. I'm not that savvy which gives me a perfect reason to want to travel all over the world so that I can write about places with accuracy. If nothing else....a darn good excuse to travel. Basically most writers, even if they travel to exotic locations to set their stories, end up being in the very same place as I am each day. At home, in front of their computer, all by their lonesome, writing, pretending they are somewhere else.