Thursday, March 31, 2016

Using Personal Experience in Plot Locations

Fiction is bound to be somewhat biographical. Any of the author's experiences and beliefs are subject to ending up in the story. One area particularly likely to figure in the mix is location. Places familiar to the author will probably find their way into his or her stories. It's certainly true for me.

My Greg McKenzie and Sid Chance mysteries are mostly set around the Nashville area, which is where I have lived for most of my 90 years. But the first book, Secret of the Scroll, is set about half in Nashville and half in Jordan and Israel. Describing the Middle East part was no problem as I had made a similar trek through the area on a Holy Land tour. To back up my recollections, I had three hours of videotape I had shot along the way.

  The second McKenzie mystery, Designed to Kill, takes place in large part around Pensacola, Florida. I had no trouble with descriptions there since my wife and I had spent two weeks in spring and fall for the past few years at my brother's condo (photo at right) on the stretch of sand called Perdido Key, just southwest of Pensacola. I gave Greg and Jill McKenzie a similar condo for their vacation getaway.

When it came to writing the Post Cold War Political Thriller Trilogy, my travels about the world really came into play. The first book, Beware the Jabberwock, opened in Vienna, Austria, a city I had visited on one of my European jaunts. One important locale in the story is Washington, D.C. I made annual trips there during my years as an association executive, visiting House and Senate office buildings, plus other areas in the District. Another key spot is the Great Smoky Mountains, where the major character lived when he was recruited into a clandestine role. I have driven and roamed about most parts of the Smokies. Important to the story is a small island I invented off the Gulf Coast near Apalachicola, Florida, another area I have visited.

Other foreign sites in the story where I have spent time are Tel Aviv, Israel, Hong Kong, Acapulco, Mexico and Toronto. U.S. cities include New Orleans, San Francisco and Atlanta, places I have visited multiple times. Others I have only passed through include Baltimore, the I-75 corridor through Detroit and Niagara Falls. One place I only used research to depict is the island of Cyprus.

In book two, The Poksu Conspiracy, a major portion of the story takes place in South Korea. I was stationed in Seoul during the Korean War and visited modern Seoul during a Far East tour in 1987 with my late wife, Alma, our son Mark and his Korean wife I Pun. But when personal experience doesn't stretch far enough, I have to depend on research.To cover cities such as Berlin, Budapest and Pyongyang, North Korea, I turned to tourist guidebooks and memoirs by people who've lived there.

The last book of the trilogy is Overture to Disaster. I had followed Russia and its satellites closely during the Cold War, so I had no problem finding sources for what I needed about Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. I had visited several parts of Mexico, including Mexico City, which provided a lot of help with the Mexican angle. I depended on research for the Peru part but had visited Zurich, one of the other cities involved in the story.

After 90 years of roaming around the U.S., plus many other areas of the world, I've found personal experience a handy entree to the task of locating physical action. There are still lots of places I'd like to visit, but, unfortunately, my wife, Sarah, isn't up to the journey, and we've always worked as a team.

Friday, March 25, 2016

New Look at an Old Blog...or Is It?

Since I haven't been accomplishing much in the way of writing a new book, I decided to revive this old blog. I say "old"  because its debut came with the dawning of 2009. My first effort appeared here on January 1 of that year. Reading it now, the context could fit the current scene. So let's take a ride down Memory Lane:

It has been a quiet New Year's Day around here. Everybody but me slept till noon. I've been banging around on the computer most of the day, cleaning up this and that. Finally got around to setting up my new blog. Welcome aboard.

So why should you read mine in addition to the 99 million others out there? Will I have anything worthwhile to expound upon? There's the mystery. You'll need to check in now and then to find out.

In a world where the economy is sliding down a greased pole, where people like me have a granddaughter-in-law in Iraq and a grandson in Afghanistan, hopefully not getting shot at today, where legislators seem more adept at arguing than accomplishing, where food on the table is a luxury in many places, is this a a great time to be alive or not? You bet it is.

This is my eighty-third winter, and I've seen a lot of crazy goings-on in this topsy-turvy world. I've managed to survive it all by being an incurable optimist. Things are going to get better. You can count on it. And I plan to take part in the good times ahead. That's why I like mystery writing. The good guys may take a beating along the way, but they're gonna win in the end.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.