Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Location with Sherry Isaac

Location Inspiration

I honeymooned in Phuket, Thailand. Before I went, while I was there, after I go home, the same question rang in my ears: Are you going to set a story there? Even my husband, a non-reader, unless you count TV Guide and Motocross Weekly, wanted to know. Why?

Location. Matters.

Waterfront, property, rocky ravines, subdivisions that back onto conservation areas. Near schools, public transport or the foot of the Rocky Mountains. In real estate and in fiction, location matters.

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series begins on the craggy moors of Scotland. Like hero Jamie Fraser, Scotland is rugged, sexy, and just different enough for a modern-day North American audience to be exotic.

Location gives flavour, an edge, to a story. Not every PI novel opening chapter is set in a smoky lounge. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone jogs every morning on the beaches of Santa Teresa, a California city at the ocean’s edge.

Santa Teresa is fictional. Grafton could have set a pin anywhere on a map. She didn’t. Kinsey’s idea of a balanced diet is a fast food burger and fries, she cuts her hair with nail scissors, and owns one dress. Not your typical California girl.

And that works.

It works because it makes Kinsey interesting, multi-dimensional and flawed, oh, so flawed. Location is important because it is where Kinsey lives, and this, perhaps more than a point on the map, is what is important. It is where she’s gathered odd, lovable characters who become her surrogate family as the series unfolds. It is a family loner Kinsey will do anything to protect.

With location, anything is possible. Hard to imagine the isolation of Ward’s Island for Lynda Simmons’ Island Girl was an accident. Early onset Alzheimer’s has put Ruby Donaldson in a fast decline. Ruby’s mind drifts like an abandoned oar on the water, her memories as elusive as the waves that pound the shore.

On a weekend spent in the majestic Banff Springs Hotel, a story idea came to mind. More caper than thriller, it is in the idea file awaiting development, yet roaming the halls of the historic hotel, it was easy to see how Stephen King’s imagination was piqued by the silent corridors of The Stanley Hotel. In a similar fashion, among the crumbling stones of a century-old cemetery, the idea behind the title short story in my collection, Storyteller, took root.

Will I set a story in Thailand? After another trip, much exploration and a ton of research, why not? Possibilities are endless as the locations: a fishing perch in Indonesia, Robben Island, Dealey Plaza, 19th Century South Carolina or the northern shores of Lake Huron.

Always, always, I’ll scout locations that, like Jamie & Claire’s Scotland, are familiar enough to be comfortable, beautiful enough to be romantic, foreign enough to be exotic.

Where is your favourite book set? Leave a comment and let us know!

Winner of The Alice Munro Short Story Award, Sherry Isaac’s tales of life, love and forgiveness that transcend all things, including the grave, appear online and in print. Her first collection of shorts, Storyteller, debuts July 2011. For more information, or to order an autographed copy, click HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Don't shoot me because this isn't officially a mystery, but my favourite books are set in Ankh-Morpork, on Discworld. Terry Pratchett has painted so vivid a picture of the City's streets (and gutters) that I can feel the cobbles beneath my feet - just like Commander Vimes of the City Watch.

    Notwithstanding the official designations, I consider the Guards books to be Fantasy Police Procedural.