…Submitted by Karna Small Bodman
We Rogues have been writing about the use of foreign settings in our thrillers, so the question is: must we have traveled there…or is doing great research enough to “transport” the reader to just the right location? When the updated version of my international thriller, Final Finesse, was released this week, in both print and kindle versions, I thought back to the way I described all of the settings (along with the local personalities).
Much of the action in this story takes place in Venezuela where a top advisor to their President has put together a deadly plot against the United States….one that my heroine, who is on The White House staff, must race to unravel. However, I didn’t have a chance to get to Caracas, nor did I really want to travel to a place with tremendous crime and one riddled with corruption where inflation has hit one million percent (though that number is reported in news articles, I can’t for the life of me figure out how that “works”) Here is a once lovely country blessed with many natural resources, where now — under a brutal Socialist Dictator — the people have little food or medicine and are desperate to escape the appalling conditions. You have to admit that a country and government like that present a veritable petri dish of possible plot points. And there was one I really wanted to write.
What to do? First I contacted our former Ambassador to Venezuela, Otto Reich, who graciously agreed to meet and fill me in on details about the governing situation (dire) the settings (modern buildings vs. tin-roofed huts) and the people (warm and loving, but truly hurting). Next, I read tons of news reports and articles, collected photos and also spent time with a former CIA agent — a contact who gave me invaluable information, even showing me documents, but did not want to be named on the Acknowledgements page. Now that the book is out, if you decide to pick up a copy, I certainly hope you will feel you have “been there” along with my hero and heroine.
Of course many authors DO travel to exotic locations and weave those experiences into their books. One of my favorite writers is Nelson DeMille whose last novel, The Cuban Affair, was inspired by a trip he took to Cuba with a college group where they were “led” (“watched”) by government- provided guides. Yet he still was able to get away from time to time and collect a ton of impressions for this great story about a boat Captain from Key West, hired by Cuban ex-pats to go there, escape surveillance and recover a buried fortune.
On the subject of Cuba, I’m a member of three book clubs, and one of them selected Love and Ruin by Paula McLain — the story of Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn who was a great novelist in her own right. The author certainly did a great job researching this story and describing settings in Spain during the uprising against Franco where both “Marty” and Ernest began their love affair, as well as in Cuba where they spent many years together.
|Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn
Then I thought about another bestselling author who has carved out a special niche by writing 27 mysteries set in Venice, Italy. Donna Leon has mastered the art of describing that historic city by giving her readers a taste not just of famous tourist sites, but scenes in back alleys, private homes, even the inside of local police stations as she features Commissario Guide Brunetti who works tirelessly to solve local crimes. From her vivid writing, it is obvious that she has LIVED in Venice for many years. Her latest endeavor is The Temptation of Forgiveness.
Of course many of my Rogue colleagues have written great thrillers with intriguing, often dangerous settings — places they traveled (at their peril). For example, Chris Goff went to Ukraine along with hot spots in Asia and wrote about them in the terrific story, Red Sky. When I read it, I felt I truly was “transported” to places I knew I would not be able to visit – and yet “felt” I was right there as the action unfolded.
Now, what about you? What are some of your favorite books that take place in exotic locations? Or, are there places where have you traveled and said to yourself, “This would make a great setting for a great thriller?” Leave a comment below, or on our Facebook page (click the icon at the upper right). And thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.
…Karna Small Bodman