Writing About Exotic Locations

by | May 28, 2017 | Karna Small Bodman, The Writer's Life | 7 comments

…by Karna Small Bodman

If you could go anywhere, do anything – and write about it — where and what would it be? That’s the question some of my Rogue colleagues have been answering over the past few weeks.  Now it’s my turn.  Thinking about a few of my travels over the years,  there were some truly exotic locations where I’d love to return. As for writing novels about these places, let me tell you some stories about them, their histories, along with experiences I’ve had — then you decide if they would make good settings for thrillers. 

My all time favorite is Lake Como in northern Italy. And what a history: In 49 B.C. Julius Caesar sent 5,000 Roman citizens along with 500 Greek slaves to colonize Como.  In 1568 the Cardinal of Como built a villa there, and in 1615 the Sultan of Morocco arrived to check it out. In 1815 the Princess of Wales and future queen of England brought her entourage there and changed the name to Villa d’Este.  In 1945 Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were captured in a nearby town and shot.  Can you just imagine a thriller plot revolving around that bit of history?
Villa d’Este on Lake Como
This incredible hotel has inspired poets, writers and artists from the time of Virgil, and more recently became known as a favorite haunt of Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra and Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve often wondered if the famous producer got inspiration for his films by gazing at the spectacular blue waters, relaxing in the hotel’s many pools or simply reflecting on its storied past.

We’ve had the pleasure of staying there on three occasions, and we learned that there certainly are some interesting characters roaming the area who would make great heroes in any new thriller.

George Clooney’s Lake Como villa

For example, George Clooney bought a nearby villa on the lake. We didn’t see him or his wife, Amal, on our various sojourns, and now, word has it he is considering a $100 million offer for the place. I’m sure the local paparazzi are hoping he doesn’t sell.

Before those trips, I recall an invitation I received to board a friend’s 50′ sloop and sail through the Lesser Antilles. A particularly memorable anchorage was at the island of Grenada, known as the spice island ever since early explorers brought nutmeg to its sandy shores. You can don your scuba gear and visit one of their 32 famous dive sites, pick up lots of local art and sample delicacies at dozens of great restaurants. 

The Harbor at Grenada

However, when it comes to Grenada, the residents will tell you that the most harrowing experience they ever had was back in 1983 when there was a bloody military coup. With a Soviet and Cuban presence on the island and a government “shoot to kill” curfew, American students studying at St. George’s University School of  Medicine cowered on the floor as bullets crashed through their dormitories.

Then, at the urging of the Organization of American States (OAS), President Reagan launched what he called a rescue mission (although others dubbed it an invasion) as US Marines, Army Delta Force and Navy SEALS landed, evacuated the students and restored constitutional order in a matter of weeks. 

The New York Times reported, “The students endured days and nights of terror before the American troops arrived.” And when six military transport planes carried nearly 400 young Americans back to the United States,

“Some were so happy to be home, they knelt down and kissed the ground.” Now imagine how that whole episode could be turned into a heart-pounding thriller.

What type of location should I use in my next thriller? At two recent dinners with friends in Washington, D.C., both groups suggested North Korea.  I haven’t exactly set foot in that country – but I saw it first-hand standing in the tower overlooking the DMZ from the South Korean side.

At the DMZ

While serving in The (Reagan) White House, I was sent to the Far East (Manila, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul) to give talks on administration policies.  Our South Korean Ambassador asked me if there was any special place I would like to see while I was there, and I said, “Yes. Could I possibly go up to the border with North Korea?” And so I climbed aboard an Army helicopter and was transported the short distance to the DMZ (it’s about as far from Seoul as Dulles Airport is from downtown Washington – talk about a tense, close environment!).  I received a briefing from the Colonel in charge and, on a lighter note, he told me that every time our staff has American visitors, the North Korean soldiers rush to the border to gawk at them. And the times the most North Koreans raced to have a look was when our troops hosted Miss Universe and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders!

I also learned a lot about the North Korean dictators and their policies that have led to a dire economy, lack of food and scant development of resources (except missiles). Their people don’t even have basic electricity.  One only needs to take a look at photos taken at night by our space Shuttle, of the Korean peninsula to see the stark contrast of lights available to the people of the North vs. the South. 

Night photo from space of N. and S. Korea lights

Now I am now doing research on various locations, especially North Korea, for my next thriller. If any of you has a suggestion  about plot lines or intriguing characters I could incorporate in the new novel, I would love to add your ideas to the mix. We would also like to hear what thrillers you’ve enjoyed that were set in exotic locations. Please do leave a comment below. And thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.

…Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

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  1. Gayle Lynds

    Ah, Lake Como. Talk about legendary. I love your descriptions, and the rich experiences you've had there. Thank you for making me want to visit!

  2. Karna Bodman

    Come to think of it – wouldn't it be great if we could get all 8 of us "Rogue" writers to meet at Lake Como and collaborate on a new thriller? Ah, maybe some day!


    I enjoyed this article very much!

  4. S. Lee Manning

    Lake Como is definitely on my bucket list. What a great idea for all of us Rogues to meet there and write a thriller together!

  5. Lolli

    K., As I was reading this article I realized I was enjoying the flow of your writing almost as much as the content. You have found a way to color between the lines enough to give us a glimpse into each of these interesting plot locations but your personal experiences make the finished picture your own. I like this article and the way the pace of your writing is so smooth in the transitions from one possible plot to another location. I also know the quandary of Lake Como or North Korea for possible new locations perfectly reflects the complexities of who you are as a person and a writer. I can't wait for your next book!

  6. Jamie Freveletti

    Be happy to travel to Lake Como with you! Never been there, but love Italy. Wonderful post!

  7. Chris Goff

    I love your story of visiting the DMZ, and what drew the most attention from the North Korean soldiers. How great to have had those opportunities. The juxtaposition of the DMZ to Italy poses a real dilemma for you. Good luck making that decision–though on the ground research is apt to be easier and more fun. Just sayin'.