Sense of Place and My Romance Novels

by | June 24, 2014 |

I love to travel, and I love to evoke a sense of place in my novels.

Either I go out into the world by setting foot outside my door, or I let the world come to me, primarily through books.

Right now I’m far outside my front door, namely in Ulan Batar, Mongolia. At the same time I have Kristen Ashley’s Breathe on my tablet. When I need relief from my Mongolian language studies, I let her story take me to Colorado.

I also love history. Reading about other times and places is another great way to travel. Certain historical periods capture my imagination as much as does going to a new country and learning a new language.

I began my romance career by writing medievals. I thought I’d always write medievals, but I soon realized I had said what I had to say about that time period. My Lord Roland depicts castle life. Catherine of York is about town life. Simon’s Lady focuses on court life. That was that.

The more I traveled and the more I wrote, the more I decided I wanted to have it all in my stories: historical time periods, contemporary settings, and worldwide locations. So I created my time slip series. The slips in time involve reincarnation, so there are always two stories going in one story: one in the present and one 100 years in the past whose karmic effects are pressing on the present.

The stories furthermore feature three global locations, karmic pods of characters who appear in both time periods, and a science mystery.

The Blue Hour (affiliate) is set in contemporary Raleigh-Durham and Chicago, along with Paris of the present and the 1880s.

The Crimson Hour (affiliate) is set in contemporary San Francisco and Bucharest, Romania, and then Hong Kong of the present and the 1890s.

The Emerald Hour  (affiliate) is set in London and Rio de Janeiro of the present and the turn of the 20th century and contemporary Wilmington, North Carolina.

I’ve lived in France, and I now spend summers in Romania, so I know Paris and Bucharest well. I used my imagination (and tons of research) to evoke Paris of the 1880s and Hong Kong of the 1990s of The Blue Hour and The Crimson Hour, respectively.

In The Emerald Hour, the science mystery turns around the existence of a fungus-resistant strain of rubber trees documented 100 years before. So naturally I had to (yup, had to) visit both gorgeous Kew Gardens in London and the spectacular Jardim Botânico in Rio during the writing of this story, since both settings were involved in the plot.

The first thing I did upon arriving in Rio was go to the botanical garden. I remember getting giddy just walking around. It could have been all the oxygen-rich air. Or maybe I was jet lagged. But I breathed it all in with great happiness. In terms of the story, I was particularly concerned to get the descriptions of both Kew and the JB just right.

In 2012 I lived for 6 months in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. I thought for sure I would use Saigon in my next time slip novel. I have actually begun the fourth time slip using Saigon, but I put it aside last year when something else seized me. I woke up one morning and began a BDSM-inspired novella set in Saigon. It’s entitled A Dom in Vietnam (affiliate) . I had no idea I was going to do that. Neither did I know I was going to follow it with an MC-inspired romance, which I finished two weeks ago. It’s entitled Motorcycles in the Mekong (affiliate) . They are Book I and Book II of the Forest Breeze Series. There’s a third one coming. I have loved creating the sense of place for Vietnam.

This is what happens: I travel to a place and get to know it. Then I let my back brain sift through the images and my experiences in order to give my stories a specific sense of place.

I never know in advance what will grab me. The first time I went to Rio was probably 10 years before I had the plot idea for The Emerald Hour. I never thought about a novel plot while I was there. I don’t think I’d even conceived of my time slip series at that point. Nevertheless, the images were back there, just roaming around. Then I did really need to go back to check them for accuracy.

Is there a story involving Mongolia in my future? I have no idea. Only time will tell. And if I do have such a story I want it to have a specifically Mongolian sense of place.

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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