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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
Bittercon: Vacations, writing, and inspiration 
7th-Aug-2009 03:45 pm
Let me see..

[This is a topic in bittercon, the convention right in your back yard ... rather than being at Worldcon.]

We're not wasting our vacation time in Montreal, but we all (I hope) take vacations. How do they affect our writing?

For me, they've inspired locales for stories, but never stories themselves. But your mileage may vary.

For example, my story "Aliens Love Oranges" was based on my visit to my grandmother in Florida and places we went, including the Kennedy Space Center. But the story is about a young woman in Florida who makes some unusual friends, and no grandmothers appear. In fact, my grandmother being how she was, I didn't have time to think about a story until I got home, but luckily I tend to keep all the tourist brochures, photos, maps, and souvenirs I get on trips, so I could reconstruct the details easily.

In this case, the characters also visit the Kennedy Space Center, and young woman is impressed (as I was) by the authenticity of everything there: this was no Disney amusement park, this was real science, and she was looking for something real in her life. So she decided to reach for the stars, as best she could.

You can find the story here, if you're interested:

What about you? Have vacations inspired or affected your writing? How? Where have you gone, and where would you like to go? For that matter, must a vacation involve a change of locale?

By the way, I'll be away from my computer on Saturday. I'm taking a day-long vacation to enjoy cool mountain breezes and medieval sights in Buitrago de Lozoya, a town near Madrid:

— Sue Burke

7th-Aug-2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
I find that travelling opens my eye for how deeply I am steeped in the culture I have around me all the time - I expect fields to look like _this_ and doors like _that_ and shops to open _then_... and you go somewhere else and everything is different. That makes me question my assumptions about the cultures of my protagonists - what is their world *really* like?

It's a good exercise to go somewhere else and to just wander around and see what you can pick up, about the unwritten rules, about the quirky details that define the place like doorknockers and how people lay out their gardens, about how a genuinely medieval city smells different from one that has been rebuilt medieval-style.
9th-Aug-2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
What's the castle in your user pic?
12th-Aug-2009 10:51 am (UTC)
Carcassonne. My Mum used to bring me T-shirts from her holidays, and I just had to go and see the place for myself - it was a pretty spontaneous decision, and a great short holiday.

The one in this picture is Carew, in South Wales, which actually made it into my current WIP: I needed some desperately unglamorous archaeology for my protagonist, so I got her to excavate the tidal mill at Carew when some of the people she's dealing with were digging at Troy.
13th-Aug-2009 10:56 am (UTC)
Lovely pictures. I did some digging as a volunteer with a group called Archeological Rescue in Wisconsin when I lived there. Mostly we investigated Indian encampments, and it was interesting overall, though a day of digging, as you know, is: one centimeter troweled from the surface of one square meter, sifted for rock flakes and pottery fragments, noted, and bagged. Next to a corn field in the hot sun. With mosquitoes.
7th-Aug-2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
I've been in a slump, and I'd hoped to get a lot of writing done on my vacation last week. Didn't do a darn thing. But now ideas are bubbling up faster that ever, and they have my vacation place for a setting.
9th-Aug-2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
I hope your writing goes well. Where did you go on vacation?
9th-Aug-2009 10:23 pm (UTC)
My husband and I spent our anniversary at my parents' camp in the Adirondacks.
9th-Aug-2009 03:33 am (UTC)
I find that the traveling I've done does eventually filter into my writing, though rarely in a direct way. Two counterexamples to that is that the setting of the story I've got out in the current issue of Interzone was based very much on the gardens (and castle itself) of Chateau de la Napoule, in Mandelieu-La Napoule, France, where I spent a summer studying art. And I've been slowly working on a novel where, for a big chunk of the time, my characters are all stuck at the bottom of a very big pit. Conveniently enough, I spent a week during the summer I started on that project driving around the Grand Canyon. Take out all the air, add bad guys, and voila! Instant setting (-:

In a more subtle sense, as you travel you become aware of how little things become different, and it's observation of small details like that that adds so much flavor to our stories when we write. Frex, as I drive south from New England, there's a noticeable change in just the look of trees. It's not so much the species as the distribution of species, the quantity of vines, the height and the shape of the trees, and it's enough that I can make a good guess as to where I am by simply observing the natural landscape slide by out the car window.

I think the disorientation of going to unfamiliar places is in some ways a necessary (or at least extremely worthwhile) experience to write about our characters being out of their normal place.
9th-Aug-2009 03:35 am (UTC)
Oh, I should also say that some of my best vacations have been right here at home in the pages of a fantastic book. (-:

9th-Aug-2009 08:37 pm (UTC)
Yes -- a fantastic book!
9th-Aug-2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
I think it's also a good reminder that characters in a place that's normal for them but abnormal for the reader, there can be lots of details to explore that can make a story deeper and more interesting.

If a character can place his/her location at a glance, this tells us a lot about the character (observant and well-traveled) and about the location (variable).
12th-Aug-2009 10:55 am (UTC)
I've recently picked up a book set in Tokyo which gave me no sense of place at all - a lot of infodumping, but all so distant and generic that a) it did not resonate with my very brief experiences and b) I felt I could do a better job at conveying the place. (The author has lived in Japan, so no excuses.)

It can be as much fun seeing the familiar through different eyes (think Dick Francis) than seeing an alien-to-me setting, but that general awareness of places - noticing small details, questioning habits, the culture shock when you try to do something that should be very ordinary and which presents a challenge - all of those are necessary traits in a writer, I feel.
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