March 6th ~ FRIDAY Q & As
By Ana Brazil
March 5, 2020

It’s the PLW Question & Answers Day! This first Friday of March, Kathryn asks “What have you gained by visiting a location found in your WIP?”

Linda says, “When I was writing THE ALOHA SPIRIT, I went to Kauai and stayed in a vintage plantation cottage, similar to where my main character would have lived in her early life.

I had to mentally erase amenities such as the TV and microwave, but being in that space was very inspiring. I could write details about the way the trade winds ruffled the curtains on the open windows, for example. Those experiential details are what makes a reader feel as if they are there. I live in California and have visited Hawaii many times, but I know many of my readers have not. Working on my novel in the kitchen of the plantation house immersed me in the place and time, which is how I can immerse my reader. The cottage I stayed in was not the exact same cottage in the same place (not even the same island), but it gave important flavor to my work. 

For UNDER THE ALMOND TREES, however, I went to Santa Cruz, California, and was able to walk in the footsteps of Ellen VanValkenburgh and her family, along the same streets past many of the same buildings. I have an old photograph of Ellen VanValkenburgh visiting Evergreen Cemetery in Santa Cruz, presumably her husband’s grave. The cemetery would have been fairly new then, and several Civil War headstones are still legible. It’s green and quiet, even nestled between an industrial area and the freeway as it is now. Again, these experiential details give the written work depth, providing the reader with the feeling of being there if only in their imagination.”

C.V. shares, “This past year I visited the Isle of Jersey just off the coast of France.

It is very helpful to get the geography of a place and to see the old castles, churches, etc. I had to re-write parts of my book based on my trip as I discovered some things could not have happened the way I envisioned.

Alcatraz Military Prison in 1908. A harsh life on the Rock!

“Since it takes place in San Francisco,” says Ana, “I have not done a lot of on-site visiting for my WIP A BRILLIANT AMBITION (aka A BRILLIANT ENGAGEMENT). The story takes place all over San Francisco in 1919 just after World War I, and includes ventures to Alcatraz Military Prison and Neptune Beach Amusement Park in Alameda. 

I chose San Francisco as my locale because I knew it so well. I’ve worked downtown, my husband volunteered at Alcatraz for over 20 years, and I also lived in Alameda for 7 years. 

But to answer your question! I’ve visited Alcatraz Island many times and it’s always clear how desolate it is, how brutal it would be to live there (not even as a prisoner; but as the lighthouse keeper’s wife or the Commandant’s daughter), and how a person (or a character) might be eager to run far, far away from it. I don’t think I would have really understood how harsh it would have been to live on an island—especially when it’s used as a prison—without visiting it.

Katie declares “For my literary manuscript, titled THE SQUARE GRAND, I visited Twin Buttes, North Dakota last June.

Twin Buttes is a town on the Fort Berthold reservation in northeastern North Dakota, home of the Three Affiliated Tribes. One of my characters is a young woman from the Mandan tribe, and would have to be very unique indeed to leave her family. The time period I wrote about, the late 1890s, the Mandan culture was being willfully replaced by several different practices, including Indian Schools, Catholic and Protestant missionaries, and of course, the allotments of land by the US Government, which dictated and changed how the Mandan people organized their family affiliations. Visiting the land itself was helpful–though it was not the land my character would have lived on. She would have lived in a city that is now underwater, a “lake” which was created by the Garrison Dam and the US Army Corp of Engineers in 1947-1953.

Visiting Twin Buttes, I gained a better insight into the insult of the Garrison Dam. My view of North Dakota came from where I was born, on the southeastern edge of North Dakota, which is a very different landscape. The flatness and seemingly endlessness of the Prairie is not the same view as is found in Twin Buttes. Theoretically I knew that, but I needed to visit, so I could see Isabella in a clearer light.”

And finally, Kathryn says, “A visit to Lenzburg, Switzerland gave me tremendous perspective as to what my great-great-grandmother (the inspiration for my protagonist, Anna) left behind when she joined the LDS church and emigrated to America.

Lenzburg is a charming riverside town outside Zurich paved with cobblestones and dotted with ornate fountains. A beautiful castle topped with a gold-leafed dragon looms on the hill above the town. I happened to be there over the bi-annual Jugendfest summer festival when the town’s people hang pine boughs laced with flowers around every square and everyone dresses in white and parades through the streets—much like they did when my great-great-grandmother lived there. It was absolutely charming and so different from the harsh landscape in Utah and Idaho Territories where she homesteaded. That visit really informed how I set up Anna’s dilemma as she decides whether to stay or go.”

Ana Brazil
Written by Ana Brazil

Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans. Her upcoming October 17 2023 release is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, a Viola Vermillion Vaudeville mystery set in 1919 San Francisco.

View Ana’s PLW Profile

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