In my last blog, I wrote about the first question everybody asks me (why I write in English and not in my mother language German.) As both my novels are situated in the Seattle area, people often ask next: "How come you know Seattle so well?"
I have to admit something. I don't know Seattle all that well. I spent two wonderful days there twelve or fourteen years ago (I don't even recall the year), and decided on the spot that it was a city where I would love to live.
When I started to write, I had to choose a city, any city, and so I took Seattle in spite of all the instructions "write what you know". I simply couldn't imagine to write about the town where I lived because that was just the place I was trying to escape with my writing. The thought alone to write about my every day place made me dry up inside. Don't get me wrong; I wasn't unhappy. But I was bored. And I needed something else.
So I bought several travel guides, asked my mother to lend me her picture book about Seattle with huge scenic pictures, started reading Seattle newspapers online, googled everything from real estate to nurseries to hospitals, and, most important of all, I immersed myself in google maps. With my newly acquired knowledge, I decided where my heroine would live, determined where she had to go, and entered both addresses into google maps. Then I chose the satellite view and zoomed as close as I could. A bit scary, that, if you think about it. I could make out if there were many trees in the area, if the houses had gardens, where the cars were parked, if large streets in the area could make noise, and plenty of other things. I did miss the third dimension, though. Even a skyscraper looks kind of flat from a bird's eye view!
Next, I hunted up webcams in the area and made sure my heroine walked by just there, so I could include convincing details of the scenery. And when I was done, I gave the whole to a friend who lived in the area so she could check if I had made a huge blunder. So far, I haven't heard an outcry . . .
How about you? Have you ever decided to write about a place you didn't know well? I assume the process is similar if you write historical novels, only more difficult!