Readers all know a book can take them far away from their normal lives, to places only glimpsed in stories that seem exotic to our ordinary and usually, at least to us, mundane lives. A book can take a few hours and transform them into an adventure set in a palace or space ship, perhaps sweep us back in time to a medieval castle or trap us in a world inhabited by shape-shifters. Or perhaps we’ll witness a romance for the ages. Or worse, at least for me, a series of misunderstandings which seem to take forever to be resolved. Seriously, can’t they just talk to each other? But there are novelists who are able to take everyday life in a certain place and imbue it with glamor that readers will enjoy. Growing up, the setting that grasped me most was Seattle: It embodied a glamor that was as far away as possible from the normalcy of Eastern Pennsylvania, and yet was still a part of the United States.
Growing up in the Amish country of Lancaster, Penn. was really boring. The Amish culture held no romance for me; I lived and worked next to them from the earliest time I could remember. What I thought would be fabulous was to live in a high-rise apartment, overlooking the Puget Sound, taking a ferry to work or shopping at Pike Place Market for fresh vegetables to make a delicious dinner for a new friend. That would be the life. Then, in 1998, my dream came true. I had my first visit to Washington State and to the Seattle area. I circled the Olympia Peninsula; I had tea at a lodge in the forest. I viewed beautiful lakes with tall trees. It rained. I watched the fish fly at the fish stall in Pike Place. I munched on hot, delicious miniature doughnuts as I wandered a flower market filled with flowers I had only seen in magazines. I dined on fish we could never get in Texas or on the East Coast without breaking the bank. It was everything I had read about. And now, some 14 years later, I returned. Was the magic still there?
Still a place of romance, Seattle’s nooks and crannies are filled with adventure, but, with the added perspective of additional reading, my perception changed. Now, I could see a homeless man stabbed in an alley, down by the pier, or a lonely woman sighing over beautiful blossoms at the flowers stalls, pining over lost love. I eavesdropped on bored couples at restaurants as they wrangled their way through dinner. But don’t worry, I still found my spots of romance. Seattle holds so many positive memories for me since I’ve read so many novels set there that I loved. The sense of nostalgia and recognition was very strong and ended up keeping at bay the harsh moments of reality trying to intrude.
Thinking about past vacations reminds me of the many trips I took after the first adventure to Seattle. I have since spent work-related trips, or trips thinly disguised as vacations, in places I first discovered in books: Santa Fe, Chicago, Miami and, of course, New Orleans. I found no murders in San Francisco, although I looked really hard. And of course not a single SEAL in San Diego. But I can say the places were familiar since I had read about them in novels. I knew where to look for adventure and where to maybe stay in a locked car.
But the best experience I had in my current adventure to the Northwest was recognizing that I can find a reader anywhere. During my conference, I connected with fellow entrepreneurs and readers and had the chance to trade opinions and book suggestions. Yes, Nora Roberts is still the best. The Charlaine Harris books are better than the television series. What I found was, no matter where you are, you’ll be able to find a reader with a unique experience and sensibility. In the hotel lounge I found a young man from the Valley (Southern California) who moved to Seattle to find a place to write because he didn’t want to be distracted. Instead, he found the lack of sun upset his metabolism and he yearned for the sun of Texas. Surely the hot sun of Texas would have to be better for inspiration. But, in the meantime, he’s writing dystopian stories. We traded book preferences as readers; he loves Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and is working his way through her backlist. I suggested he try some of our Texas authors with interesting takes on the world, including the hysterically funny A. Lee Martinez. His latest, His Emperor Mollusk Versus The Sinister Brain (Orbit, February 2013), twists the perils of retirement with adventure. Or, play with a vampire vibe and check out Rachel Caine’s latest Morganville Vampire story, Fall of Night (New American Library, May 2013). Claire is finally leaving Morganville and heading to Boston and MIT. But can she really leave? Or, for all of us readers, can we ever really stop thinking about where books have taken us?
I’m curious, have you ever gone to a place looking for the familiar you found in a book? Where do you really want to go? To experience the world of Nora Roberts in Maryland and Virginia? Perhaps to the romantic but suspense-filled streets of New Orleans? Maybe to the fields of the Ohio Amish? Let me know!
Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual readers conference, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.