Does any story really begin that way? "Once upon a time, in a land far, far away..." The writers of Shrek named the kingdom for that phrase, but other than a Disney import, I'm not sure that it ever really appears in actual literature. Then again, I'm not sure it doesn't.
But what it does do, every time, for me anyway, is conjure a mood. An idea. A place in space that is not here, and it sets up the story. Places do that. A Room with a View. Mansfield Park. House of Sand and Fog. Vinegar Hill. A Tale of Two Cities. A Hotel Is a Place... All of these, each a title and a location, were found in a quick perusal of a single shelf of my wall of bookshelves. Each sets up the story if not the mood itself.
Susan has blogged about trips to Kentucky in researching her work-in-progress, as has Kim. I know Pamela has hit the road at least a few times to learn more about the characters and places in her works, and Joan's travels through England have served as inspiration for more than one novel. And a key element in Julie's latest is a road trip, something I know she's undertaken aplenty in her life.
My own travels, from short jaunts about the state to treks across the country to flights halfway around the world not only inform what I write, but what I intend to as well. My critique partners know there's a project I am not quite ready to undertake, but that has been hanging out in my back pocket for the last few years, a story that I want to tell right. I'm not ready yet, but when I am, I hope to revisit the location of its spark, both to refresh my memory of the place and also to pay homage to the characters who will inhabit the space that sets my imagination aflutter.
I'm getting on a plane again in a couple of days and, in visiting this new place, I hope to find fresh inspiration. One reason I love to travel is the same reason I am passionate about reading and writing: It opens new worlds to me in a way that nothing else can. It's once upon a time, but the time is now, and far far away is suddenly here with the flip of a passport. Talk about happily ever after.