It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Amy Tan. In fact, it's a regret that I won't use her name as a comp when I query later this year, because her audience is precisely my target audience. In fact, I hope she'll be a reader! But I will not make the rookie-cum-hubris mistake of comparing my work to someone with her level of success. Still, I'm a fan, of her work, of her talks (I saw her in Dallas a number of years ago, and it was one of the most enjoyable writer events I've ever attended; Joan and Susan saw her earlier this year), and of her methods.
|Patio dining at Restaurant DeGolyer|
|The view from my table|
Another place that my character haunts is the Dallas Arboretum. Both Joan and I have sung its praises before, and when I visited the other day, its glory was in full bloom. My characters spend a lot of time eating (write what you know), and so I "researched" by plopping down at a table at the lovely Restaurant DeGolyer and chowing through a delicious Cobb salad. I let my mother-in-law buy, so no tax dilemma at all. The weather was gorgeous, by the way, a gentle breeze countering the sun's rays, and we spent a leisurely hour enjoying our meal.
Write what you know, we are told, and I have worked hard over the years to come to the understanding that the order speaks most to emotional knowledge, and that it doesn't rule out permission for me to write about a Congressman or children in Thailand or even the inner life of a woman who calls India home and always has. But place matters, too, details, and getting them right, and sometimes the easiest research is first person. I'd been going to the Arboretum and the chat counter for years before they happened to land in my story, but had I not, I would have visited to ensure I got the details right. Thailand? I'd love to go if a character figures in some future work, but that's also what the internet is for. Sure, it can be a time-suck, as every single one of my blog partners has or would assert, but it's also a great tool when you can't actually get there. But the scent of hydrangea can't transmit through wires, and the echo of trilling voices bouncing off linoleum floors might be lost on YouTube, and the precise tang of cherry vinaigrette isn't offered by Google.
If you can't get there, you can still write it. But if you can get there? Go.