Readers and writers are armchair travelers. We love sitting down with a book that takes us to a new place or helps us revisit a favorite place. In this special time, readers are reading even more books instead of traveling by planes, trains or automobiles.
What’s on the list of the places you’ve visited in the past months via the pages of a novel or memoir?
North and South
My recent “travels” have included North Carolina (Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens), Afghanistan (A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini), South Africa (Born a Crime by Trevor Noah), South Padre Island, Texas (The Padre Puzzle by David Harry).
Birds of a Feather
Closer to home, I’ve been “traveling” with Blackbird authors Tracey S. Phillips (Best Kept Secrets, set in Indianapolis, Indiana) and Joy Ann Ribar (Deep Dark Secrets, Book 1/Deep Lakes Cozy Mystery Series, set in central Wisconsin).
That’s a lot of worldwide travel and I never lost my luggage!
My recently published novel, Deadly Fudge Divas, is part of my Fudge Shop Mystery Series set in Door County, Wisconsin, known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. One of my fans mentioned he visits Door County regularly and has at least 760 books using that location in his collection, most of them autographed, including mine.
Many new to Door County don’t realize that above the “canal zone” chain restaurants and stores aren’t allowed. Instead, you find wildflowers, stone fences dating from the 1800s, and winding roads with stellar views of Lake Michigan. The area used to be under a tropical and salty sea about 444 million years ago.
The peninsular county is home to 11 lighthouses—the most in any U.S. county. In Hot Fudge Frame-Up, I featured the Eagle Bluff lighthouse, built in 1868 with the help of dynamite to create its foundation. The lighthouse graces the cover of that novel and the main page of my website.
Rocks and cliffs are mentioned frequently in my mysteries. Door County is part of the Niagara escarpment—a rocky ledge stretching from Wisconsin to Niagara Falls.
A mystery author friend, Peggy Williams, who writes with her sister-in-law as M.J. Williams, recalls the importance of all that rocky shoreline for On the Road to Death’s Door.
“I loved taking the ferry over to Washington Island and exploring its beaches which varied from sand-swept to pebbled. We used that island, as well as the smaller Plum Island with its historic Coast Guard Life Saving Station and boathouse as plot points in the book.” ontheroadmysteries.com
Settings also create our characters. Belgians are integral to Door County and its history, so I created Ava Oosterling, the first fictional Belgian sleuth since Hercule Poirot debuted 100 years ago this year.
A great source of facts for my books is the Belgian Heritage Center in Namur, Wisconsin, based in a historic church, which I also used in one of my mysteries. In a past Blackbird Writers blog post, author Valerie Biel mentions a surprising real story about that church’s cemetery that I retold in one of my novels (Five-Alarm Fudge).
Authors’ books give readers insider knowledge of places because authors get permission to explore where tourists can’t usually go. I’m always looking for unique places to hide bodies or commit a crime—all to please my fellow armchair traveler.
When traveling, did you buy a novel or memoir about the locale? What was the title and author? What tidbit did you learn? Please share! Let’s “armchair travel” together!
Christine DeSmet is the author of the Fudge Shop Mystery Series and the Mischief in Moonstone Series. She teaches writing at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies and writes screenplays with Peggy Williams. She belongs to Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum, and Wisconsin Writers Association. Christine’s novels are available in paperback from Mystery to Me Bookstore in Madison, Wis., and in both paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.com and Writers Exchange E-Publishing.
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Armchair travels: Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove is set in Sweden (but the universal themes transported my heart all over the emotional map!). H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and A Dangerous Duet by Karen Odden are set in Great Britain.
I’ve done plenty of Wisconsin visits, too, reading Christine DeSmet’s First-Degree Fudge, Patricia Skalka’s Death Stalks Door County and Jeff Nania’s Figure Eight. I’m currently camping out in Cape Cod in The Second Home by Christina Clancy.
This is a lovely post. My only problem is that I have bought any number of books about the places I’ve been. But can I remember them? Wait. I just did. It was a British book called Now, I Remember, about British history (well, from the Norman kings, anyway) that tied into the styles of architecture during the various reigns. I can no longer find the book. It’s in the boxes with most of my other books (sadly, I like art on my walls as much as I like bookshelves and have very little wallspace, at that).
I’m actually more interested in Namur, Wisconsin. You see, when I was 9, I lived for a year and a half in Liege, Belgium, and had friends who lived in Namur, Belgium. My daughter’s father is from Wisconsin (Kaukauna, to be specific), and part of their heritage is Flemish. So, wow. There’s a Belgian community in Wisconsin. That makes sense.
Wisconsin sounds lovely! I’ve never been, so I’m definitely going to travel there through your Fudge cozies and Joy’s Deep Dark Secrets. Right now I’m hanging out in 1930s Italy with English Lady Georgie in Rhys Bowen’s On Her Majesty’s Most Frightfully Secret Service.
Thank you for the lovely post, Christine. I just finished The Burn Patient by Sue Hinkin, which took me from the central Mexican highlands of Guerrero to the streets of Los Angeles and then to a ranch near Malibu. Enjoyed the travels as well as the story!
When I pick a location to use in a story, I like to read about it’s history. If I have a chance to visit, I’ll take notes while I’m there and buy local newspapers and magazines. The most fun for me, though, is finding indie bookstores. Sometimes they carry books on the locale’s history written by local authors. I’ve found some real gems in New Orleans and Venice, Italy—both places where I’ve set stories. That way, when I get home, I can armchair travel back there.