Not all those who wander are lost.
– J. R. R. Tolkien
It's true. I have the wander bug. And I've been very fortunate in having the opportunity to wander a lot outside of Texas. My first international trip was two weeks in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil thanks to my employer. Some of the the largest out of the USA locations I’ve traveled to include Munich, Dubrovnik, Paris, St. Tropez, Monaco, Frankfort, London, Calgary, Oslo, Rome, Florence, Venice, Dublin, Bath, Cardiff, and Canterbury.
I consider myself a very lucky girl. One of the things I realized after I became serious about writing is that my love of travel is the perfect opportunity to research settings for my books. In fact, in thinking about my process for this post, I realized just how much setting has influenced my choice of characters and then the plot. This was a bit of a surprise as I’ve thought of myself as a “characters first” writer. Apparently, not so much!
My first book, In Hot Pursuit, published by Crimson Romance in 2012, is a good example of this. I worked as a university controller on a liberal arts campus in Houston prior to retiring a year ago. People say write what you know so I decided to base my first story on a college campus. I had to develop a character that would have the wherewithal to venture outside of her familiar campus environment—because I wanted to include Las Vegas and Rome in the story. The desire for settings came way before I had fleshed out the heroine.
On my first trip to Rome in 2007, I had a street map from the hotel and tracked everywhere I walked using the map. I hoped to use my visit to Rome in a book someday. And I did with In Hot Pursuit. It’s the story of the theft of a gift to a Houston university (write what you know!) and the search for the thief. The two main characters, Quinn and Logan, first follow the thief to Las Vegas and then to Rome, as it’s the perfect city for a newly rich thief to ramble around in and feel safe. Plus Rome is the ideal city for the characters to fall in love. Quinn and Logan walked the same steps on the streets of Rome as I did during my trip. They even had a meal at my favorite restaurant at the Piazza Navona in central Rome.
One thing I’ve done during my travels is to purchase a locally produced book on the city or region or monument I visited. I have a long list of vague plot ideas based on specific sites, stories, or local customs. I particularly like books that talk about homegrown ghosts. This is also true for places I visit in the U.S.A. For example: the Bourbon Orleans is my favorite hotel in New Orleans and it has a couple of ghosts so why not have a hotel as the setting for a ghost story? This provided the inspiration for book three in my Texas Ghost Stories series. All the locations are in Texas so I selected San Antonio and then discovered the Menger Hotel, which has a ghost! Plus the hotel is right across from The Alamo, which will provide inspiration for the plot.
This brings me to my current release, Capitol Secrets, and its setting of Washington, D.C. My first visit to D.C. was in 2009 at a writer’s convention. I went a day early to do some touring. I had an ah-hah moment at the U.S. Capitol while walking up a flight of marble stairs from The Crypt to the Rotunda. While turning on a landing for the next flight, I imagined a young woman falling down the stairs and landing at my feet with blood quickly saturating her long blond hair. That picture has stayed with me and finally, I’ve had the time to focus on a book featuring the landscape of Washington, D.C. But naturally, for this first book in the series, the characters and the plot changed from my original idea of a romantic suspense.
And that’s okay. I’ve had the itch to try something not related to romance and Capitol Secrets is the outcome. It’s the first of three books in my political thriller/mystery series, Capitol Intrigue, and has continuing characters. I had a lot of fun writing it. Perhaps I’ve uncovered my writing heart.
One constant is that I’ll continue to use traveling for my writing inspiration. I recently enjoyed my first trip to New York City and took a cruise around the island of Manhattan. Along a spot in the East River a train track with cement pilings crossed the water. My first thought was—“What a great place to hide a body.” Yep, a NYC setting is in my future.
I have many novel ideas based on places I've visited. I just need the time to get them all written. In the meantime, I'll keep wandering and enjoying the beauty that surrounds all of us. No doubt I’ll continue to find excellent locations to hide a dead body!
An investigation of the shooting by a political blogger and an ex-newspaper reporter outpaces the work of the federal authorities. Their gamble pays off when the shooter approaches them with an exclusive story. After receiving a second contract request to assassinate the newly sworn in American president, the shooter, along with the unlikely partner he picks up in Las Vegas, returns to D.C.
Capitol Secrets is a tightly woven tale of an ineffectual and corrupt Washington, and the struggles of a new White House administration attempting to initiate a constructive change to Capitol Hill’s business as usual tradition. Do the American people have any hope that Washington politics will transform and their elected officials actually do the work?
Warning: Strong Language
Karen Sue Burns has been a writer since 8th grade. Her former job as a CPA has provided interesting experiences: travel to Rio de Janeiro, London, and Oslo, auditing wine bottle glass molds in California, and taking a helicopter to a drillship off the Texas Gulf Coast. Now she spends her days living out her passion--writing political thrillers, cozy mysteries, and Texas ghost novels sprinkled with romance. She enjoys cooking and creating recipes so her heroines do the same. All of her indie anthologies and novels include one of her favorite recipes. Readers may contact Karen via the Bio/Contact tab on her website. Check out the Recipe tab while you're there!
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