Stranger in a Strange Land

Today's blog is courtesy of Traci Borum, author of Painting the Moon, a new release from Red Adept Publishing. 

When I’m brainstorming ideas for novels, I don’t usually love the research process like a lot of other authors do.  Research can be so tedious and flat sometimes.  But Painting the Moon was different.  Aside from looking up the basics online—the locations, the weather, the history, the music and TV references, the lingo and slang—I also relied on some old memories of my own.

I’m a native Texan, y’all, and the only time I’ve visited England was with my grandmother when I was seventeen, over twenty-five years ago.  I remember soaking up all the culture and history, walking through towering cathedrals and grand castles with secret passageways, visiting The Bard’s home and Jane Austen’s old stomping grounds.  I remember being captivated by everything—the double-decker buses, the hard-to-understand British accents, the petite stone walls outlining a patchwork countryside, the ragged coastlines, and even the unexpected things we’d find right outside our hotel windows (a huge chalk sketch of The Beatles on the sidewalk outside London; a festival of hot air balloons right outside Bath).   

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            But I also remember how much of an alien I was sometimes during that trip.  Like when I would order “iced tea” at a restaurant and receive confused looks from waitresses who had no idea why I would ever want to put cubes of ice in my tea, how horrifying!  (But that’s the only way we drink it, here in the South.  And we like our tea sweet—very, very sweet).  I remember learning to use things like the “loo” instead of the bathroom or the “lift“ instead of the elevator.  Then there was the time I nearly fried my grandmother’s super-fine hair, as I tried to help her curl it before we left on a tour.  I apparently didn’t have the proper adaptor—which dawned on me when her hair actually started to smoke!  Alien, indeed.

            All in all, though, it was a memorable, incredible trip that stayed with me for years.  And eventually, I revisited those memories to call up vivid details of tastes and scents and views for a novel I was writing, set in a little Cotswold village.  I also leaned heavily on what it felt like to be a stranger in a strange land.  My main character, Noelle, is an American who winds up in England, and, like me when I was seventeen, she’s shy at first, unsure of herself, out of place.  A foreigner.  But eventually, she settles in, gets comfortable, and forms friendships that make her eventually feel like a true “villager.”

            I guess it was easy, writing this character, researching this setting—imagining myself in England, not just as a tourist, but as someone comfortable with the culture.  Someone who enjoys her tea hot, instead of iced.

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Copyright © 2000-2018, Erica Lucke Dean. All rights reserved. Any retranscription or reproduction is prohibited and illegal.
Posted on August 8, 2014 .