My husband and I like to travel when we have the time and money. We’ve managed to visit St. Petersburg, Moscow, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, Marrakech, Fes, Rabat, Istanbul, the entire Aegean/Mediterranean coast off Turkey, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, and many other countries.
I enjoy these excursions because they take me into physical and psychic territories I otherwise would not experience. It’s very different looking at pictures of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg or of Moscow’s Red Square. The photos give viewers a sense of these places. But actually being there offers a whole other perspective. I never could have appreciated how large the Hermitage is or the size of its collection of art and artifacts if I hadn’t actually made my way through the many rooms overflowing with the massive, breathtaking collection. I wouldn’t have understood what an undertaking it was to save all these treasures during WWII (and those who worked at the museum then did manage to do so). These are only a few of the surprises that those of us who love to travel experience during our journeys.
Writers face something similar when they enter the worlds they create in their fictions, whether long or short. Each story offers settings, characters, objects, and interactions that they never would have known about if they hadn’t set forth on this voyage of discovery. While I had visited Mexico before I started writing my novel Fling!, it was only through capturing my imagined Mexico in the narrative that I felt a deeper connection emotionally to the land and its people. Somehow, by exploring Mexican settings and traditions, such as Day of the Dead, I knew more intimately the place and its inhabitants.
Just as travel in the external world enlightens us and gives us deeper experiences of foreign surroundings, so too does writing provide something similar. When the story begins to establish itself, I feel a similar excitement and curiosity as when I’m traveling. I’m always amazed at what I learn through these characters that take shape on the computer under my fingertips. They open up new vistas and possibilities not only for me but, hopefully, for my readers. And that’s one of the reasons why I write (and read!): to be surprised and edified.